Lifting weights and doing crunches will certainly increase muscle size and definition, but it's no secret that martial artists often have some of the most impressive physiques and endurance levels of any athlete. Karate training not only increases muscle, it builds functional strength, power and muscular endurance in a way few other training methods do. What's more, training in karate is rarely a dull affair, so getting yourself up for a workout is the furthest thing from pulling teeth.
Karate stylists often practice exercises such as pullups, pushups, crunches and a variety of other body-weight activities designed to promote increased muscle strength, but it is their striking training that truly pays dividends in the long run. Karate fighters throw some of the most powerful straight punches of any martial art, and they often train these punches out of a deep horse stance. Staying low in a horse stand and throwing punches for an extended period will lead to substantial increases in overall power by strengthening the glutes, quads, core and shoulders. Training kicks will increase tendon strength in the groin and will promote comfort and ease of motion in the hips. Striking training will not promote substantial muscle growth, but it will tone and solidify the muscle you have.
Perhaps more important than muscular strength is muscular endurance. Athletes from all sports -- along with people who work out in general -- have a hard time dealing with muscle fatigue due to lactic acid buildups while training. Karate training methods, including striking, blocking and body-weight exercises, are designed to get the body used to processing these lactic acid buildups and fighting through them. Over time, you will be able to train longer and harder, and this increased muscular endurance will translate to every aspect of your training both in and outside of the dojo.
The most distinct and beneficial aspect of consistent training in any martial arts style is its effect on coordination and muscular communication. Muscular strength and endurance are important, but being able to call on those muscles on a moment's notice and reacting efficiently is what karate training is all about. Fast-twitch muscle exercises such as punching and kicking drills promote flexibility and ease of motion, while reacting to training partners during live drills promotes communication between your muscles and a lasting link between your brain and body.
Like any martial art, karate training can be stressful on the body, particularly on the joints. It is important to warm up properly before karate training and to pay attention to the signals your body sends you. If you experience sharp or burning pains in the joints, muscles or tendons during or after training, apply ice and then heat and seek medical attention if the problem persists.
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.