In the 1960s, when taekwondo began to take hold in the Western world, weight training was not a part of everyday life.
Gyms with an endless supply of free weights and weight training machines were not in every city.
Serious weight training was most commonly left to those who wanted an enhanced physique.
In taekwondo’s early days, weight training was, in fact, looked down upon in most taekwondo schools. It was believed that pumped-up muscles would slow down a practitioner’s performance and reaction time.
With the advent of a deeper understanding of body mechanics, this misconception began to change, however.
Taekwondo practitioners began to integrate weight training into their overall workout program.
Understanding Taekwondo Weight Training
It is a common misconception that how much weight an individual can lift indicates his overall level of fitness.
This is not true. In fact, lifting heavy weights is not the style of training a taekwondo practitioner should undergo.
The simple equation to weightlifting is that heavy weights equal body mass, while lighter weights tone and strengthen the body.
The taekwondo practitioner should, therefore, focus his or her training on lifting lighter weights, in order to gain body definition and strength.
The physical training that taekwondo embraces is by itself an effective form of muscle-enhancing exercise.
The muscles of your body naturally develop when you are putting them through the paces in your daily workouts.
Still, focused weight training can be an important addition, which will help you in all aspects of your taekwondo training.
Again, weight training, in relation to taekwondo, does not mean that you must develop your body to the level of a bodybuilding champion.
Instead, as a taekwondo practitioner, you will want to train with weights as part of a training program that will enhance your overall performance in the art and help you to remain free from injury.
Weightlifting and Your Legs
For the average person who goes to a gym to lift weights, the legs are one of the primary focal points.
The average person is not a taekwondo practitioner, however. As such, he or she does not encounter the advanced methods of leg development that are commonly part of taekwondo training.
Taekwondo training, in and of itself, is an unparalleled method of exercising your legs.
As you are kicking virtually every day, your leg muscles are put through an intense training regimen that most weightlifters never experience.
If you add an endurance training program to your overall taekwondo workout— such as running, bicycling, or swimming—you will be providing your leg muscles with an additional form of muscle development.
For these reasons, it is not necessary to add weight training to further develop your legs.
Therefore, taekwondo-oriented weight training is focused predominantly on the upper body.
Enhanced arm, shoulder, back, and stomach muscles will all help you on your path to taekwondo mastery.
Taekwondo Schools and Weightlifting
Some schools of taekwondo have elaborate weight training machines in the studio.
Although these machines can be a great addition to your taekwondo experience, you can add weightlifting to your overall training program without them.
Virtually all schools of taekwondo have what are known as free weights.
Free weights are gauged by specific poundage, or are designed to allow you to easily add or remove units to make them heavier or lighter.
Free weights are an ideal tool for the taekwondo practitioner.
Taekwondo practitioners ideally use what are known as dumbbells for their weight training.
Dumbbells are the type of weights that are held separately, one in each hand—as opposed to the long bar, known as a barbell, which must be held with two hands.
The reason a taekwondo practitioner ideally uses dumbbells is that they isolate each weightlifting movement to a specific muscle group in the body.
Using the larger barbell causes both sides of the body to lift the weight.
What commonly occurs from this style of weight training is that the dominant side of the body lifts the majority of the weight and so becomes stronger.
With dumbbells, movement is exactly targeted to a specific muscle group.
What Are the Weight Exercises for Taekwondo?
There are three primary weightlifting exercises fit for taekwondo: the curl, the frontal lift, and the bench press.
Each of these exercises should be performed with a dumbbell, isolating each side of the body.
The curl is a simple lifting exercise designed to develop your biceps.
To perform this exercise, sit down with your appropriately weighted dumbbell at your feet.
Your lifting arm should be extended in a straight line toward the ground.
Grasp the dumbbell, placing your elbow against your inner leg as support.
Then lift the dumbbell upward, toward your shoulder, as you bend your elbow. You will feel your biceps being exercised.
The ideal way to perform this exercise is with one dumbbell. As you complete each set, switch sides and lift with your other arm.
At first, you will want to perform this exercise for ten reps and three sets.
As you progress, you can increase the weight of your dumbbell, and perform the number of reps and sets you feel is appropriate.
The Forward Lift
To perform the forward lift, you take your appropriately weighted dumbbell and stand up.
Your legs should be separated to support your body. Your back must be held erect.
When you are ready, lift the dumbbell up, directly in front of your body.
Your lift will begin at the point where your arm is naturally extended and will end when your arm and the dumbbell are parallel to the ground.
As you lift, you will want to allow your elbow to be slightly bent. This will prevent your elbow joint from being injured.
The forward lift is an ideal exercise to perform to develop strength in your shoulder and back. It should initially be performed for ten reps and three sets.
Remember, do not attempt to lift a weight that is too heavy, as this can damage your body.
The Bench Press
The bench press can be performed either on a weight training bench or from the floor.
The bench press is an ideal exercise to add strength to your triceps, chest, and back muscles.
To perform this exercise, sit down, with an appropriately weighted dumbbell in each hand.
When you feel you are ready, lie down on your back.
As you do so, bring the dumbbells up above your chest.
When you are set, press the dumbbells upward, simultaneously, until your arms are almost fully extended.
It is important in this exercise not to fully extend your arms and lock your elbows.
Locking your elbows while you are supporting the weights can cause damage to the joints, so finish your lift just before your elbows are fully extended.
Once your lift has reached its pinnacle, lower your weights back to chest level.
When you are ready, lift them again.
The bench press should be performed for ten reps and three sets at the beginning of your training.
Increase the weight and the number of sets when you feel it is appropriate.
I know, sit-ups are not actual weightlifting with taekwondo bodily development.
Some throw a prescribed number of sit-ups at every class. Others do not.
There are two distinct methods of performing sit-ups as part of taekwondo training.
The traditional method dictates that you lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, interlock your fingers behind your head, and then bend your body upward, for a prescribed number of times, touching your elbows to your knees.
Although this is the traditional method of doing sit-ups, it has been linked to long-term lower back damage in some individuals.
For this reason, a safer, equally effective method has been developed.
The second method of performing sit-ups is to lie on your back and place your hands, palms down, under your buttocks.
When it is time to perform the exercise, you simultaneously lift your legs and back a few inches off the ground, and attempt to stay in this position.
Try to develop the ability to hold this pose for one minute. Initially, this exercise can be practiced for five repetitions.
As you progress in your bodily development, the number of times this exercise is performed can be increased to suit your training needs.
Although this method is not as dramatic or as cardio-aerobically invigorating as the traditional sit-up, you may be surprised just how difficult it is to remain locked in this position for more than a few seconds.
This is also an ideal way to develop your stomach muscles.
Preparing to Train with Weights
As with all forms of physical exercise, you will need to stretch and warm up prior to weight training.
The warmup for weight training can be as simple as performing a few forward bends, as you touch your toes.
You can then rotate your body at the base of your spine, with your hands placed on your hips.
Finally, you will want to shake loose your hands and arms, causing additional blood flow to be directed to these regions of your body.
To finish your warmup, you can perform ten jumping jacks. At this point, your body will be invigorated and you will be ready for weight training.
Beginning to Lift
When you begin to lift weights, there are two terms you will need to become familiar with: “sets” and “reps.” Sets are made up of a specific number of reps.
Reps are the number of repetitions you perform in each weightlifting exercise.
For example, you may lift a weight in a specific manner for ten reps. This will make up one set.
The normal pattern for a beginning weightlifter is to do seven to twelve reps for each exercise and perform these lifts for a total of three sets.
It is not a good idea to begin weight training by lifting the heaviest weight you can possibly elevate from the ground.
This style of lifting is very damaging to the body.
An ideal weight for a male taekwondo practitioner, to begin with, is twenty pounds.
A female can begin with five pounds.
Furthermore, as you progress with your weight training experience, you do not need to continually increase the amount of weight you lift, as your body becomes stronger.
You simply want your body to increase its strength while remaining agile.
Therefore, some taekwondo practitioners never increase the amount of weight they lift, but instead, increase the number of sets they perform.
Breath and Weight Training
There is an important method of breath control used in association with weight training.
This technique teaches you to breathe in prior to lifting and to breathe out as you lift the weight.
This essential part of conscious weight training will help to keep you from straining your muscles.
When you breathe in, your muscles contract. When you breathe out, they relax.
If your muscles are contracted as you lift a heavy weight, you can easily damage them.
These lifting injuries occur most commonly in your stomach and groin region.
For this reason, it is essential to train yourself to automatically breathe out as you lift.
Do not breathe in until your lift has been completed.
Weight Training Precautions
Weight training has the potential to cause you to tear muscles and injure joints.
This does not simply happen to the novice weight trainer or the individual who executes a lift in a sloppy manner—it can happen to anyone for any number of unforeseen reasons.
To avoid injury, you must be very prudent in your weight training methods.
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