|Over-taxing the body|
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Exercise is work
All forms of exercise are intended to work the muscles and make the body stronger. This is pretty much the whole point of exercising.
Too much or too little?
Unfortunately it can be quite difficult to find balance between too much exercise and too little.
In martial arts terms, too little exercise means inadequate fitness for martial arts practice and an inability to remember the material. Too much exercise results in strained joints and fatigued muscles.
Both extremes are undesirable.
Although exercise can over-tax the body, the number 1 way in which the body is over-taxed is everyday bad body use.
Stress is placed on the knees, back, shoulders and neck through 'normal' sloppy habits and laziness.
Poor poise, imbalanced muscle use, being overweight and hunching over mobile phones (steering wheels, computers, watching TV or eating food) all lead to significant strain and eventual damage.
Exercise can help remedy many bad habits, but only in moderation and always with good awareness.
Tai chi people frequently seek to perform multiple sets of moving qigong exercises and/or prolonged standing each day. This can have major drawbacks.
In moderation, qigong is very gentle and unlikely to cause injury or fatigue. Multiple sets of moving qigong exercises are fine when staggered across a week. But an excessive amount wears out the joints.
Standing qigong is OK when the duration is sensible but lengthy standing can lead to varicose veins.
Once again, form in moderation is terrific and will probably give a better workout than anything in your exercise repertoire. But avoid excess.
Doing the same movements again and again and again will not improve your health or fitness. It is better to do less and do it well.
The more you do, the more time it takes and the greater the demands on both your concentration and your body.
Chinese martial arts usually advocate 'drilling' - repeated practice of the same movement. Can you see the drawback? Yes, it trains muscle memory... but it can also over-tax the joints.
The subject of over-taxing is basic yin/yang - gaining also involves losing at the same time: e.g. you get better at the exercise but your body is injured...
e.g. you get better but it took 4 hours of your day to do it... There is always an exchange.
Core strength, cardio & yoga
All forms of fitness training carry inherent risks. How many runners wear knee supports/bandages/braces? Even safe-seeming exercises such as yoga or core strength can harm the body if taken too far.
Little and often is the best way.
Many people who have no experience with weights go the gym and execute movements that they are simply not strong enough to handle.
Or they undertake exercises that are often regarded as being unsafe. The shoulders tend to get damaged first...
Body builders work to failure point, martial artists don't. Our goals are different.
Sore muscles are fine. This will pass within a couple of days. If the muscles remain sore, lay off the exercises until they settle down.
Sore joints require more caution. It usually passes within a couple of days. If the joints remain sore, re-examine what you are doing and revise your technique. You could easily be doing something wrong.
Do some research
It can be well worth reading books or looking on-line for exercises to be careful with (or to avoid completely).
There are many different views on what constitutes 'good' and 'bad' exercises but the information you uncover will deepen your understanding of the potential risks involved.
When reading about exercise, always keep in mind that we are not body builders or gym people. We are martial artists. Following the guidance of a body builder might well wreck your tai chi training.
Be careful of influences
There are many exciting on-line examples of exotic training practices. Great. We're not gym people. We're not body builders. We're not personal trainers. We're not performers. We're not fitness models.
Those people are. Keep it in mind if you're thinking of emulating people you see on-line.
Many people who work at sports centres and gyms can tell you how to operate machines. They are usually not well informed when it comes to safe, healthy body use.
Listening to advice is fine, but consider the age and fitness of the person giving the advice.
Are they a martial artist? Are they a body builder? What is their motive/agenda? Have they been doing it a long time? Is their advice aimed at a beginner? Do you really trust them?
Tai chi strength
A standard tai chi daily routine is highly beneficial when kept moderate. The strength mounts up over time. Pretty soon you have a level of strength you never expected.
This is not the strength required to lift a massive weight. It is the strength to deliver a penetrating strike, snap a limb or flip an opponent without trying.
It is strength that will aid you in your everyday life.
Other forms of exercise warrant a little more caution. The exercises you choose to do at home between lessons should be contingent upon your needs/requirements and your own body.
'One size fits all' mentality
People are not the same. We all have different bodies, different personalities, different habits and different levels of awareness.
There is no such thing as 'generic' or 'default' when it comes to the human body. Exercise is a tool that must be employed safely and carefully.
Tailor your routine
It is important to note that everyone is different and has different physical needs. Physical training must account for this.
e.g. if you bench press and it hurts your shoulders, try a lighter weight and/or have somebody watch your technique.
Research the exercise to make sure you are doing it correctly. If it still doesn't feel great, find an alternative exercise that works the same muscles.
Ultimately, your training routine must be tailored to suit your body's needs.
Muscles grow stronger after training
Your muscles don't get stronger from training. They get stronger when you rest after training. This is very important to understand.
Exertive tai chi
Oddly enough, tai chi can be very tiring if you overdo it e.g. weapons forms are exertive.
Weapons forms may be fun to perform but they don't yield an energy boost like the Long Yang form.
Doing multiple weapons forms aged 25 is not the same as doing those same forms aged 50.
A 25 year old may not be as energy efficient as a 50 year old, but they do have a lot more energy to start with. And this will affect how tired you feel.
If you get tired from overtaxing the body, it will affect your immune system and undermine the health benefits of doing tai chi.
One drawback of over-training is that it can dull your awareness. Yes, you feel strong and seem able to handle the training... but you've inadvertently lost your sensitivity.
Try resting and then continuing? Without momentum to carry you forward, you may realise just how tired you really are. The brief rest centres you and lets you feel that you're fatigued and need to stop.
A second martial art?
It can be quite tempting to do a second martial art such as baguazhang - in addition to your taijiquan. But it is important to remember that the second art is going to require a lot of practice.
Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day. Practicing a second art may well double your training time. Can you handle this?
Over-taxing the mind...
Over-taxing the body can be addressed through careful, safe practice. By contrast, over-taxing the mind is far more insidious and difficult to detect.
Politics, news, gossip, media, TV, opinions, fashions, negative emotions, competitiveness - all put the mind under duress. They create frustration, anxiety and a feeling of helplessness.
Try switching off all electronic devices. How quiet is it now? Instead of flooding your mind with stimulation, lie quietly, read calming books or meditate. Reclaim your mind.
Body building and weight lifting are fashionable
activities today. The emphasis is upon developing external muscles which
creates an armouring effect that can eventually distort the bony structure.
It is the over developed musculature that actually torque's the bones and
discourages them from bearing additional weight. The body attempts to
compensate and problems arise.
Running does not necessarily in and of itself improve posture that is already poor and constricted. It often exaggerates problems due to the substitution of inappropriate muscles. The repetitive inappropriate development of the musculature (as in body building or weight lifting) often leads to diminished sensitivity. Stress occurs in the knees and lower back, encouraging injury.
Swimming is an activity that can either create structural problems or release them depending upon the way it is taught and practiced. Professional swimmers are known to develop shoulder tendonitis and kyphosis. Overriding head/neck righting reflexes (as occurs when the head is repeatedly turned but the body does not follow) eventually result in overdeveloping shoulder muscles, pinching nerves and distorting the rib cage.
Various sport activities emphasize strength, endurance and speed. Development of muscle control rather than skeletal balance takes precedence. Gaining speed at the expense of mounting tension, is too often the goal.
30 March 1996
Last updated 21 February 2007