Friday, June 4, 2010

Intensity vs. Duration

Is it possible to get a good workout in less time?

That's a subject for debate among athletes of all kinds. If time keeps you from training the way you want, is it possible to squeeze a lot of benefits into a shorter, but more intense, workout?

Some, like Bruce Lee's sihing (older Kung Fu brother) William Cheung, believe that intensity is more important than quantity when it comes to training. This past week, I've been putting that to the test. My financial situation has been pretty rough. It's put pressure on me to either find a real job or at least come up with more paying freelance work.

That's cut a lot into my workout time.

On the other hand, I am trying to be mindful of something I read over at my friend Don's Yau Kung Mun blog - that you should try to do at least a little something each day.

I am determined to get in a workout session at least six days a week. Even if I only have 20 or 30 minutes, I will get something done in that time. I may not get to do a lot of forms or some heavy bag work, but I can get a lot of conditioning done in that short of time.

Dan Ivan (above) is an American karate pioneer who served as a military intelligence agent in post-war Japan. He had several opportunities to use his training in real life-or-death situations. One key piece of advice he had for students was to stretch.
"If you have time for nothing else, do your stretches."

Today's workout was a little longer than usual - a full hour! I put it to use with a good full-body stretch. It's not particularly glamorous or exciting, but given my knee and neck problems, it is probably the most important part of my workout. I really feel a difference for the better when I stretch faithfully. Conversely, I feel a helluva lot worse when I'm not stretching regularly.

Following that, I did a short circuit, alternating between runs of the Siu Lam Tao set, pushups and sets with the abwheel. After watching a video of some Gurkhas practicing with the khukuri knives, I was in the mood to play with something sharp. Since I couldn't find my own khukuri, I used my steel kris, doing redondos and figure-eights between sets of abwheels and pushups.

In addition to my circuit, I recalled a training method I used as a 15-year-old middle class white punk from the suburbs. In those days, I didn't have a heavy bag or a makiwara, not that I would have known the proper way to use the latter. Instead, I conditioned my hands using mass quantities of knuckle pushups.

The phoenix-eye fist. One of the nastiest techniques of the Chinese martial arts. But like anything else in Kung Fu, you must approach it gradually and condition yourself to be able to effectively use it.

Assume a pushup position on a soft exercise mat. With your hand in the phoenix-eye position, balance on your bottom knuckles.

GENTLY roll onto your extended forefinger and do your pushups. Two or three will be very good for a beginner. I personally do eight to 10 in a set.

At least twice a week, I made a point of doing 100 knuckle pushups. It didn't matter how many sets it took. By the end, I was doing sets of only four or five pushups. But, I completed them.

Lately, I've been doing a lot of claw pushups and phoenix-eye pushups. My goal is to do a set of 100 of them twice a week. I mixed it up with sets of up to 30 pushups using all five fingers, to sets of only three or four reps of the forefinger-and-thumb pushups. I averaged about six to eight pushups of the phoenix-eye pushups. But no matter what, I did the full 100 pushups.

It was barely an hour. By my recent standards, an unusually long workout. It's not much, but I feel like I'm getting a lot done.


  1. Wow Sean you did get a lot done. When I only have a short time to train I go to one of the bagua leaning postures. You can literally get a whole work out in depending on how strictly you hold the posture.

    Anyway, those phoenix eye push ups looked brutal. I have done a lot of pushups a lot of different ways but never like that. I've always wondered the best way to train that fist and I think that's it.

    Great post as always.

  2. Glad you liked it, Bret. Don't phoenix-eye pushups really changed my view of the phoenix-eye punch. I did it as part of forms, out of respect for tradition, but I never really considered it effective until I started with those phoenix-eye pushups.