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Better Karate Push-ups

by on February 10, 2009

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional traininer and so I’m not suggesting how you should train. The following is one possible way to train. Consult a physician before trying out a plyometric program.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a push up program that “guaranteed” you’d be able to do 100 pushups by the end of the 6-week program. I and many others have been thoroughly disappointed.

In the same article, I suggested that karateka should be focusing more on “explosive power” (cheesey term, I know) by performing fewer pushups but as fast as possible. After a little research, I’ve found that many others have thought about this as well. Time and time again I came across the term plyometrics.


In short, plyometrics is a training regime for reaching an individual’s maximum muscle output in the shortest time possible. It doesn’t claim to be able to improve the absolute maximum output, but instead suggests a strengthening program to be used in partnership with it.

Plyometrics and karate training go hand-in-hand in my view. The problem is that true plyometric training is more physically intense, and even potentially dangerous if not properly monitored, and that most people will not benefit from it but instead could be harmed by it. But there is something we can take from it.

Plyometrics “Lite”

These training programs are not for the faint of heart. They are designed with a very specific goal in mind. Sprinters, arm-wrestlers, pole vaulters, and boxers are some of the main customers, but martial artists are joining in.

The problem in the martial arts arena is that there is little funding for national or international training. Michael Phelps’ team received hundreds of thousands (and millions after he won all those golds in Beijing) to train year-round. With this type of money, teams can hire professional trainers who are educated, experienced, certified folks with the knowledge to make sure you don’t permanently ruin your body.

So we of the martial arts need to take a more conservative approach to plyometrics. I’ve discussed this with a personal-trainer friend of mine (whom I can’t afford to pay for the actual training) and he’s suggested that plyometrics can be incorporated in a stripped-down manner. This stripped version can go a long way to helping martial artists.

Let’s think of the push-up.

Plyometric Push-ups

Karate Push-Ups = Plyometric Push-ups.

One of the many goals of most karateka is to be able to be “sharp”. More exactly, being “sharp” means being able to reach your maximum speed and strength in the shortest possible time and halt that speed and strength in the shortest possible time.

Performing push-ups in a plyometric-ized way is the way to do it (for your arms and chest at least).

Plyometric push-ups are explained on many sites but the descriptions do not vary in the fundamentals. They can be explained as:


Plyometric Push-ups (image courtesy of

  1. Start by getting into a push-up position.
  2. Lower yourself to the ground and then explosively push up so that your hands leave the ground. 
  3. Catch your fall with your hands and immediately lower yourself into a push up again and repeat.
  4. Repeat for the recommended repetitions. 

There are two points to add:

  1. The reason you can push up and come off the ground is because you quickly bend and then extend the arms, providing elastic reflex energy. This is more effective than letting your chest rest on the floor, pausing, and then trying to push up fast enough to lift you off the floor. So do not pause after you’ve lowered yourself down (despite what the animation to the right shows)
  2. The recommended repetitions are low. These should be kept at around 15-25 reps (at most).  Start low and work your way up. There is a trade-off to be made between increasing repetitions and reducing the time it takes to perform them.

Beginners will want to start with a variation of these push-ups. Don’t try to propel yourself off the floor just yet, but try to go down-and-up as quickly as you can. Get a friend to time you and see how fast you can do 15 push-ups. Record the time, then do it again and try to shave off half of a second.

After two weeks (depending on your condition) of doing this every other night, you might be ready to try and push yourself off the floor on the push up. But use your own discretion (see opening disclaimer).

Muay Thai folk seem to have a good handle on plyometric training. I’ve watched a few videos of these guys using a medicine ball with their push-ups which helps improve muscle tone and twitch reflexes within the confines of a plyometric program.

And please, don’t clap when you push up. If its really that great, others will clap for you.


From → fitness, training

  1. Kayla permalink

    There are many exercises you can do to increase your speed and “explosiveness” for martial arts technique. Weight lifiting heavy weights for 4-6 reps for 3 sets is one method.

    A great agility workout regimen can be found here:

    Men would simply need to increase the weight when the exercise involves a medicine ball or dumbbells.

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