Martial Arts

An L of an uphill climb

When I walk into class I’m the biggest one in there. When I go to tournaments, I’m the chubby one. It seems like everyone else in Taekwondo is already awesomely athletic and in shape. Even when I meet other white and yellow belts, so many have previous athletic training and often martial arts experience. (Intimidating!)


In sparring gear, they print the size on the outside. (I know, right? Is that an assumption that athletes are dumb and can’t find a size printed in a less obvious place? More likely the assuming that most people wearing the gear won’t care about the size.) So my size L is facing out to the world. I haven’t seen any other Ls, so I’m an L in a world of M and S. My weight loss is slow, and in month six of regular Taekwondo, I still don’t feel or look like an athlete. My fitness curve is pretty steep. An L on an uphill climb!


My ultimate goal is not only to get a higher color belt, but also a SHORTER one..


What’s a girl to do when we like Taekwondo, we want to do it, but our fitness level and weight can hold us back? In the quest for weight loss and health post-baby, I’ve trained to speed-walk a 5k,  used those fun mini-jungle gyms called Pilates Reformer machines, and had a personal trainer for 3 months. I’ve done two stints in Weight Watchers and collaborated with a nutritionist. The most successful was the nutritionist; in the end everything helped a little, but not a lot. The weather in Florida made outdoor walking a hot, humid, heat-stroke-in-the-making mess, I got a stress fracture from the 5k, and I hated personal training because it was boring and repetitive. Pilates Reformer workouts are amazing, but can be expensive and I don’t live near a studio anymore. And while I lost an inch or two off my waist after 5 months of pilates, I didn’t lose fat.


You hear the adages: “only the brave ones make it in the door” and at tournaments “don’t worry about the people up in the stands–you’re the ones down here doing the work”. And I sincerely hope that the teachers mean these words, because it validates and encourages me while being the fat person working out with all the athletes. The largest person, the L, sparring amongst fitter, leaner M and S gear-wearing athletes.  And I also hope that it means if I just stick with it, one day I can feel like an athlete as well.


The weight loss is slow, so what’s a non-athlete to do to progress further on the path? Mr. Ninja says to practice at home, and I do. I practice poomse, as well as reviewing the self-defense and one-steps that I learn in class. (These moves take a little studying for me as well–I have to review them in my manual AND physically.)  I practice basic kicks (especially side kicks with the chair) to build up leg muscles, but even more than actual kicks I work on building up my leg muscles overall so I can perform any kick or movement better.  And for me, class 90 minutes two days a week with practice outside of class is leading to minimal losses of fat and weight.


So I keep increasing the intensity and scope of what I’m doing outside of class.  Six months ago that was hiking outdoors, some yoga or tai chi to keep flexibility. Last month I’ve added in some different workouts that have finally inched me a little further in completing all those jumping jacks!

One of the best dvds I’ve found that helps directly toward better movement in taekwondo class is Bob Harper’s Ultimate Cardio Body Maximum Weight Loss.  I’m a little embarrassed admitting that for some reason, like “real athletes wouldn’t use a Biggest Loser dvd”.  And, I know, I know, many of us didn’t appreciate The Biggest Loser because it didn’t promote sustainable, long-term weight loss. However, I like this dvd so much I just bought the four-pack with three workouts in addition to this one. I’m doing it 1-2 times a week.

Here’s how it’s helping me:

  • The movements are mostly low-impact and at a pace similar to that of class.  My heart rate stays up because I’m working upper and lower body together.


  • It targets the whole body, especially the lower body, and the first time I did it I could barely climb the stairs in my house the next day. I’ve never been that sore after class. (Don’t tell Mr. Ninja!)  Lunges, squats, knee lifts, step-overs and step-unders all help build leg muscles. The step-overs are the exact same move I found in a book called Black Belt Fitness for Life. (more about that book in another blog) The knee lifts, step-overs and step-unders build the muscles used in kicks, one-steps and poomse.


  • The upper body training includes push-ups and bicep/tricep/shoulder work to make TKD-style narrow push-ups easier in class.


  • I’m not at a level to do the plyo jumps yet, so I do a calf raise instead.  The calf strengthening will help my jumping jacks.


I’ve also returned to the original Sadie Nardini weight loss yoga.  You can find them free on Youtube and her website.  Her teaching style is fresh and energizing, but I do prefer her earlier recordings.   Forrest Yoga, a la Ana Forrest, also has some amazing core yoga sequences.  They’re available online as well.  I do yoga on the day between classes and any day after a hard workout where I’m sore or tired and need recovery.


Two reasons I’m adding in core: 1. We do a lot of it in class, and I’m all for anything that helps me keep up in class and 2. As I lose inches (by the measly quarter inch) more is coming off my hips, thighs and butt than my waistline.  TKD is taking me from a pear shape to an apple, and I’d like to reverse that trend! When I did pilates reformer classes, I didn’t lose weight but lost two inches off my waist in a few months.  I know experts say you can’t spot train, but I’ve had some success with pilates in this way.  They also list stress as being a contributor to abdominal fat (a la cortisol) and yoga and pilates have a slow pace with plenty of deep breathing.


Here’s to continuing progress to a shorter belt!


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