Above all, listen to your body. Training can be strenuous and I am not to blame if you hurt yourself.
Know your limits and consistently push them, without trying to leap too far over.
- Warm Up.
There are a thousand ways to get your heart pumping; choose one and use it to begin an exercise session. The earth-type or isometric exercises given here are excellent ways to warm up. A steady increase in heart rate is much healthier than a sudden jump, and physically warm muscles are less prone to injury as well as more easily and effectively stretched.
Probably the most important reason to improve one's flexibility is to prevent injuries, both in athletic endeavors and in everyday life. Stretching also improves blood flow, aids relaxation, enables new movements, and lengthens and tones the muscles to create ease and grace in movement. The water-type positions given here should be assumed calmly and held for at least ten and preferably thirty seconds, or perhaps ten deep and relaxed full breaths.
The lungs absorb oxygen into the bloodstream, and the heart pumps it to the muscles, which require the oxygen to produce energy effectively. During any fire-type movement, breathe in a deep yet relaxed manner, avoid holding your breath or hyperventilating, and exhale upon exertion. During any water-type movement, keep the chest expanded gently to allow the lungs room to inflate. The sections on breathing and cardio offer plenty of ways to strengthen the lungs and heart.
Your muscles are physically damaged by training, especially fire-type exercises. Torn and therefore sore muscles benefit from gentle stretching, proper breathing, and increased blood flow due to massage, light exercise and heat. They do not benefit from being re-torn with heavy exercise or aggressive stretching. Give each muscle group at least a day off and eat a good amount of protein, which is the raw material of muscle repair. I also recommend lying on your back and relaxing fully and completely for five to ten minutes at the end of every training session.
Use the full range of motion during fire-type exercises, to avoid reducing flexibility and/or developing the muscle incompletely. When a joint reaches full extension, the weight should still be supported by the muscle, not pushing backwards on the joint and especially not pushing with momentum. Be especially aware of this during bicep curls.
Weight should always be supported by muscles, not by joints. Indeed, one of the benefits of strength training is that it takes the body's weight off the joints, helping keep those joints healthy into old age. A good posture with an upright spine, strong and supportive abdominals and lower back, & solid support at the knees is essential. The shoulders should be kept strong during all arm exercises. Learn to be strong without being tense or rigid.
- Stretch Better.
For one thing, extend before you bend: stretch your spine from top to bottom before a forward bend, and point your elbow skyward before a behind-the-head triceps stretch. During water-type poses, be aware of which muscle groups are stabilizing, relaxing or stretching, and maximize each group's success at its given task. For a more intense stretch, try contracting muscles as you stretch them. Be aware that aggressive stretching after a fire-type workout can re-tear the muscle fibers, and if they are torn too often scar tissue will form and reduce flexibility. Therefore stretch sore muscles gently and allow them to heal.
- Slow Down.
Throwing the weights up is an intense contraction followed by a rest. These two things taken together are easier on your muscles than a slow and controlled movement. They are therefore less effective, and also develop the muscle group in an unbalanced way. Letting the weight fall also gives the muscles a rest and is dangerous to boot. During resistance training, raise slowly, lower slowly, and keep the muscles loaded without letting momentum or gravity do the work.
- Be Aware.
Make like a monk and listen to your body. If my descriptions fail, use your better judgment and pay attention. You should be making controlled and graceful motions that follow the body's natural path.
- Statics Holds.
One benefit of earth-style training is that it works all the muscles in an area, not just the larger primary ones, and not just the ones on the surface. Refined muscle development can come from the conscious direction of strain (by position, not by contraction) during a hold. The training of deeper core muscles is especially good for one's posture, and is very beneficial to the abs and lower back. As training progresses your muscles will be less challenged by the burden of your own weight, and this will allow them to relax more and to move you around more gracefully. Balance will also be improved.
The muscular load for static holds is usually provided by your own body or by equipment, but it can also come from another muscle group. In true isometric contractions, two muscles push against each other with tremendous force and do not move at all. Muscles can also resist each other while in motion, with one overcoming the other as it contracts, then the other reversing to overcoming the first. This method is known as isokinetics. Its epitome, which does incredible things to your body, is the San Chin Kata, which is taught in Goju-Ryu Karate dojos and is not available here.
There are a few different applications of this idea. The first is to exercise a single muscle intensely, then do a compound exercise in which that muscle group is normally primary. The secondary muscle groups will take more of the load and be strengthened proportionately. Another application is to follow intense fiery movements with earth poses, which will multiply the challenge of the earth-style training. A third is to follow earth with fire: if you find that the weight available is too light, a sustained static hold prior to lifting will make the light weight act like a heavy one.
- Negative Reps.
In general, selecting a weight that you can lift 8-10 times, and not one more, will lead to greater size and strength. If you want to go even farther, lift to muscle failure with 8-10 reps, lower the weight, then raise it back up with some other muscle or movement. Now lower it through the original motion again, trying to keep it up as it falls. This will take an already exhausted muscle past its limits, so be especially safety-conscious and allow plenty of healing time.
- Flow Motion. A second interpretation of the air element, aside from breathing and cardio, is in flowing and intuitive motion that helps to build co-ordination and mobility as it connects mind and body. If you've learned tai chi or chi kung, those are perfect; if not, just let yourself move in graceful freestyle motions between sets of more strenuous exercise. Not only is this healthy, it can also be fun.
- Circuit Training.
In proper fire training, the muscle is not allowed to rest between reps. In circuit or fire-air training, the cardiovascular system is not allowed to rest between sets of exercises. You will move rapidly from one movement to another, with your heart pumping and lungs working all the while. As always with cardio training, keep the intensity at an ideal balance, not so intense that you can't speak, and not so easy that you can sing.
- Explosive Training.
When you're physically able to so safely, expand your fire-type training to add quick and hard muscular contractions, such as squat jumps, ground-throwing push-ups, or yoga-style jumpings. This movements provide intense air-style training, and complement earth training perfectly. As you develop precision in directing these explosions, your manual co-ordination will increase as well as your strength. Explosive training is very relevant to the martial arts.
- Balance and Diversify.
Keep your mind interested by keeping things diverse, selecting new or less familiar exercises, trying new types of exercise, and inventing safe exercises yourself. The elemental method was designed with balance and diversity in mind: it is comprehensive enough to develop the body in a well-rounded way, customizable enough to meet diverse fitness goals, and flexible enough to make every workout fun and stimulating. The programs page includes several tailor-made Element Training programs, as well as goal-based guidelines for developing your own elemental program.
One of our cultural myths is that bad habits give more pleasure than good ones. If you make the right choices you will feel better and live better, other people will notice, and your life will become more fulfilling and fun. Be aware of small positive developments, even in periods of apparent inertia, and be patient and persistent in your development. If you choose to, you will experience more energy, deeper sleep, stabler moods, better posture, fewer health problems, and a longer, superior life, and you will be amazed by how good you feel.
- Be Holistic.
In the holistic sense of a healthy body, physical training is only one corner of a tripod. The second is a healthy diet, and and the third is abstinence from or moderation of self-destructive habits. An even broader vision of health sees physical, mental and spiritual health working together, adding to each other, providing a solid foundation for the full enjoyment of life.