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Joined: 04 May 2008
Posts: 6862
Location: McHenry County, IL
Styles: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bujin Bugei Jutsu, Gokei Ryu Kempo Jutsu, MMA, Shootfighting, boxing, kickboxing, JKD, Pekiti Tersia Kali

PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 3:00 pm    Post subject: Creating a Home Training Environment for Martial Arts Reply with quote

This post was originally published as an article in a dedicated Articles section, which is no longer online. After the section was closed, this article was most to the most appropriate forum in our community.

The question comes up fairly frequently: What's the best way to train at home for my martial arts? It's a good question and if you're committed to supplementing your training at home and have the proper goals in mind while designing your space, you can make great strides while away from the gym. In this article, we'll talk about setting aside space for training in your home and then stocking it to get done what you need, from the basics of function to a fully tricked out home gym.

Let me preface this all by putting out a disclaimer: there is no replacement for qualified instruction. All of the training outside the club I've ever done, or recommended, has been in addition to, and following the training parameters of, actual class time in arts. You're not teaching yourself here, you're sharpening skills your coach has given you to work on. As you advance, you'll find ways to improve your game or link things together in a new manner, but focus initially on just putting in more reps of what you're working in class. A space at home can give you many more reps of practice than you'll get at the gym alone if you're willing to put in the time. Lastly on this note, I train at home because I can't get away to the gym every night or at convenient hours of class time. If I could do that, I would and would have a pool table or something instead. You should be using your home gym as a supplement to, not a replacement for, going to train at your gym.

How to Decide What You Need

There are a couple of questions to deal with once you decide to train at home in addition to time at the gym. First, what exactly do you want to get done in this space you're creating? Do you just want to cross train for sport specific movements or actually work on your art? The answer to this will start to tell you how much space you'll have to set aside in your home for the project and what equipment you'll need to stock it with.

Second, how much space do I have to commit to this effort? This will drastically affect your answers to question one. You might have to compromise on your goals to make the two meet. Once you find where these two intersect, you'll have a realistic starting point.

I will say this about making the two meet: If you really want to train at home, do not attempt to make this space multi-functional. The idea of moving a sofa to practice might sound fine when you're planning, but will seem an insurmountable obstacle when you're deciding if you can squeeze in a workout before bed. So if that leaves you with just a corner to dedicate rather than a whole room, work accordingly. You'll actually get more use out of properly designed small space than a poorly envisioned larger one.

Where Should You Put Your Training Space?

After designing my space in everything from my first apartment to my home now and everything in between plus helping a friend or two along the way, I get asked occasionally what the best place to set up a spot is. The easy answer is to go back to the first two questions and see where they intersect. Now find that space in your home. That's the best spot. I've used spare bedrooms, garages, basements, even a large mud room. The same goes for the how much space you'll need, get an answer to each question that fits with the other and you have your answer. Someone who wants to spar regularly with friends in this space will need much more than someone who wants to hit a heavy bag every night.

That being said, I do have a couple of recommendations after a few goes at this. First, I try to stay out of garage space. If you live anywhere near or above the Mason-Dixon Line, it gets cold in the winter. Real cold. This will greatly inhibit your desire to work out. Second, you'll have to leave your car or cars outside. Depending on the situation, this might not set well with a significant other that has to deal with your obsession. On the flip side, they have a lot of space and you can do about any sort of modifications you want to them. However, they are subject to environmental changes and the needs to share space with vehicles make them less than ideal to me.

Stay out of spaces that are heavy traffic, especially if you have multiple roommates. I learned this from my mud room experience. Any foot traffic through the middle of the workout will make it less than ideal not to mention it will make it less likely that you'll do it. Sure it sounds easy to just stop and start, but nothing will be more counter-productive to your bag routine like chatting between rounds for 20 minutes about your roommate's class project.

Personally, the best space I've found is the basement facility, followed by a spare room. Either will give you your own space to set up without outside influence to your specs. This will mean that you get more out of it. Plus both are generally climate controlled to a degree so you won't have to scrape the frost off your floor space before training.

Designing Your Space

How much space will you need to dedicate out of either? Let's look at what you want to do. If you're out of a striking art, it might be that all you need is space for a heavy bag, or as a second choice a freestanding bag and some room for foot work. This will mean very little dedicated space in the grand scheme of things. You can even dedicate less if you want to mount a makawari or two at separate heights to work off of and cut angles in relation to. This kind of set up, basic as it is, is relatively cheap and can be done in very little space.

My personal preference for makawari training is two striking surfaces, about a foot and a half to two feet long. One set at head/throat height and the second knee/quad height. I build these out of two by fours covered by two to three layers of blue camping pad. I tape them down with duct tape. This makes them padded and durable and easily rebuilt after much striking and breakdown. I lag bolt the each to a stud then cover the bolding with pad as well. This configuration gives you a lot of striking area to work with and tactics to employ. When used with angle work it becomes very useful in developing a trapping game.

A little more dedicated space will get you room to do drill work. This way you can step off line and work combos, do stance work, or work shadow boxing in the air. Again, this can pay dividends in rep time and cardio conditioning.

To expand further, if you're out of a karate based art, get enough space to perform the largest kata in the style without resetting or worrying about running into anything. If you can, I recommend that as a starting point, if you have the space to work with. Now you can work the foundational aspects of your style, plus have room to do floor drills. Add in the heavy bag and makawari mounted in the space and you're ready to work.

Think vertical in your space as well. Do you plan on working any throws? Or spin weapons of any length? If so, are you going to be able to do them without raking your friend's feet across the ceiling or blowing lights up with sticks? This might be beyond your ability to deal with as it's kind of a fixed variable. However, if it's close and matters that much to you, don't forget that you can always rip out a drop ceiling to accommodate. Personally, I'd delegate work on those things to the classroom only. There's plenty of stuff to work other than things that might mean major demolition to your home. If it's a weapons issue, switch to short items for home work. Now is the time to pull out the sticks and knives.

Now we're talking about a space ideally that will accommodate a kata without being tight that has a bag hanging in one corner (or a freestanding one there instead) and a makawari mounted nearby. That's pretty functional for most people.

Floor Covering

Assuming we're talking about a room sized space, either in the basement or a spare room, we need to deal with floor covering. It's likely that there is already carpet down in any finished or semi-finished room. That will do for many karate based arts, especially for home work. If you have an unfinished basement you could work out in shoes all the time, which is functional and cheap or get carpet remnants from a store for very little money to put down. If you take the extra step, the base level padding will give you some cushion as you work. If you go this route, it should be uniform across your area. No need to twist an ankle doing kata due to a drop off in the middle of your workout space.

Matting is another option that is excellent, although much more expensive, for floor covering. Personally, I'll try to make this happen every time based on the arts I'm into. Again, if you're in a karate art with no ground work and minimal throwing, I wouldn't worry. However, if you're in anything that puts people on the floor regularly or do MMA or BJJ, the mats will pretty much become mandatory. Even if I'm not having anyone over to work out with, I'll do roll work, break falls, and no end of shrimping or hip drills on my off days. If you're in a similar situation, you'll need them or, in all likelihood, you won't work you sport's specific movements enough.

If you are in one of the arts that make mats nearly a requirement, you'll want to think about the wall your surface meets as well. Nothing can wreck a day like slamming your foot into a wall during a roll without anything to cushion it. If you don't have spare matting to cover the wall in, I'd use the cheap puzzle mats that most sporting goods stores sell to put under weight equipment. Velcro will secure this to most surfaces.

As to where to get mats, there are plenty of online sources. Like I said, this is expensive. However, keeping an eye out for high schools that are getting rid of any sort of matting (wrestling or folding) can make this very cheap. Before getting my wrestling mat, I used old gymnastic mats, that were being replaced, from a gymnastic center. These covered my floor for free for years. Now, they are on my walls via Velcro while my wrestling mats are on the floor. It's an excellent set-up; if somewhat time consuming to put together on a budget.

The Luxury Items

Now you've got a space large enough to do what you need, matted on the floor and surrounding walls with enough equipment to cover the basics of solo training. From this, you've got more than enough to drill supplemental work at home. If you're here, you're lucky. Past this, we're talking sheer luxury items. If you've got a heavy bag (or substitute), you don't need much more. However, given space, I'd add a double ended striking bag for some variety, possibly an upper cut or other specialty bag. If your art focuses around trapping exercises, a Wing Chun dummy might not be a bad luxury addition to the arsenal.

If you do grappling arts, a dummy to work on is nice as well. If you're on the mat at an academy three or more nights a week, it's probably more trouble than it's worth. However, it's beneficial when drilling new movements and conditioning. You can always buy a high dollar option, or have some fun and build one based on the many plans available for free online. I cobbled mine together off of about three different sets to get it to do what I wanted and spent less than fifty bucks on it by the time I was done begging, stealing and borrowing.

At some point, if you're doing circuit type conditioning out of your space, you'll want to invest in both a medicine ball and Swiss ball. These simple and relatively inexpensive items will give you the ability to work sport specific conditioning movement in your private studio.

Solo training is now pretty much sewed up. But you know if you put this much time into you place you're going to invite your friends over to train. Given this, it makes sense to have some stuff lying around to train with. Keeping your sparring gear nearby is handy, plus a set of focus mitts and MT pads. Now you can start training partner work. Additionally, I keep a chest pad in the area as well. This lets you set up some great mitt work in conjunction with the pads given the chance. Add your choice of weapons and a place to store all this stuff and you're in business. The sky, and your budget, is really the limit for what you can keep around to use for training when you get a partner. Just remember, you don't need to sink a ton of money into this sort of stuff. This is your accessory training facility. Plus, martial artists tend to collect this stuff as they go. In a couple of years your storage area will be full no matter what you set out to do.

Home fitness facilities, cardio and weight, are beyond the scope of this article. However, if you have them or are planning on having them, keep them in proximity of your martial arts space if possible. This will let you link up conditioning drills much easier.

Personalize It

Lastly, there are the little touches that make it your own. I can't survive a workout without music. I think it might be a federal law actually. So a CD player or spot to stream your favorite station is key. I keep some mellow alternative stuff to roll to, some metal to MMA and spar to, and the mandatory "Rocky" soundtrack to lift with. It will give your space some flair and make it more enjoyable to work out. A flag or two on the wall if it's your thing makes the space feel like a gym. Have some fun with this; it will make you want to go drill.

Functionally, think about keeping a video camera around. This lets you get good footage of your skills and keeps you honest. A computer handy to download said footage to and watch is pretty nice as well. Plus this set-up lets you record new stuff your buddies might show you so you can review or keep workout sequences recorded so you don't lose them to your memory. Once you've got a grasp of your art, it will also give you the ability to scour the internet for all things related to your art. New tactics, drills, techniques, etc. Being able to work on these while watching them, or in conjunction with reviewing them, is a great tool (gone are the days of the TV and VCR). Again, this should not be your primary learning theater, but an accessory, and in the case of internet research, only done after you have a good base of knowledge. The video and laptop are the only things in my workout area that pull double duty. I just can't justify committing high dollar items like that to my workouts. On a last note, a low-tech dry erase board hung nearby will help you keep track of goals, daily workouts and more. It's cheap and handy.

I Have a Great Space, Now How Do I Use It?

Now you have your super cool space. How does one go about using it? Believe it or not, the question comes up. There's all sorts of answers, maybe a better way to phrase it would be: How does one maximize this space?

First up, decide what you want out of your time. Is it skill building, cardio, sport specific work? This will guide you on how to set up a workout for the day. Designing workout protocols is beyond the scope of the article, but taking the time to actually build a system based on your goals rather than just walking into your home area and starting to move will be well worth the research time. If you have the equipment we've talked about or something similar and an imagination, you can put together no end of workouts. I keep a spreadsheet going so I can quickly pull up daily work if I need to. This will keep your time focused so you're making the most of it.

Lastly, once you have your space, use it. Have fun with the process of creating your training area. You'll learn a lot just taking the time thinking about your goals and piecing it together. Then enjoy training there. Remember, if you even spend 20 minutes in it, three times per week, it's like another class of reps each week. I think most people will agree that this will radically effect your progress in a positive manner.

Good luck and have fun.
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KF Administrator

Joined: 01 May 2001
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Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 3:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great read. Thank you for the submission, Alex.
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 31 Mar 2006
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Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE

PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 11:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is a fantastic article, Alex. Thanks for writing this.
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 17 Jan 2007
Posts: 6424
Location: UK
Styles: Tae Kwon Do & Yang family Tai Chi

PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 1:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article
"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it." ~ Confucius
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 15485
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 6:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Solid article Alex!!

With your permission, can I put this in our upcoming Newsletter?? If not, can I put in up on our big message board??

**Proof is on the floor!!!
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Joined: 04 May 2008
Posts: 6862
Location: McHenry County, IL
Styles: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bujin Bugei Jutsu, Gokei Ryu Kempo Jutsu, MMA, Shootfighting, boxing, kickboxing, JKD, Pekiti Tersia Kali

PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks everyone! I appreciate the feedback. Feel free to use the article, sensei8, I'd be honored.
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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 18 Oct 2010
Posts: 2562
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Styles: Shorin-Ryu, Shuri-Ryu, Judo, KishimotoDi

PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2013 7:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article--thanks for sharing! We are actually in the process of buying a house, so I will get to set up my garage as a training area, so this was well-timed
Kishimoto-Di | 2014-Present | Sensei: Ulf Karlsson
Shorin-Ryu | 2010-Present: Nidan | Sensei: Richard Poage (RIP), Jeff Allred (RIP)
Shuri-Ryu | 2006-2010: Sankyu | Sensei: Joey Johnston, Joe Walker
Judo | 2007-2010: Gokyu | Sensei: Joe Walker, Adrian Rivera
Karate Obsession | Arizona Practical Karate
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Orange Belt
Orange Belt

Joined: 25 Mar 2013
Posts: 102
Location: Mississippi
Styles: Shotokan Karate, Judo

PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 4:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article!! THANKS!!
Martial Arts is not just a hobby, Its a way of life!!!
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