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Nutrition the missing ingredient




Most martial artists outside of the competitive arts miss one of the most essential elements of a successful training regime, NUTRITION.  Let us be honest with ourselves. How many Russian martial arts instructors and students are seriously overweight?  The answer is far too many and this article will explain some of my reasoning behind this statement.


Non destruction

One of the primary goals of all the various Systema groups is non-destruction.  On a physical level this means that the way we train should not cause our bodies any avoidable wear and tear or injuries.  In fact there seems to be a new wave of Systema students that seem more interested in the health benefits of their practice than the combat effectiveness of what they do.  This is understandable in the modern world because most people will never have to use their training to defend themselves from an attack and yet preventing deteriorating health is of concern to everyone.

Numerous studies have identified obesity as one of the major preventable causes of death worldwide.  Diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and strokes are significantly more like to occur in overweight people than people who are not carrying excess body fat. Add to this that the likelihood of contracting arthritis and lower back pain is also increased by obesity and we can quickly see that if allowed to get out of control we are very quickly destroying our own bodies.

It is now an unfortunate fact that most martial artists do more harm to themselves by in appropriate food consumption than the vast number of attackers will do if the unlikely did happen and someone were to attack them.


Efficiency of movement

The focus on the efficiency of movement is a common thread within Russian martial arts and yet here again we find weight preventing us from succeeding in this goal.  If we are overweight it affects the ranges of movement of our bodies.  Excess fat puts pressure on the diaphragm during rolling and this makes breathing laboured and rolling movements more difficult.

Add to this that body fat does nothing when it comes to the movement of limbs and therefore the higher the strength to weight ratio we have the more easily we will perform movements and it can be seen that excess bodyweight will take more effort to move around.  This is far from being efficient and something that cutting back on our weight can improve with no extra time invested in new training regimes.


‘Form’ a pillar of Systema

Students of Vladimir Vasiliev describe form or body structure as one of the four pillars that their style is built upon.  They spend a significant amount of their practice performing exercises whilst focusing on the alignment of their spine and joints.  However we have all seen seriously overweight individuals.  Particularly in men who often carry this body fat around their stomachs the unbalancing effect of the weight they carry forces their spine to develop an unnatural curvature making correct alignment difficult to achieve.


‘Breath’ the source of life

Another of the pillars is breathing.  However the ability to breath can be greatly affected by obesity. Doctors report that the number of patients with a chronic respiratory disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma or obstructive sleep apnea is also increasing as a direct result of the obesity crises that we are currently experiencing. 

The ability to breathe efficiently has been linked by a number of Russian physicians as being directly linked to a number of health issues.  Methods such as Buteko and users of the Frolov respiration trainer believe that training correct breathing can dramatically have a positive affect our health, but as we can see here this is a two way street.  

Being over weight can cause complications to our health that make breathing a very real challenge.  These diseases include asthma and dyspnea.  Also being obese causes an imbalance between the demand on the respiratory muscles and their capacity to generate tension, which leads to the perception of increased breathing effort.


What is the answer?

That is simple we need to lose excess weight through exercise and more importantly nutrition.  Then maintain this weight loss through a lifestyle that includes a healthy approach to our food choices and physical exercise.  In future blogs I will discuss some of the issues involved in weight loss and how to create a healthy lifestyle.



Canadian Medical Association


Let Every Breath - Vadimir Vasiliev


Buteyko Breathing Method - 'Close Your Mouth'