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How To: Crank Up Your Cardio | Raising the Heart Rate to Raise Performance

Runners refer to it as “the kick.” It’s the moment at the very end of a race when they burst out with everything they’ve got, pushing as hard as they can to reach the finish line ahead of their opponents. After a long race a runner’s kick can make or break his results, and it all stems from endurance. 

The same is true for martial artists. Adrenaline can only get you so far; it’s your training that helps you accomplish your goals.  And if you’ve done martial arts for any length of time, you know just how important cardio- like running- is to lasting in those intense sparring matches and finishing that double ssahng jeol bong routine. 

Cardiovascular exercise is any sort of activity that raises your heart rate and increases blood circulation for an extended period of time. It’s a critical part of any workout plan, particularly for its ability to burn fat and calories for weight loss.  For martial artists, however, cardio plays an even more important role as a key contributor to your overall performance. 

Heart of the Matter

Despite whether you’re testing, training for competition or working toward your Mastership, cardio is crucial.  Your heart is a muscle that needs to be worked and trained just like any other, and this is where cardio comes in.  Increasing your heart rate not only strengthens the muscle, but it also increases lung capacity and builds endurance- the very thing that allows you to persevere in martial arts. 


Grand Master In Ho Lee is always working out to stay more fit and he says, “Improving your cardio is essential to keeping your heart strong and increases your endurance during training.  The higher you get in rank, the more moves you have in your form.  You always want to look strong and not hit a point where your body gives out.”

Chief Master Todd Droege of Droege’s ATA in Marietta, Ga., agrees that cardio is important to a martial artist and said he sees an improvement in his endurance during sparring.  “It keeps your heart rate on track and improves your muscle response and reaction time for when you need it most,” Droege says.  Without cardio, you cannot perform at this high of an athletic level.” 

His preferred method of enhancing Taekwondo training is through what he calls explosive cardio.  “It’s in quick bursts like doing two minutes high speed on a bike instead of a long endurance ride,” Droege says.  “Explosive cardio makes you more effective as a martial artist.”

A Good Fit

So what are the best ways to get your cardio?  One of the most efficient ways to achieve your cardio goals is practicing the ATA FIT test, a program designed to develop speed, flexibility, agility, power, accuracy, coordination and balance.  The program weaves those explosive bursts into your regular training with Taekwondo-based drills.

“There is a lot of benefit to incorporating Taekwondo workouts into your cardio training,” Grand Mater says.  “You get to practice your technique while building endurance so it’s a win-win.” 

Many ATA licensed locations use the ATA FIT test in their classrooms as a strand for ATA black belts.  Each round is specially designed with sets of pushups, sit ups, kicking combinations utilizing both sides of the body, striking drills and designated foot and hand combos.  Different ages and abilities are given alternate requirements, but the important things is to always improve your cardio and endurance to challenge yourself even more.

Keep It Moving

When the weather allows, it’s nice to incorporate cardio outdoors in addition to your traditional Taekwondo workouts.  Running and hiking are popular among some Songahm Masters.  Whether you stick to outdoor activities, or indoor moves such as burpees or jumping jacks, the trick is to find a way to keep things fun while keeping your heart rate up.  That way, you’re more likely to develop a regular cardio schedule.

For Droege, that means mountain biking and weight training in his free time.  Even though he enjoys them, these activities serve a larger purpose; to help make him the best martial artist he can be. 

“Not only are the y fun, but they build strength and endurance, adding another level of protection for when you are training,” he says.  “I do what I can outside of Taekwondo to prevent injury so that I can do Taekwondo twice as long.”

Corner that Cardio!

Cardio Benefits:


  • Boosts Your Mood 
  • Helps You Sleep Better
  • Reduces Stress
  • Lowers Risk of Heart Attack, High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, and Diabetes

Cardio Methods:


  • Jump Rope
  • Kettle Bells
  • High Knees
  • Burpees


  • Running
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Swimming

Written by Jess Ardrey. Originally published in Vol. 23 no. 1 of the ATA World Magazine.

Jan. 02, 2018