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My son loves Leadership. It makes him feel special to be a part of such an elite program. He proudly wears his Leadership uniform and uses the cool items with the Leadership logo. As a Mom, I love the difference I've seen in him. Leadership is such a beneficial investment!
– Alicia Jones, mother of 7-year-old Tyler Jones


From ATA World Volume 19, Number 4 Winter 2012

Article by Linda Formichelli | Photography by Jensen Hande

To improve your Taekwondo skills—and to stay healthy for life—you need to get moving. Really moving—like heart rate up, lungs breathing hard, sweat beading on your forehead moving.

In other words, you’ve got to do your cardio.

“If you want to do well in competitions and be the best that you can be, cardio is very important,” says Master Daniel Gimenez, Chief Instructor at Karate America Ponte Vedra in PonteVedra, Fla.

Also known as aerobic exercise, cardio is any exercise that gets your heart pumping, like running, swimming, bike riding, team sports, playing tag, brisk walking, and, of course, martial arts.

And cardio is a big key to your overall health. The famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota recommends regular cardio excercise to condition your cardiovascular system—which includes your heart and lungs—so that it functions correctly and efficiently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity (like jogging or running) every week.

As for our children, the science also points to regular cardio: Repeated studies have shown that daily rigorous exercise for children decreases levels of childhood obesity. Cardio activities—like walking, running, jumping rope, or playing sports—should make up most of their 60-plus minutes of physical activity each day.

It might sound like a lot of boring treadmill hours, but if you’re coming out of regular Taekwondo class sweaty and breathing deep, you’re probably getting some effective cardio done. And if you’re creative and integrated with a variety of workouts, cardio can actually be exhilarating and fun.

And with the following benefits you’ll definitely want to kick out some cardio this winter:

You’ll Blast Through Class

The more cardio you do, the more endurance you develop, so you’ll be able to exercise longer without feeling like hitting the couch after hitting the bags. Increased stamina helps you perform better in Taekwondo and keeps you from becoming fatigued in class and throughout the day. And you’ll learn your new form faster too: Numerous studies have shown that high-intensity aerobic exercise boosts cognitive function in both adults and children.

You’ll Get - and Stay - Slim

Cardio is a top-notch calorie burner. During one hour, a 155-pound person can burn 704 total calories doing Taekwondo (wow!), swimming fast laps, or jumping rope; 563 calories cycling or running; 267 calories walking at a brisk pace; and 352 calories doing low impact aerobics. And the burn lasts for hours after you stop.

Since there are 3,500 calories in a pound, if you do a cardio intense Taekwondo workout, you could lose one pound of fat after just five workouts, or about 20 pounds in one year of twice-weekly classes - and that’s without changing the calories you consume. If you run just 30 minutes, five days a week, you could lose a pound of fat in two-and-a-half weeks, or 21 pounds in a year, without making any other changes. If you cut calories? Even more.

Your Heart and Cholesterol Levels Will Thank You

Cardio exercise helps build a strong, healthy, and efficient heart. It also increases your “good” cholesterol and decreases “bad” cholesterol in your body, which helps keep your arteries clear and healthy and prevents strokes, heart disease, and heart attacks. And according to the Mayo Clinic, if you’ve already had a heart attack, cardio workouts will help prevent subsequent ones.
Think you can’t do cardio in the winter because of the cold temps? Think again! Winter cardio workouts can make you happier as you get heart-healthier. Plus, you’ve got to keep raising your heart rate even as the temperatures drop.

Hit the dojahng: When cold strikes, head to the dojahng and take more heart-pumping classes. “I take the time that I would spend outside cycling and get inside the martial arts school instead,” says Keegan Ireland, owner of Ireland’s ATA Martial Arts in Keizer and Oregon City, Ore.

Be an animal: Master Jack McInerney, owner of two ATA schools in New Jersey, suggests doing exercises inspired by animal movements to get your heart rate up without leaving the house. For example, in the bear walk, you’ll have both your hands and feet on the floor and will move the limbs on one side forward together. Search on YouTube for other animal movement exercises. (Fun with kids!)

Grab the window spot: At the fitness center, at the dojahng, or even when you’re doing cardio at home, do it in front of the window. The sunlight will help your body make vitamin D, and the view will make you feel more like you’re outside (minus the chilly temps).

Give in and go out: There are whole communities online of people who bicycle outdoors in the winter (like, and you’ll find running diehards on the streets in all weather and at all hours too. Do some research to make sure you’re dressed and prepared for frigid temps - then brave the elements like a true cardio warrior!


Ever notice how great you feel after a hard workout? Ever get a “Taekwondo high” after a lot of sweat in the dojahng? It’s not just because you’re glad the hard work is over. It’s because your body releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers that also boost your mood.

The benefits continue long after the feeling is gone, too. A study by Duke University researchers showed that 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times per week helped lift subjects’ depression just as well as drug therapy, without side effects.

Even better, aerobic exercise can help you beat the winter blues. Not only does the exercise itself improve mood, but if you work out in the great outdoors, you’ll get a good dose of sun, and experts believe that a lack of sun exposure contributes to depression in winter.

Group classes like are found in dojahngs have the additional benefit of allowing you to socialize while you exercise. “Up here in the Northwest, people get really depressed in the winter because of the dreary weather,” says Keegan Ireland, owner of Ireland’s ATA Martial Arts in Keizer and Oregon City, Ore. “If you work out alone it doesn’t always get the stress out, but coming down here and laughing and punching and kicking with fellow students who are doing the same thing you’re doing really elevates people’s moods.”

To get your cardio in, you don’t have to designate daily hours on the treadmill or stationary bike separate from your Taekwondo training. Here’s a workout from Chief Master William Clark and that bridges both tasks: It helps you practice Taekwondo and it gets your heart pumping at the same time. (And it only takes about 20 minutes per day!)

  Round 1: Front kicks for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of six sets, switching legs for each.

  Round 2: Round kicks for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for six sets, switching legs for each.

  Round 3: Side kicks for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for six sets, switching legs for each.

  Round 4: A jab, plus a cross (or “Warrior Combination #2” as it is known in the Warrior X-Fit workout) for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for six sets.

  Round 5: A cross, a hook, and a cross combo (or “Warrior Combination #3”) for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeatfor six sets.

  Round 6: A jab, a cross, a hook, and a cross combo (or “Warrior Combination #4”) for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for six sets.

Stretch your whole body for at least ten minutes after. And for more workouts like this, visit

Position yourself across the dojahng from a striking bag. Run toward the bag, and when you get there, jump quickly into a stance and hit the bag with any kind of strike you know, such as a backfist strike, a back elbow strike, or a knifehand strike. Then run back to the starting place and do it again, changing up the stances and strikes each time.

Kicks: Beginning at one end of the mats, perform a high round kick with one leg, ending in a front stance. Then switch legs, doing the same thing. You’ll slowly advance across the floor, but the intensity of the high round kicks and stances will quickly get your heart pumping hard.

Blocks: Face a friend, both in the same stance, at one end of the dojahng floor. Move quickly across the floor, staying in your stances. The person moving forward throws a random strike with each step, and the person moving backward blocks the strike. When you get to the end, go back across the floor so each person gets a chance to be the blocker and the striker.

Stances: Here’s one from Master Jack McInerney: Get into a deep front stance and
do “The Twist”—twist your body from side to side while keeping your feet planted—for 30 seconds. Then do the same in a back stance. This one is both fun and effective!

School owner Keegan Ireland likes to have his students perform the first three movements of
Songahm One: Step forward, do a high block; follow with a reverse punch number 2, then move
forward into a front kick. Repeat across the dojahng floor for a cardio workout that will also help you sharpen your form.

This quick, efficient workout was developed by Chief Master William Clark, who based it on the workout regimens of great martial artists. The program combines strength training with cardio, and promises to help you get fit and stay fit in 20 to 60 minutes a day.

Warrior X-Fit has short periods of intense effort punctuated by brief rest breaks—you do six sets each of six exercises. Some experts believe you can get all the benefits of a longer workout in a shorter amount of time with this method, and many ATA Taekwondo students can attest to the fact that this one definitely works. The workout changes every day of the month to help keep boredom at bay. And all that’s required of you are some kickboxing gloves and some elastic resistance bands—about $20 to $30 total. The cost of the workouts themselves? Check with your Taekwondo school (some offer group Warrior X-Fit workouts) or go online where workouts are free at

Amber Gimenez is an instructor at Karate America Ponte Vedra, an international business major at the University of North Florida, a scholarship athlete, and a mom - and if she can get cardio in, anyone can.

Her secret is that on the days she’s not doing Taekwondo at her school, she does a Warrior X-Fit workout, which takes her just 24 minutes. That’s shorter than a sitcom or a game show on TV, and shorter than the dry time for a load of laundry!

For high rank Black Belts, cardio is key in successfully completing the ATA Physical Fit Test at midterm or before an advance in each rank.

The ATA Fit Test is a simple yet vigorous fitness test. The goal is to pound out as many moves as you can in five one minute rounds—with one minute of rest in between each one—to come up with a grand total of at least 300 moves. These are:

Round 1: Push-ups
Round 2: Sit-ups
Round 3: Kicks
Round 4: Combination of kicks and hand techniques
Round 5: Hand techniques

Your moves must be clean and accurate, not sloppy or halfhearted, and there’s no escaping that: The kicks, combos, and hand techniques are done on a bag outfitted with a sensor, so only those techniques that hit the target will count.

The test is no easy task. “So if you’re short on one round, you have to make it up in another round,” says Senior Master Tish Kohl, supervisor of the Instruction Department for ATA Headquarters. Endurance, quickness, and overall cardio health really help (as does a little strategy and preparation).

Note these new rules for the test:

All 4th Degree to 7th Degree Black Belts must have a passing National Physical Fit Test on record to receive approval to midterm or test. 3rd Degree Black Belts also must have a passing PFT, though they may complete them in their schools.

All 3rd Degree to 7th Degree Black Belts applying to rank test must have a passing ATA Fit Test on record to complete the approval process.