We’ve spent a lot of time talking about karate belts in this blog. We’ve taken a look at what they mean, what the color grading system represents, how to tie them, and even how to display them. But here’s a lesser-known fact about karate belts that we haven’t touched on before: they can also make an excellent fitness accessory. From stretch aids, to tools for partner drills, to pieces of strength and conditioning equipment, martial arts belts can come in very handy when you’re low on weights, bands, and other gym gear and looking for a new challenge.
Here’s five of our favorite exercises involving karate belts to get your started:
The Leg Stretch Series
Lying supine (face up) on the mat, with both legs long, wrap your karate belt around the ball of your right foot and place both ends in your right hand. Keeping your left hip on the mat and your right leg straight ( but making sure that you’re not locking or hyperextending your knee) gently pull on the belt to lift your leg up and toward your torso until you feel the stretch through the back of your leg to stretch your hamstrings. Keep breathing. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
From there, still keeping the left hip on the mat and still keeping the belt taut in your hand, lower your right leg out to your right side until you feel the stretch on the inside of your leg to stretch your adductors. Keep breathing and hold for 20-30 seconds.
Finally, cross your right leg over your body and lower it toward the mat on the left side to for a gentle IT band stretch. Breathe and hold for the same amount of time.
Repeat the series with your left leg.
This Pilates-inspired exercise is a great dynamic stretch for your feet and ankles before a martial arts training session. It can also double as a gentle calf workout.
Lying supine on the mat with both legs long, place the middle of your karate belt on the ball of your right foot and hold one end of the belt in each hand. Lift your leg toward your torso until your foot is facing the ceiling. Keeping the belt taut, push the ball of your foot upward to plantar flex your ankle. Then gradually push your ankle upward to dorsiflex the ankle. Alternate between these two movements for 10 reps. Repeat on the left leg. Then repeat with both legs at the same time.
Partner Belt Sprints
There are few better and more challenging cardio drills than the sprint drills that you can do with a partner and a karate belt.
Standing in front of your partner, place the middle of your belt across your stomach, or a little lower across your hips (depending on what feels more comfortable) and hand the ends to your partner. Once your partner has both ends tightly in their hand and is grounded, the drill can begin. Your goal is to sprint forward as fast as you can. Your partner’s goal is to pull against this motion and slow down your progress, which takes the benefits of a regular wind sprint and adds a challenging degree of resistance to the mix. Once you reach the end of your sprint, walk back to the start line and switch places. This will both give your partner a turn and give you enough time to recover for the next rep. 3-5 sets of partner belt sprints can be a very effective part of any HIIT or cardio workout – or part of a more intense martial arts warm-up.
Variations of this partner drill can also be done with bear crawls, bunny hops, and side shuffles instead of sprints.
Partner Seated Rows
If you don’t have access to a machine or free weights, a partner and a belt is all you need to do this great exercise for back muscles like the rhomboids and lats.
Sit down with your legs wide in front of your partner, keeping your posture neutral (no slouching and no sagging in the lower back). Place one end of a folded karate belt in each hand with your arms straight in front of you and palms facing each other, while your partner does the same with with the middle. With the belt taut, flex your elbows and pull the ends of the belt toward your torso while your partner resists this motion. Once you’ve completed the rep (your hands should be almost at your sides at the end of this pull), resist as your partner does the same row. Alternate for 8-12 reps and 2-3 sets.
Here’s a great way to challenge your core. Lying supine, place the middle of the karate belt across the balls of both feet and hold on to one end in each hand, with your hands at your sides. Keeping the belt taut, slowly lift your legs . Pulling on the straps, lift your upper body up as well until your torso and legs have formed a v-shape. Slowly lower your upper and lower body back toward the mat. Repeat 8-12 times for 2-3 sets.