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This is a guest post by Joaninha who writes the always informative and interesting Mandingueira (capoeira from the female perspective). Combine these tips with my post about the 5 Best Strength Training Exercises and you’ll be a hard bodied capoeira machine in no time!
It’s no secret that upper-body strength is an asset in capoeira. Even though the essence of the game rests more in dialogue than in acrobatics, who hasn’t daydreamed about pulling off fancy floreios in the middle of a raging roda? Just keep these key things in mind for training your upper body, and you’ll be unlocking one-handed macacos before you know it.
Key #1: Anywhere, anytime—No room for excuses!
Although you will have much more selection at the gym, one of the great things about upper-body exercises is that many of them can be done outside of one. You don’t need special equipment either, although getting a pair of decent weights would go a very long way.
Need a break from staring at your computer screen while at your desk? Perfect time for a set of tricep dips, with either bent or straight legs. Chilling in the backyard? Hang from a sturdy, safety-confirmed, I-will-not-hunt-down-Joaninha-if-this-breaks tree branch for a series of pull-ups. (This also works for any sturdy, safety-confirmed, etc. bars inside your home.) If you don’t have either, head on over to a local playground. Of course, any few square metres of ground forms the perfect push-up apparatus, and click here for a few more ideas!
Key #2: Mind over Matter
I met a capoeirista once whose teacher made students drop and do twenty every time they dared utter two fatal words: “I can’t.” If you already believe you’ll fail, why are you trying? This is especially important for women, who are constantly touted as “the ones with no upper-body strength”, even though their muscles are physically just as strong as men’s. As a result, studies have shown that women consistently and significantly underestimate, to a greater degree than men do, the amount of work they can do while strength training.
If you want to significantly improve your strength, make sure you are really working at the limits of your physical capabilities. When doing rep exercises, for example, you should be thinking seriously about calling on ancestral spirits to finish that last one. Learn to push yourself beyond what you think you can do.
Key #3: Drop and do twenty (and don’t complain about it)!
Faisca covered this already in a previous post: “Push-ups are the quintessential exercise. It’s a full body workout that works your back, abs, chest, and arms all at the same time.” They’re really the work-out champion of “tried and true”; why do you think teachers and trainers like them so much?
A good trick is to do at least one set of push-ups everyday, whether it’s after class, before bed, or first thing in the morning. Even if you just start with five a day (like, ahem, yours truly), if you take care to do each individual push-up properly (arms at full 90-degrees, no stopping mid-set), and stick to it daily, you will see results (hello, proper queda de rins). Just don’t forget to increase the number as you get stronger.
For those who have already “been there, done that”, or wish to concentrate on their chest muscles, switch to push-ups with your hands either wide apart, or close together and touching. And if you really want a challenge, consider clapping [in between] push-ups or the Dive-Bomber Push-up.
Key #4: Form Equals Function
As a fellow capoeirista pointed out after one particularly esquiva-happy class: it’s really hard to maintain form when you have so many reps to do. The only problem is that in working out, to sacrifice form is to sacrifice function, meaning what you just did was useless. That’s why going all the way down to a full 90 degrees is so important in push-ups, and why raising yourself all the way back up is just as, if not more, important.
Another time, we were practicing “bananeira push-ups” against a wall, and our teacher that class said that if we couldn’t do the entire movement (down to ground and back up), it was better to go all the way down then kick off the wall and start all over, rather than go half-way down and back up because the latter could actually harm us. Taking your muscles through their full range of motion every time is essential to their proper development as well as to injury prevention. If you want to go all the way in strengthening your upper body, then really go all the way.
Key #5: Variety is the Spice of Life
Mix it up! If your body repeats something often enough, such as the same exercise, the same number of times, every time, it will get used to that, stunting your ability to improve. Change something every time you work out, whether it is the number of reps, the difficulty of each rep, or the movement altogether. There are countless exercises and variations available for each muscle group in your upper body, so try not to play favourites.
Key #6: Divide and Conquer
I realize telling capoeiristas to take a break from training may be an exercise in futility, but it really is necessary. That is, it’s necessary in strength-training, where your muscles need at least one day off per week to rest and renew, if not more. A good routine to get into is just varying the muscles or muscle groups you work on each day. Divide your work-outs into triceps, biceps, chest, shoulders, and (upper) back, or combination groups, and rotate through them accordingly. Alternatively, if you regularly work out your entire body, you could alternate between upper-body and lower-body exercises. Something as simple as letting your muscles take a break every so often will do a world of good in the long run.
Bonus: Train capoeira!
If you can train, you can strengthen your upper body. How? Think about it: Queda de rins. Bananeira. Negativa. Ponte. Even maculêlê (with a long, vigorous routine)! It’s not just the fancy moves that require upper-body strength, and odds are you can already do most of the basic ones. Exercises that involve holding them, or doing sets of “push-ups” while in some of those positions will definitely help you on your way, and touch up your capoeira technique while you’re at it!
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