Skip to content

How martial arts could help take a load off your back

It’s known for teaching people how to break boards with their bare hands, but could martial arts be the key to lugging heavy objects without breaking your back?

University of Southern Queensland PhD student Sherrilyn Walters is breaking new ground by investigating the benefits of martial arts training in occupations that work with heavy loads.

“Around 30 to 40 per cent of workplace injuries in Australia are muscular stress-related, with upper and lower back cases accounting for almost half of these,” Mrs Walters said.

“Load carriage tasks require increased strength and endurance and can lead to long-term injuries, chronic pain and reduced physical performance.

“This is a major concern for soldiers, firefighters and other emergency service workers who are often required to carry heavy equipment and supplies during training and operations.”

The study will focus on the effectiveness of controlled breathing techniques used in traditional martial arts.

Mrs Walters said the idea for the research project came from her recent study, which examined pressure levels within the body which martial arts practitioners were able to use to increase the amount of force that they could resist or produce.

Published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, Mrs Walters found that during a set of physical tests, trained martial artists resisted 38 per cent more force and produced 32 per cent more force than participants who were not trained in martial arts but had the same levels of physical activity.

“The results indicate that trained martial arts practitioners had greater isometric strength than untrained adults and could increase their abdominal pressure to assist in force production and body stability,” she said.

Mrs Walters said abdominal pressure levels were closely related to breathing.

“Breath control training is integral to traditional martial arts and involves slow, deep and controlled breathing exercises performed whilst controlling the diaphragm, abdominal and pelvic floor muscles,” she said.

Mrs Walters wants to find out if a 12-week martial arts training program could help people utilise internal pressures to improve load carriage performance and reduce spinal compression.

If proven effective, such a program could provide a simple, cost-effective approach to overcoming problems caused by carrying heavy loads in physically demanding occupations.

woman doing martial arts
Sherrilyn Walters is investigating the benefits of martial arts training in occupations that require carrying heavy loads.