We all know how important fitness is to practitioners of martial arts, but an often-overlooked factor is that of flexibility and the crucial role that stretching plays in developing, and maintaining the same. The simple truth is that you are not going to be able to kick head high unless you have a high degree of flexibility, and that flexibility can only be attained through constant implementation of a proper and thorough routine of stretching.
Without question you need to incorporate stretching into your training routine, and here we look at the basics and best stretches that you can undertake to better your martial arts training and performance. What’s great is that the practice of stretching does not add any additional martial arts equipment to your kit bag and can be done, on the whole, at home or on the move.
So what are the “best” stretches if you practice martial arts?
There are arguments as to whether stretches should be pre- or post-workout, but one thing is for certain and that is you need to have properly warmed up before you stretch. Stretches should be a less intensive version of the exercise you are looking to participate in. So for example, if you are planning a run, start to warm up by walking, then jogging lightly. Stretching cold muscles is not recommended, and can cause injury. A good warm up for martial arts is skipping, and skipping ropes are one of the basic pieces of martial arts equipment that every practitioner should own. So you’re warm, now what?
A good basic hamstring stretch is essential. This standing stretch is a great way to target the hamstrings which often suffer greatly if not properly stretched.
Place one foot on a flat surface around hip level, say a bench or table. Then bend the standing leg whilst applying a little pressure to the thigh of the supported (and straight) leg. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds then change legs. Keep the planted foot fully on the floor.
Lying face down, bend your left leg and pull towards your bottom, holding the stretch by using your left hand to hold the left ankle. After a period of 30-60 seconds, swap to the right leg and right arm.
It is perfectly natural to be more flexible on one side than the other. Target your weaker side by holding it for that little bit longer to try and improve and equate the flexibility.
Stand with your feet facing forward, and then walk your feet out as far as they can go, without your feet leaving the floor, or pointing outwards. Support your body by placing your hands on the floor.
Remember to ensure that your hips stay in line with your knees, rather than falling forwards, and keep your back and chest parallel with the floor. Once stretched, carefully walk your feet back to shoulder width and stand upright. Any sudden movements can damage your knees so be careful.
Like the box split but only having one leg outstretched whilst the other is bent. Firstly outstretch the left leg, and use your right elbow to push the inside of your bent right leg at the knee to increase the stretch. Try reaching and holding your left foot with your left hand before changing over – stretching out your right leg and having your left leg bent in a squat type position.
Like a box split but against a wall. Split your legs as far as possible, pushing your feet against the side of a wall. The more flexible you are, the closer you will be able to get your groin to the wall. For an added stretch, get a partner to sit back to back with you pushing you onto the wall. Partner stretches are great, but sometimes you have to stretch alone.
If you want to be a good martial arts practitioner, it is not about the type of martial arts equipment you have; it is about your dedication and practice. Like life, the more you put in, the more you get out. So concentrate on your fitness and practice your moves, but above all, and as boring as it may feel at first, make sure you stretch. Do it daily and do it properly, adding different stretches to this basic routine to keep all of your body subtle. You will not notice an immediate impact, and you may never become the most flexible practitioner, but remember you are only competing with yourself so be the best you can be and become as flexible as possible.
It certainly is worth the effort, so why not start today?