The best martial artists all have something in common – they are insanely flexible and if you want to get the very best out of your training, this is something you will need to work on. Being rigid or inflexible and attempting a dramatic move, such as a high kick or roundhouse, can likely result in injury and more than likely, embarrassment if others are watching! Here are some basic reasons for why you need to be flexible in martial arts:
- Aside from high kicks, it is also necessary to be flexible when keeping a low stance or escaping from a submission hold.
- If you trip, fall, or perform a movement by accident, flexibility can prevent injury from occurring after an unexpected motion.
- Flexibility also improves blood flow, coordination, stability, and many more important bodily functions.
Flexibility & Strength
You may have heard some nonsense about how having big muscles can reduce your flexibility, otherwise known as being ‘muscle-bound’. This is of course contrary to the host of studies over the years that show how strength and flexibility enhance one another. During strengthening exercises, it is necessary to work the entire muscle range, as our nerve system remembers the movement performed most frequently. Neglect a range of muscles and endure a loss in flexion. Most strength training experts suggest stretching the muscles after a training session and recommend a range of drills.
Types of Stretching
Most martial artists practice 6 main forms of stretching, which we’ve briefly outlined below.
- Ballistic Stretching: This involves bouncing at the end of a stretch to use your weight and momentum to force you beyond the normal range of motion. However, few people use it, as it is considered to actually reduce flexibility by preventing the muscles from relaxing in the stretched position.
- Active Stretching: You hold a pose using nothing but the strength of your muscles for up to 10 seconds. This is a technique used by those who practice Yoga.
- Dynamic Stretching: You move your body and limbs and increase the range and speed of the movements. This gradually increases the range of movement, but should be halted when the muscle(s) gets tired. A typical example of dynamic stretching is a martial artist starting with low kicks and working his way up to performing higher and higher kicks.
- Static Stretching: You take a pose and hold it with the aid of another part of the body. It is slow and relaxed stretching and is very useful when it comes to dealing with injured muscles.
- Isometric Stretching: You apply resistance by using your own limbs and it is basically a static stretch without actual movement. This is one of the quickest methods of stretching, lengthening, and strengthening muscles.
- PNF Stretching: This stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and is the latest form of stretching. It was designed for victims of stroke but works well for everyone and basically involves combining passive and isometric stretching.
Keep in Mind
If you are new to stretching, begin with a couple of 5-10 minute sessions twice a day until you become more flexible. This is a relatively small task for the abundance of benefits the body receives.