Stretching 101

Stretching is one of the most important parts of a martial artist’s training. Proper stretching can increase flexibility, improve range of motion, improve posture, and simply make techniques easier to perform. Unfortunately, many people do not know the correct way to stretch.

Sadly, many martial arts school have their students stretch before they even warm up! This is backwards and can lead to injury. Your muscles need to be warm before you stretch or you could risk tearing a muscle. You will want to do some light cardio before you begin your stretching routine.

Another common mistake is using the wrong type of stretch at the wrong time. In order to know how to stretch correctly, you will need to familiarize yourself with the different types of stretching.

Stretching is usually divided into dynamic stretching, static stretching, isometric stretching, and ballistic stretching.

To get it out of the way I will start with ballistic stretching. This basically means that you pick a stretch and sort of bounce up and down in hopes that the momentum will push you further into the stretch. While this can be effective to help you overcome a plateau, it is not advisable as it often results in injury. While many people do use this type of stretch, at Arkansas Wushu we simply believe the risk outweigh the benefits of the exercise. Especially when there are other effective ways to achieve the same goal.

Dynamic stretching will be what you want at the beginning of your workout. You do increase and decrease how far you go into the stretch, but unlike ballistic stretching, you use slow controlled movement. Stretch Kicks are an excellent example of a dynamic stretch. You will want to go through the full range of motion in a controlled manner, and then return to your starting position. A dynamic stretching routine for Wushu often consist of front rising kicks, side stretch kicks, slap kicks, crescent kicks, reverse and reverse crescent kicks.

Static stretches are better to use at the end of a work out. You will to use them as a cool down to aid in muscle recovery and relieve soreness. These exercises require you to hold a stretch for a small period of time. 30-45 seconds is a good time to start. Remaining in the splits or holding a back bend could be considered a relaxed stretch. You do not necessarily need to stretch to those extreme limits, but you will progress faster by pushing yourself a little. Static stretching may also be divided in passive stretching and active stretching. Passive just means that you have assistance like from an object or another person. Active stretches require you to hold a stretch just using your muscle groups. A good example would be holding your leg as high as you can in there and trying to maintain that position. Use a combination of both for the best results.

The final type of stretching is isometric stretching. This is one of the fastest ways to increase passive flexibility. Isometric stretches basically consist of tensing a muscle by trying to force it into a stretch against an impossible amount of resistance. An example of this would be instead of trying to do the splits, put your legs about twice the length of your shoulders. Next, try to pull the ground together with your feet. Your feet should not move but now you will have resistance against pulling your legs inward. After holding tension for 30 seconds, let yourself relax. Your legs will naturally want to spread further into the split now that the tension has been release. Repeat this exercise with your legs a bit further and slowly work your way down. Isometric stretches are great to do before ending your workout with a passive stretch as it also provides some strength training and may help you go further into your cool down stretches.