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7 Types of Stretching in Martial Arts

by 
author image George W. Citroner
George Citroner is an Upstate NY-based medical and health journalist. His work has appeared in over 50 publications and covers a broad range of medical, health, and fitness topics.
7 Types of Stretching in Martial Arts
7 Types of Stretching in Martial Arts Photo Credit: cirkoglu/iStock/GettyImages

Whether its mixed martial arts, Karate, Kung-Fu or Tai Chi, flexibility is an integral part of training. A flexible body is less likely to suffer a pulled muscle or joint injury, and flexibility gives martial artists a greater range of motion to perform impressive high kicks and enjoy the advantages of graceful agility.

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Read on to learn of seven types of stretching that can be used in martial arts to achieve rubber-like flexibility.

Ballistic Stretching to Push the Limits

Ballistic stretching relies on using the momentum of motion to increase your range of motion gradually. This type of stretching is frequently used during the warm-up period before beginning a martial arts class or workout.

An example of this type of stretch is the forward leg swing: From a standing position, with both feet together, swing one leg forward and up with the knee straight. The weight of the leg stretches the hamstring muscle beyond normal as the foot swings upward. Be warned that ballistic stretching can result in injury because relying on momentum doesn't allow for much control and won't allow muscles to adjust to the demands being made on them properly.

Read more: Ballistic stretching vs static stretching

Static Stretching for Less Injury Risk

Static stretching is the opposite of ballistic stretching. Ballistic stretching uses speed and momentum to stretch muscles, but static stretching uses long holds.

To use static stretching to achieve increased flexibility, the martial artist assumes a stretch position, such as a toe touch or split and holds that position for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The important feature of a static stretch is that the muscle is held in place without moving.

Static stretching is considered one of the safest and most effective ways to stretch for martial arts.

There are many ways that stretching can improve performance.
There are many ways that stretching can improve performance. Photo Credit: Unsplash

Isometric Stretching to Work the Muscles

Isometric stretching looks just like static stretching, but uses muscle contraction in the stretched position rather than passively holding the muscle in a stretch. An example of isometric stretching is placing an outstretched leg on a table — the stretch — and then contracting the hamstring muscles by trying to bend the knee by pressing the heel down — the isometric contraction.

Dynamic Stretching is Like Calisthenics

Dynamic stretching is similar to ballistic stretching but without the momentum; it's far safer than ballistic stretching, however. This type of martial art stretching can also be performed with light calisthenic exercises. For example, dynamic stretching toe touches involve slowly moving into the stretch until reaching the range of motion limit, and then returning to the start position for one rep. Lunges, jumping jacks and hip circles are other examples of dynamic stretches.

Stretching can be quite a workout.
Stretching can be quite a workout. Photo Credit: Unsplash

Active Stretching Uses Agonist Muscles

Active stretching is also called static-active stretching. This type of stretch occurs when a martial artist assumes a position and holds it there with no assistance other than contracting the muscles that perform the opposite function (the agonist muscles.) An example of this type of stretch is when someone stretches the hamstrings by contracting the quadriceps.

Passive Stretching With a Partner or Object

Passive stretching involves assuming a position and holding it with another part of the body or using assistance from a partner or object. For example, bringing the leg up high and keeping it in position by propping it on a step or ledge is a passive, assisted stretch. A side-split is another example of a passive stretch; the floor is the object used to hold your stretched position.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching

According to the International PNF Association, PNF stretching was invented in the 1940s by Dr. Herman Kabat to treat muscular conditions like polio and multiple sclerosis. PNF techniques have become popular with fitness pros and physical therapists. Research from the University of Queensland indicates that PNF stretching could be the most effective type of stretching for increased range of motion.

There are three techniques used in PNF stretching:

Hold-relax: Hold the stretch for a few seconds, then contract the muscle without moving (isometric contraction), finally relax the stretched muscle and try to stretch farther while exhaling.

Contract-relax: The contract-relax stretch is similar to hold-relax, but instead of contracting the muscle isometrically, it’s contracted while moving. This could mean someone is providing the martial artist resistance by pushing down on the shoulders as they do a split, while they contract the stretched muscles against the downward push.

Hold-relax-contract: Hold-relax-contract is like hold-relax, but after pushing against the stretch — instead of relaxing into the stretch — the martial artist forces the muscle into the stretch. For a hamstring stretch, this could mean using the leg muscles to push the stretch farther, while someone else helps push in the same direction.

Read more: PNF stretching techniques.

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