Flexibility is essential to proficiency in martial arts. Stretching is as important as combat drills, physical conditioning and sparring workouts. Being limber allows your movements to be more efficient and effective, especially your kicks. It also makes you less susceptible to injury from torn muscles and ligaments. There are various types of stretching that can be applied to martial arts, each with specific techniques and applications.
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Dynamic Stretching for an Effective Warm-Up
Dynamic stretching is a great way to begin a martial arts workout. The stretches should mimic the movements that will take place during the workout so that the muscles get limber while being activated as well. Swinging your legs in a slow, controlled manner through the entire range of motion your hips can allow is a good example of a dynamic stretch. Hold onto a wall with one hand while swinging the opposite leg forward and backward as high as it will go six to 10 times. This loosens up the hip joint while increasing blood flow to the muscles.
Push Down and Hold With Static Stretching
Static stretching is done by extending a muscle to the farthest point possible (when you feel a slight burn) and holding the position for 30 seconds. This type of stretch helps maintain mobility and range of motion after a heavy kicking workout. The groin stretch can be done in static fashion by bringing the bottoms of both feet together while sitting. Pull your ankles as close to your body as possible while using your elbows to push your knees toward the ground. This develops the flexibility to throw hook kicks, roundhouse kicks and crescent kicks without getting injured.
Partner Up With Passive Stretching
Passive stretching expands your flexibility threshold with the help of a partner or an apparatus. Your job is to relax and let a training partner, a stretching machine or gravity apply the pressure while you simply regulate when you can go further and when you need to stop. A good way to get a passive hamstring stretch is to stand against a wall and have a training partner slowly lift your leg up and in towards your body. You must keep your leg straight and your knee locked. This helps you avoid pulled hamstrings when doing spinning kicks and aerial maneuvers.
One Muscle Helps Another With Active Stretching
Active stretches are held for just 10 to 15 seconds in sets of eight to 10 reps. Stretching in this way involves one set of muscles being actively engaged in order to stretch an an opposing muscle group. For example, you can stretch your hamstrings by using your quadriceps to lift your leg vertically while you lay on your back or to a horizontal position as you stand upright. Flexible hamstrings allow a martial artist to perform effective high kicks and sweeping motions with a reduced risk of injury.
Ballistic Stretching Mimics Striking
Ballistic stretching involves moving in and out of a stretched position in a bouncing-type motion. It is sometimes used by martial artists because it replicates the action of intense, rapid-fire striking. This type of stretching should be approached with caution and considered only after a significant warm-up. The reason for this is because it does not allow the muscle to adjust to the stretch, instead it extends the tissue quickly and snaps it back rapidly.
Push Back With Isometric Stretching
Isometric stretching helps expand flexibility while developing strength for more effective strikes. An isometric stretch occurs within the dynamic of a passive stretch. When a partner lifts your foot upward -- bringing your knee closer and closer to your body -- you apply resistance to the lift in increments of 15 seconds. One set should consist of 10 reps of resistance on each limb. Isometric stretches can be done with arms to add strength to punches and reduce risk of torn muscles while swinging in a wide arc, throwing and grappling.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation: Contracting While Stretching
PNF stretching is a combination of passive and isometric stretching. It is an effective way to improve your range of motion as well as your neuromuscular response. It is a good practice if you want to throw strong high kicks at a split second notice. A PNF stretch requires you to contract a certain muscle in the middle of a stretch, hold it for three to five seconds, relax the muscle for 20 seconds, deepen the stretch and repeat. Do this during a front-split stretch using your hands to slightly elevate yourself while you contract your front hamstring and back quadriceps.