Dynamic flexibility is a key aspect of martial arts. It enables you to generate more power, kick higher, and move with less restriction. Regularly working on your flexibility is also very helpful towards preventing injury. It’s not the most fun aspect of martial arts but it’s still important for helping you get the most from your training.
Flexibility takes a while to develop. Much like other aspects of martial arts, it doesn’t happen overnight. The most important factor in improving your flexibility is consistency. Having a great stretching routine is awesome but unless you’re doing it regularly, you’re not going to see much benefit.
It would be better to work on your stretching for five minutes each day vs. doing some mega stretching routine once per month. Small amounts of effort add up over time. Choose a routine that’s realistic for your schedule and current fitness level. If you can barely touch your toes, I’d shy away from an Olympic gymnast routine. Your body will thank you.
Once you decide on your stretching routine, stick with it. Improving your flexibility is just as important as improving your other martial arts techniques. It directly supports your ability to jump higher, kick harder and push harder in everything you do.
Later in this post, I’ll give you a routine that works very well. It doesn’t require much space or any equipment. This means you’ll be able to do it practically anywhere. The entire sequence takes less than 20 minutes to complete.
Most people would consider a warmup as being important when beginning a physical activity. This also applies to our stretching routine. Cold muscles are much more likely to strained or torn. To prevent this, I recommend a light warmup to improve initial movement and circulation. It will also give you the opportunity to do a quick body check to determine if there are movements you should avoid based on how you’re feeling that day.
The warmup I most commonly use is a light version of what we do at the beginning of a karate class. It consists of jumping jacks, static stretching, dynamic stretching and kicking drills. It’s a mini workout that has many aspects that improve flexibility.
My dynamic flexibility really improved once I began incorporating yoga. Because you hold uncomfortable positions for extended periods of time, your muscles really get a workout in a low-stress way. It strengthens and stretches your muscle’s connective tissue which is important towards preventing injury. As martial artists we rely on our core muscles to provide much of the power and stability for our movements. Yoga is one of the best ways to improve core strength.
Because yoga combines static stretching and dynamic stretching, it also speeds up how quickly you will make progress with your flexibility training. Regularly practicing yoga also improves your balance which is important to martial arts. Holding deep stances for an extended period of time is an aspect of yoga that directly carries over to martial arts. Your martial arts stances will naturally deepen and you’ll also be able to hold them longer. This is a great side benefit of incorporating yoga into your martial arts stretching routine.
Much like martial arts, yoga requires deliberate breathing as you move throughout a sequence. This carries over to martial arts in that it improves your focus. Have I sold you as yet on how awesome yoga is?
There are several options for finding a good yoga sequence. I’ll show a very basic one in the video at the end of this article. Alternatively, you can find lots of great, free yoga videos on YouTube.
Static stretching involves holding a comfortable but challenging position for anywhere between 10 to 30 seconds. It’s the kind stretching you likely did in P.E. class. Some common static stretching exercises include, touching your toes, deep lunges and side bends. They’re a great way to elongate your muscles and prevent injury during martial arts. Regularly doing static stretching is an important way to improve your flexibility.
An option for static stretching that I’m a big fan of is using a person or object to allow you to go deeper. An example of this is using a chair or striking bag to hold your leg up as you bend forward.
In this picture, I hold this position for approximately one minute. I slowly work my chest closer to my leg as my muscles loosen up.
This is a great stretch to improve your front kicks and the depth of your front stances.
Dynamic stretching involves active movement to elongate your muscles. It helps prevent injury and works in concert with static stretching to improve your dynamic flexibility. Incorporating dynamic stretching does goes a long way towards preventing injury. A 2008 study of approximately 2,000 soccer players in The BMJ (British Medical Journal) found that a structured warm-up program that included dynamic stretching lowered the overall risk of injury by 35 percent. They also found that dynamic stretching helped reduce severe injuries by almost 50 percent.
In martial arts two common dynamic stretching exercises are stretch kicks and floor circles. I’ll demonstrate both in the video that follows.
The following video shows a 20-minute routine that incorporates portions of the martial arts warm-up used in our school. Towards the end I also show a basic yoga routine that will help take your flexibility to the next level. I encourage you to use the video as a starting point to develop your personal stretching routine.
Additionally, keep in mind, that each person’s level of improvement may be partly limited by genetics and other conditions. It is important not to get discouraged if comparing yourself to another person’s flexibility. Rather, make it a point to be consistent and become a better version of yourself with this flexibility routine.
Are there any other routines or drills that you think could help flexibility? What do you use? Let me know in the comments below!