Stretching and Warming Up
Stretching is an unavoidable requirement in any sport. It makes sure that the body is prepared for movements outside its normal range. Doing no stretching exercises before you start training can greatly increase your risk of injury when carrying out dynamic movements.
Benefits of Stretching
When done properly, stretching can do more than just increase flexibility. Benefits include:
- Reduced injuries to muscles, joints & tendons.
- Reduced muscle soreness and stiffness.
- Improved physical fitness.
- The ability to perform advanced and skilled movements.
- Easier to execute general martial art movements.
Warming Up Correctly
Many students think warming up is doing a few stretches before they start training. Stretching is NOT warming up. Warming up is the process of literally raising your core body temperature. Stretching and warming up in the wrong order can be unbeneficial to getting the most out of your stretching before training.
It is not a good idea to attempt to stretch your muscles before they are warm. Therefore a simple order to follow when warming up is this:
- Joint Rotation
- Energetic Warm-Up
- Stretching Exercises
Your general warm-up should begin with joint rotations. What this motion does is it lubricates the entire joint with synovial fluid, this allows your joints to function more easily when called upon for your martial art training.
You should perform slow circular movements, both clockwise and counter clockwise, until the joint seems to move fluently. Working either down the body or up is best as then you don’t miss anything out. Rotate the following:
- Fingers & Knuckles
After you have finished the joint rotations it is time for the warm-up. Try and engage in at least five minutes of aerobic activity such as skipping, jogging or any other action that will cause a similar increase and get your blood pumping around your body. Increased blood flow in the muscles improves flexibility and muscle performance and reduces the chances of injury.
Once the general warm-up has been completed, the muscles are warmer and more elastic. It is at this point that you should start to stretch. There are two main types of stretching that should now be practiced. Static stretching and dynamic stretching.
Static Stretching is where you hold a position of stretch for a certain period of time. Opinions differ on how long you should hold a position for, but on average 15-25 seconds for this beginning stretch is enough. (Younger children may need less time.)
A lot of people find it easier to stretch and hold the position if they have a goal, especially younger children, so counting is one way to solve this, either by counting in their heads or counting out loud.
Static stretching should be performed in sets of 2-5 repetitions with a 15-30 second rest in between each stretch.
Depending on your type of training, depends which muscles need to be stretch properly. Always start and never neglect your back, this is important. From there the main areas to stretch are:
- Sides (external obliques)
- Thighs (quadriceps & abductors)
Dynamic stretches are gentle, relaxed swinging motions, to get your body to reach its maximum range of motion. Such exercises include; leg raises and arm swings in all directions. These exercises should be done on both sides of the body before any vigorous training is carried out.
Stretching Involving Children
It is important that children only stretch lightly as their muscles and bones have not finished growing and may become damaged if excess pressure is applied. The best type of stretching for children is dynamic stretching because this is their body’s own natural range and is pressure free.
Children should never be forced into a stretching position and no external pressure should be applied.