Improve Your Martial Arts Through Stretching

In our taekwondo classes, we can be doing challenging conditioning exercises that involve running up walls, sit ups, push ups, tumbling, and jumping and our male students will be sweaty and excited and ready for more 30 minutes later. But when we roll out the yoga mats for heavy stretching, men and boys alike get concerned. Stretching is painful for them and they sweat in part because it’s hard work and in part because it hurts. But stretching can make a world of difference to those who want to excel at martial arts. It isn’t as simple as it seems to make progress at limbering up your legs, hips, and back, but you can do it if you follow a few simple tricks and tips. First of all, don’t hold your breath.

When you ease into a stretch and it starts to hurt, it might be tempting to stop breathing. Whether you’re male or female, this is going to cause you grief in the long run. Every adult knows what Lamaze breathing methods are for pain-free childbirth. I can attest to the fact that the right breathing during labor does in fact work. What does this have to do with stretching? The uterus is a muscle and the reason why breathing works to ward off pain during childbirth is because it keeps lactic acid from building up in muscle tissue that’s under stress. Breathing during stretching works the same way. When you’re sliding out into a front split, breathe. Take deep, slow breaths and wait in the position where you can feel a stretch, just before you feel actual pain. Fifteen to thirty seconds or three to six breaths is the right amount of time to wait before sliding your foot out further. That gives your muscles time to relax into your position and relax before you try to stretch them further. Yoga practitioners have the stretching paradigm down to a science and any martial artist who wants to do better at their technique will take up a yoga practice to complement it.

Focus on your breathing as you stretch rather than on counting seconds or even stretching further. Use your stretching routine as a time to get in tune with your body and your mind and let things sync up. You simply can’t approach your efforts at enhanced flexibility in the same way that you approach enhanced strength or endurance. Effective limbering exercises require a gentle, mindful approach in order to be successful. Finally, put together a repertoire of different yoga poses to do for flexibility and then do different ones at each session. Mix it up a bit. And try moving fluidly from one pose to another rather than doing them as separate and distinct exercises. This will help you develop better range of motion so that your taekwondo front kicks and crescent kicks can all benefit from your practice. You may be itching to get your front splits or middle splits down to the floor, but don’t get too antsy. By practicing multiple poses, you’ll still loosen up the muscles that are causing you grief when you do your splits. Breathe deeply, go slow, and approach your stretching activities with a mindful approach and before long, your taekwondo kicks will be sky high.

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