Martial Arts Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Martial arts stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with martial arts injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published June 26, 2008 | Updated July 13, 2017
Martial Arts are the fighting styles developed over centuries as a means of warfare. The origin could be as early as 2500 B.C., China (1300-1000 BC), Europe (750 BC), Greece (40 BC) or India (First or second century BC), it all depend on the storyteller.
There is dispute over the origin but each area and time was marked by turmoil and wars. Over time fighting style changes but the one being fought depends on the time and type of war.
There are over 100 different Martial arts and they fall into different categories such as; ground arts (such as wrestling, grappling, etc.), striking (such as kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, etc.), weapons styles (kendo, kobudo, etc.), lifestyle arts (such as ninjutsu, samurai, etc.). Some also combine multiple forms (such as Tang Soo Do, Jeet Kune Do, etc.)
Today, Martial Arts are mostly for self-defense or fitness, requiring good balance, coordination reaction time as well as cardiovascular endurance.
The various forms of martial arts involve the muscles and joints of the body in slightly different forms, but in the end they are all involved in each style. The lower body and core muscles are important for balance and forming a solid base when delivering a blow or countering an attack. The muscles of the upper body must be strong enough to move the torso and extremities with the force needed to block and deliver blows, while being flexible enough to move through a full range of motion.
The major muscles involved in the performance of martial arts moves include:
- The core muscles, especially the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, hip flexors and spinal erectors.
- The muscles of the legs and hips; the quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor group, abductor group, gluteus muscles and the lower leg, gastrocnemius and soleus.
- Shoulder girdle and upper torso muscles; including the pectorals, latissimus dorsi and deltoids.
- The muscles of the arms, biceps and triceps, and the muscles of the hand, wrist and forearm.
- And, the muscles of the neck, for protection of the cervical spine.
Keeping these muscles strong and flexible through a comprehensive training program will help the martial arts practitioner perform at optimal levels and protect the joints and muscles.
Most Common Martial Arts Injuries
Martial artists, like most participants in contact sports, are subjected to many external forces that can cause injury. Due to the repetitive movement involved in practicing many of the arts, overuse injuries may occur, as well.
Some of the more common injuries that affect martial arts practitioners are bruises, sprains, muscle strains, tendinitis, dislocations and traumatic brain injury.
- Bruises: Bruising is caused when blood vessels below the skin are ruptured, usually due to a direct blow or pressure. As the blood leaves the vessel and spreads out under the skin it causes a discoloration and pain in the affected area. Superficial bruising can be treated with ice and NSAIDs, and will usually heal in a few days. (For more treatment information, visit muscle bruises and contusions) Deeper bruising, affecting larger vessels and more complex muscle tissue, can take longer to heal and may cause more discomfort. In rare cases the bruising, and subsequent pressure, can lead to a more serious condition, such as compartment syndrome.
- Sprains: Sprains can occur in any joint when the joint is rotated through an extended range of motion, causing tears to the ligaments that support the joint. Sprains can range from minor, with tearing in only a few fibers, to severe, with complete tears to one or more of the ligaments. Martial artists’ joints are subjected to many forces that could cause sprains. Sprains are commonly treated with rest, ice, compression and immobilization. (For more treatment information, visit R.I.C.E.R.) Minor sprains may heal in one to two weeks. Severe sprains may take four to six weeks, or more, to completely heal.
- Muscle Strains: Muscle strains are the excessive tearing of muscle fibers that is often caused by overstretching or working against an extreme load. The muscle fibers tear causing inflammation and bruising within the muscle. This leads to pain and disability. The tears can range from minor, involving a small number of fibers, to major, involving large numbers of fibers and a large area of the muscle. Rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication are used to treat muscle strains.
- Tendinitis: Tendinitis is an injury caused by overuse. Overuse tendinitis is usually caused by repetitive movements in a range of movement outside of normal use. The stretching of the tendons and abnormal rubbing causes inflammation that leads to pain. Repetitive practice blocking, kicking, and delivering blows can lead to tendon damage. Treatment for tendinitis includes discontinuation of the activity that caused the problem, NSAIDs and ice. Heat and massage is also very effective for rehabilitation.
- Dislocations / Subluxations: Dislocations and subluxations, or partial dislocations, occur when a joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion causing the bones of the joint to become disjointed or moved out of position. Sprains and strains often accompany dislocations. The force placed on body parts in angulated positions or while in awkward poses may lead to dislocations or subluxations. Subluxations often return to a normal position on their own. They are then treated by immobilizing the joint and applying ice. Rest and medication will help to reduce the inflammation and speed healing. Complete dislocations may require professional care to reduce them to their original position, and in rare cases may require surgical intervention.
- Traumatic Brain Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is caused when an acute injury causes damage to the brain tissue. In martial arts there are several possibilities for TBI. Blows to the head or neck and falls are the common causes of TBI in martial arts. These may range from simple concussions to bruising of the brain and complete separation of the nervous tissue at the brain stem. Traumatic brain injury is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Conditioning is a key component of injury prevention.
- Practicing to improve technique and ensure proper application of all strikes and blocks will help reduce the stress placed on the joints and tendons.
- The use of appropriate padding and protective gear will also help reduce trauma to the body during practice and competition.
- Learning proper technique from a qualified master will ensure that you perform the skills properly and reduce the chances of injury.
- Practicing in controlled environments will also reduce the chances of accidental injuries.
- Strengthening and stretching exercises will reduce the stress placed on the muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments.
The Top 3 Martial Arts Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective.
Stretching is essential in any athletic endeavor, but in martial arts it becomes vitally important because of the extreme range of motion required for many of the kicks. The explosive nature of martial arts also requires flexible muscles and joints.
Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for martial arts; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Standing High-leg Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch: Stand with one foot raised onto a table. Keep your leg bent and lean your chest into your bent knee.
Sitting Single Leg Hamstring Stretch: Sit with one leg straight out in front and point your toes upwards. Bring your other foot towards your knee and reach towards your toes with both hands.
Assisted Reverse Chest Stretch: Stand upright with your back towards a table or bench and place your hands on the edge. Bend your arms and slowly lower your entire body.
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.