The 3 Best Stretches for Martial Arts
Improve your martial arts and minimize injuries with 3 of the best martial arts stretches.
by Brad Walker | First Published June 26, 2008 | Updated April 11, 2019
There are over 100 different martial arts styles and they fall into categories such as: ground arts (such as wrestling, grappling, etc.); striking (such as kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, etc.); weapons styles (kendo, kobudo, etc.); and lifestyle arts (such as ninjutsu, samurai, etc.). Some also combine multiple forms (such as Tang Soo Do, Jeet Kune Do, etc.)
Muscles used in Martial Arts
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.
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:
- Muscle bruises and contusions;
- Rotator cuff tear or strain;
- Dislocations / Subluxations;
- Groin strain;
- Sprained ankles and wrists; and
- Knee sprains, including Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) sprain and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) sprain.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Conditioning is a key component of injury prevention. The following prevention strategies will also help:
- Always warm-up properly prior to training and especially competition.
- Allow an adequate cool-down period and perform after training/competition stretching.
- Cardiovascular training is important to prevent the muscles from tiring during a game and allowing breakdown of proper form.
- Strengthening the muscles that support the knee and ankle joints will help prevent some of the common sprains.
- Increasing flexibility in the muscles and joints will reduce the stress on these areas during training.
- Practicing balance, agility and proprioception drills to improve knee and ankle stability.
- Learning from a qualified master and practicing to improve technique and ensure proper application of all strikes and blocks.
- The use of appropriate padding and protective gear will also help reduce trauma to the body during practice and competition.
- Practicing in controlled environments will also reduce the chances of accidental injuries.
The 3 Best Martial Arts Stretches
Martial arts stretches are 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 of the best 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 with each stretch, and if you currently have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain please take extra care when performing the stretches below, or consult with your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the following stretches.
Instructions: Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
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Research and References
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, April 29). Martial Arts, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
- Bledsoe, G. Hsu, E. Grabowski, J. Brill, J. Li, G. (2006). Incidence of injury in professional mixed martial arts competitions. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 5(CSSI), 136.
- Lystad, R. Gregory, K. Wilson, J. (2014). The epidemiology of injuries in mixed martial arts: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 2(1), 2325967113518492.
- Scoggin III, J. Brusovanik, G. Izuka, B. Zandee van Rilland, E. Geling, O. Tokumura, S. (2014). Assessment of injuries during Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 2(2), 2325967114522184.
- Jones, N. Ledford, E. (2012). Strength and conditioning for Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 34(2), 60-69.
- Kokkonen, J. Nelson, A. Eldredge, C. Winchester, J. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(10), 1825-1831.
- Shellock, F, Prentice, W. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Fradkin, A. Zazryn, T. Smoliga, J. (2010) Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1):140-8.
About the Author: Brad Walker 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 (author page) 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 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.