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
Martial Arts are fighting styles developed over centuries as a means of warfare. The origin could be as early as 2,500 B.C. Other records have been found from China (1,300-1,000 BC), Europe (750 BC), Greece (40 BC) and India (first or second century BC).

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.)

Martial Arts Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

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.
Stretches for martial arts

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.

Upper hamstring stretch for martial arts
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.
Groin and adductor stretch for martial arts
Squatting Leg-out Groin and Adductor Stretch: Stand with your feet wide apart. Keep one leg straight and your toes pointing forward while bending the other leg and turning your toes out to the side. Lower your groin towards the ground and rest your hands on your bent knee or the ground.
Chest and shoulder stretch for martial arts
Assisted Reverse Chest and Shoulder 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.

Want more Martial Arts Stretches?

While the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you add the right stretches to your training program. With the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM) you'll...

  • The Stretching Handbook, DVD & CD-ROMImprove your sporting performance;
  • Do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints;
  • Improve your freedom of movement and mobility;
  • Get rid of injuries, aches and pains; and
  • Take your flexibility to the next level...

You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for every major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly.

If you want to improve your flexibility so you can to train harder, race faster, recover quicker and move better, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.

Research and References

Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout 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.

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