Stretching is super important. This is especially true if you are a martial artist. Martial art is extremely dynamic so freak accidents happen often. Stretching at the very least decreases likelihood of injury. But it also enables you to fight better because you are more nimble, agile, and flexible.
Since martial art involves the whole body, stretching the whole body is important. But martial artists should concentrate much more on lower body and core flexibility as most martial arts rely heavily on it. In this quick guide we’ll run through the benefits of stretching, and also the 7 essential stretches that martial artists should be doing daily to prevent injury and fight better.
Benefits of Stretching for Martial Arts
When you stretch regularly, you’ll find postures, movements, and exercises easier as you improve your muscle and joint flexibility.
Don’t arrive late to your class and miss out on stretching. And similarly, you don’t have anything more important to do than complete the stretches at the end of your session.
Here's are a few reasons why you should always stretch before a class:
- It helps you to focus on your class and allow the distractions of the day to pass.
- It loosens muscles.
- It increases the blood flow to muscle groups allowing them to deal better with martial arts exercises.
- It helps to reduce injury.
- It corrects bad posture.
And here’s why you should make time for your post-workout stretch:
- Stretching can help loosen any muscles that have been constricted during your class.
- It allows your body to cool down after an intense martial arts session.
- Stretching also allows you to calm and rejuvenate the mind.
Stretch 1: Front Leg Lift and Hold
I learned this stretch a few years ago in my kickboxing class and it is a stretch that I do as often as I can. I don't know why this stretch isn't more popular. This stretch stretches your whole leg all the way up to your glutes while also working on your balance at the same time. I recommend holding each leg for at least 30 seconds.
Here's how to do the front leg lift and hold stretch:
1. Stand with your feet together and your hands by your side.
2. Make sure your hips whole body is standing straight, and your trunk is aligned with the rest of your body.
3. Slowly lift one leg until it is 90 degrees (or as close as you can). Make sure the toes of your raised leg is pointed up.
4. Hold the pose. I like to hold it for at least 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Stretch 2: Standing Side Leg Lift And Hold
This is another killer stretch that feels really good and does a fantastic job of loosening up the glutes. I find that my kicks are higher when I do this stretch prior to sparring. This stretch is almost the same as the above stretch except you are lifting the leg to the side instead of front. This stretch is essentially a side kick that you keep static. Doing this stretch will help you kick higher, especially your side kick.
With this stretch, I also suggest keeping the leg raised for at least 30 seconds.
Here's how to do the side leg lift and hold stretch:
1. Stand straight with foot together and arms down by your side. You can choose to have a something to hold onto in front of you or on your side if you do not feel comfortable balancing.
2. Extend your leg out fully to the side and lean your body slightly to the opposite side until your lifted leg is leveled with your hip. Make sure the toes of the lifted leg is pointed to your front. You should feel a stretch in your glutes now. The higher you lift your legs at this point, the more you will feel the stretch.
3. Hold for 30 seconds.
Stretch 3: Seating & Standing Hamstring Stretch
This exercise is excellent for stretching out hamstrings. It also stretches the lower back. But if you have lower back problems it’s best to perform the stretch while you lie on the floor while extending your leg upward.
Here’s how to perform the standing hamstring stretch:
1. Stand with one foot a few inches in front of the other. Lift your toes in the foot in front.
2. Bend the knee behind you slightly while you pull in your abdominal muscles.
3. Lean forward and place your palms on the thigh behind for balance.
4. Relax your shoulders while you feel a pull through the back of your leg.
5. Repeat the stretch with the other leg.
Stretch 4: Seated Groin Stretch (Butterfly Stretch)
This seated stretch is also referred to as the butterfly stretch. This stretch both the inner thighs and the groin.
Here’s how to do the seated groin stretch:
1. Begin by sitting down.
2. Now bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together.
3. Hold your feet and allow your elbows to rest on your knees.
4. Keep your back straight and let your knees fall to the floor. To increase the stretch press down on your inner thighs with your elbows. You should feel a stretch in your groin but don’t bounce.
5. Hold this stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times. If you are more flexible you can lean forward and bring your feet closer to your groin.
Bonus: To get a back stretch at the same time, round your back and push your chest forward as you stretch out your groin at the same time. See the above image for an example.
Stretch 5: Lunging Stretch
This exercise is great for stretching the front of the thighs along with the buttocks and hips flexors.
Here’s how to perform the lunging stretch:
1. Keeping your back straight step forward with one leg.
2. Bend your forward leg so it’s at a 90-degree angle. Now place your hands on your bent knee while lengthening your back leg.
3. Look straight ahead with relaxed shoulders. Press your hands down and push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your thigh, groin, and hip.
3. Hold the lunging stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.
Stretch 6: Child's Pose
This stretch is a classic yoga pose that can relieve tense and painful shoulders, neck, and spine. It stretches the hamstrings, spinal extensors, and gluteus maximus and is useful to relax and loosen lower back muscles.
The child’s pose will help you to become more flexible and improve circulation along the spinal cord.
Here’s how to do the child’s pose:
1. Begin by kneeling on the floor with your hands flat to the floor.
2. Now rest backward, so that your hips are on your heels.
3. Walk your hands out in front and rest your belly on your thighs.
4. Stretch your arms out in front of you with the palms of your hands facing upwards.
5. Breathe deeply and hold this pose for one minute.
Stretch 7: Hurdler's Stretch
This is a great stretch for the hamstrings and groin. It was made famous by Bruce Lee.
Lee would assume the hurdler’s stretch for the large part of the day. He effortlessly propped one leg high on a desk or a table whenever he was able. It has now been found to cause knee ligament stress.
It’s therefore, better to perform a modified version of the stretch. When you assume the position make sure you fold the sole of your foot of the leg you’re not stretching against the inside of the thigh you are.
You can also perform the hurdler’s stretch on the floor.
Here’s how to do the hurdler’s stretch:
1. Begin by sitting on the floor with one leg straight out in front.
2. Now, bend your other leg and place the sole of your foot against your inner thigh.
3. Bend at the waist and reach forward to grasp the foot on your stretched out leg.
4. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds.
5. Relax before switching legs.
If you are interested in equipment to help you stretch, check out our following reviews
> 6 Best Whole Body Stretching Machines
> 7 Best Leg Stretchers