Stretching is something “we just do” in the martial arts. It’s also something we continually question and try to improve. What stretch is best? When do I stretch? Will this help prevent injuries? Is this for health, flexibility or both? These are questions every martial artist should ask…and everyone in general! They are excellent questions with some answers that can be a bit confusing. In this article I hope to provide some core ideas accumulative through my years in the martial arts, study of fitness, Chinese medicine, Qi-gong and the study of general health.
The muscle-tendon has both an active as well as a passive component. Periodic stretching primarily effects the passive component, elongating the connective tissue and muscle tendon. Consistent stretching adds muscles fibres to the ends of the muscle itself, increasing its length and establishing greater overall flexibility.
Will stretching reduce the chance of injury?
In the last twenty-years, significant evidence has shown that stretching does not decrease the risk of injury in the martial arts or most activities. Damage to the muscles is often caused by overloading of the tissue or physical trauma (punctures, ruptures and compressions as an example). Stretching does not prevent or reverse this type of damage.
Do I warm-up before stretching?
I do. Before doing my strength training I do about 10-minutes on the treadmill. Before my own martial art training I am seen doing empty-hand and weapon forms. These are activities I do before stretching to “warm the muscles up.” A small increase (1º) supports the passive element of the muscle, allowing for greater elongation…and thus, improved flexibility. This is a great idea if you have been sitting in a chair all day, just waking up, or have been inactive in some other way. Been out walking all day…a warm-up is probably not needed or helpful.