17 Mar 2013

Stretching properly

Written by: Gianfranco

stretching-properly

As a martial artist, one should make sure to assign the due importance to stretching. According to some new researches, stretching would not help in avoiding injuries during training exercises, but even if that's the case, you still need flexibility in your body, for obvious reasons.

So here are some recommendations I think you should follow in order to integrate stretching in a healthy and proper way into your practice.

Always warm up before stretching.

Make it an habit to warm up your body before stretching your body, especially when it's cold. This will prevent possible injuries, and will get your muscles ready to stretch better. Remember, you don't need much time or much space to quickly get your body to warm up, and running is not the only option. You can skip-kneeing, rope jumping, do split ups, squats, any kind of active footwork or shadow boxing. As long as you get your body to warm up, everything is good enough. (And since we're at it, remember that stretching and warming up are two different things. Many people tend to confuse the two).

Establish different routines.

Depending on the amount of time you got at your disposal, and on the purpose, you should have different stretching routines in your arsenal. Personally, I have established three stretching routines, one for quick stretching, one for regular stretching, and another for intensive stretching. I highly recommend you to do the same, so that you are set to use the appropriate one depending of the moment.

Use a logical progression.

When you stretch, always do it form top to bottom, or the other way around, if you prefer, but don't just mix everything up. That means that you shouldn't work on your arms, than your legs, than your head, than your legs again, than the shoulders, and so on. Make sure you use a logical progression. Personally I like to start form top to bottom, therefor I always begin my stretching by working on my neck, than on my shoulders, than on the arms, than on the torso, than on the hips, than on the knee, than on the legs.

Hold the position, don't get lazy!

For effective stretching you should hold every position for 30 seconds at least. If you really don't have enough time and you have to speed things up, than you can hold it for about 10 seconds, but do that only if you are out of time, not out of laziness.

Don't bounce!

Ballistic stretching has become quiet obsolete and it's been abandoned over the safer static stretching. Ballistic stretching is the method that make use of repetitive bouncing movements, but it can cause some injuries, so don't use it. Just go with the static method.

Don't over-stretch!

Always remember to respect you body and to listen to it. Don't take your stretching to a point where you can damage your body. You should remember that some injuries can happen without you to actually notice them. Of course, if you take your stretching seriously, you should always try "to push your body a little further", but just don't over do it. Again, listen to your body. Also, remember that your body flexibility is always changing, exactly like your inner energy do. You can be more flexible during a given period or even on a given day and less (even much less) on another, therefor your of over-stretching limits can shift constantly. That means that you shouldn't systematically reach the further stretching point you have attained in your records, but the one that feels right depending on the flexibility level on that particular moment. So, if you don't stretch for a long time or you feel particularly tied up, don't over do it just because you know that you can normally stretch more than that. Listen to your body, always.

Stretch and release slowly and smoothly.

When you stretch a part of your body, you should always do it gradually, never in one go or too fast, in order to avoid injuries. Not less important is to apply the same principle when releasing the position: don't let go too fast, always slowly and smoothly.

Breathe.

I always notice people stretching without using proper breathing, or even without breathing at all. Breathing is probably the most important factor to consider while stretching. Try to set your breathing to a regular cadence by inhaling with your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Proper breathing will help you releasing the tension in every part of your body and to bring oxygen to your muscles.

Focus your attention on the body part that is stretching.

While stretching, don't just be there with your mind set on something else, forgetting your body. Your attention should be focused on the part of your body that is stretching, so that you can feel what's happening, even visualise it. Remember, establish and keep the connection between your mind and your body when you stretch.This is very important.

Stretch also after training.

Stretching should not only be used as pre-training routine, but also as a post-training one. After training, your muscles need to be stretched out in order to release the tension accumulated during the efforts. Some new researches will disagree with this, but again, even so, since your body has been properly warmed up, it's the best moment to increase your flexibility level.

Conclusion

I'd like to wrap this article up by saying that stretching is not only about preparing your body for training or develop your flexibility, but should also be used as a ritual to focus on your upcoming training session by establishing the right mindset for it.

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