by Eric P. Fleishman
As martial arts schools reopen, school owners everywhere are seeing new sign-ups. Enrollment is rising because people are once again free to congregate safely, and the numbers are being boosted by the popularity of TV shows like Cobra Kai.
With all these new students trying out their new moves, keeping everyone safe and healthy becomes the priority. Nothing puts a damper on enlightenment-through-training like the pain of an unexpected injury. However, by implementing a proper warmup along with a comprehensive stretching regimen, you can dramatically decrease the chance of injury. With that in mind, I offer this list of the five most important yoga-based stretches to include in your program.
For the Hamstring
Located along the back of the leg, the hamstring is a critical muscle to keep flexible. Maintaining supple hamstrings can ensure higher, more powerful kicks and explosive capabilities that will propel the body forward when it’s time to move quickly. There is also a direct correlation between tight hamstrings and a stiff lower back. Thus, keeping the hamstrings flexible promotes lower-back health.
To stretch them properly, place your foot on a table or chair, lean forward and grab your toes. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds per side.
For the Quadriceps
This large upper-leg muscle group encompasses four sections and is responsible the “snap” of a front kick. As the lower body’s power center, it can cramp easily from dehydration or exhaustion, so whenever the burn of sustained exercise is felt, it’s a reminder to stay hydrated.
To stretch the quad, stand on one leg and grab the opposite ankle, flexing the knee. To increase the intensity of the stretch, slightly bend the standing leg while increasing the pull on the bent leg. This also opens the hip flexor, providing an additional benefit.
For the Gluteus Maximus
Having tight glutes not only can hinder athletic movement but also can cause tightness in the lower lumbar region.
To stretch the glutes, lie on your back with your knees bent. Place the ankle of one leg on the opposite knee in a figure-4 position and pull your knees gently toward your chest. Repeat on both sides, holding for 10 to 15 seconds per side.
For the Triceps/Forearms
Having a fit upper body is crucial for martial arts expression, whether a move requires strength, speed or agility. One component of upper-body fitness is grip strength, which derives primarily from the forearms. Keeping the forearms loose will enable a martial artist to function at increased intensity without compromising power.
To stretch the forearms, extend an arm as if to say “stop.” Then, with the opposite hand, pull back on your fingers until you feel the limitations of flexibility.
To stretch the triceps, which also come into play when performing arm techniques, extend your bent arm directly upward, keeping your elbow pointed at the ceiling. Reach around with the opposite hand and gently pull back until you feel tension in the triceps. Hold the stretches for 10 to 15 seconds per side.
For the Lats
Without proper care, the latissimus dorsi muscles that cover the back, which is the source of pulling power, can tighten, spasm and become strained.
The easiest way to stretch these muscles is to hang from a pull-up bar for 10 to 15 seconds using a neutral grip. My favorite back stretch is performed by standing in front of a pole, then reaching across the body to grab the pole and leaning away from that outstretched hand. Hold it for 10 to 15 seconds per side.
Eric P. Fleishman — aka Eric the Trainer — is a Hollywood-based trainer of celebrities. In the 28 years he’s worked in the industry, he’s taught actors, musicians, MMA fighters and military personnel. He hosts a popular TV show called Celebrity Sweat, which is available on Amazon Prime. His message of healthy living has been adopted by many groups, most recently the American Culinary Federation.
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