Have you heard of dynamic stretching for martial arts training? Are you doing it?
Stretching before taekwon-do class is important. It helps you limber up so you can kick high, and it helps prevent injury.
But how you’re stretching is the important part.
Do you sit and hold your stretches like in the photo above? Or do you stretch while moving, such as doing leg swings? Or do you perhaps do both?
At some point, I’m sure we’ve all done the first type of stretching before a workout. Static stretching—where you hold your stretch—has been used before workouts for longer than anyone can remember. It’s probably how you were taught to stretch in gym class, or on a sports team, or in taekwon-do class.
But dynamic stretching—where you gently swing or otherwise move a joint through its range of motion—has been around for at least a couple of decades now. And it continues to gain traction.
Pretty much all the evidence shows that dynamic stretching works better as part of a warm-up than static stretching does. But I still see taekwon-do instructors using static stretching before class. And it’s not just limited to TKD. I’ve even seen professional athletes using static stretching before a game.
Why are people still doing this if they know there’s a better way? I can’t say for sure. But my best guess is that they still don’t know any better. Or maybe they’re married to tradition. I don’t know.
But the good news is that dynamic stretching is becoming more and more mainstream all the time. Aside from being a taekwon-do instructor, I also got certified as a group fitness leader a while back. I was happy to see during my course that they’re now telling fitness leaders not to use static stretching before a workout. If you need to stretch, stretch dynamically.
Why use dynamic stretching for martial arts?
It’s not just that dynamic stretching is better than static stretching as part of a warm-up. It’s that it’s significantly better.
Here’s the most important reason for doing dynamic stretching for martial arts:
- Multiple studies have shown that static stretching does little or nothing to help prevent injury and can reduce your strength and explosiveness for up to an hour. So theoretically, static stretching could increase your chance of injury. Even if you don’t get injured, you won’t perform at your peak.
Want more reasons?
- Static flexibility doesn’t always translate into functional dynamic flexibility. You might be able to go deep into a static stretch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to kick high. Granted, there is often crossover, but you need both kinds of flexibility.
It seems like there are actually two types of stretch receptors in the body. One only measures how hard you’re stretching. This one gets triggered during a static stretch. The other measures how hard and how fast you’re stretching. Guess what type of stretch triggers this receptor?
So dynamic stretching helps increase dynamic flexibility.
How about another reason?
- Dynamic stretching helps keep your core temperature up and your muscles warm. You’re moving and working as you stretch, rather than relaxing on the ground. Warm muscles are good for exercise.
Think about it: have you ever done an intense warm-up, followed by 10 minutes of static stretching? By the time you’re done stretching, you’re no longer warm, but now you have to go exercise. Doesn’t make sense, does it?
If you were warming up hard enough to maintain some body heat even after your stretching was done, dynamic stretching can possibly even make your warm-up shorter. Because you’re working during your dynamic stretching, you don’t need that extra sweat to carry you through the stretching session.
This is not to say that static stretching isn’t important. It is. It’s arguably the best way to promote overall flexibility, and static flexibility can carry over into dynamic movements. But static stretching is best left until the end of class.
How to do dynamic stretching for martial arts training
When doing dynamic stretching for martial arts, the most important thing to remember is that the movements should be relatively slow and controlled. Not necessarily tai chi slow, but you aren’t bouncing or jerking, or swinging anything with a lot of force. That’s called ballistic stretching, and it’s usually bad. You should be able to more or less stop your movement at any point along its path.
The classic dynamic stretch for martial arts would be leg swings. Personally, I find I get the most benefit from leg swings when I don’t even really feel the stretch. If I concentrate, I can tell that my muscle is stretching, and my range of motion will still increase a little bit with each swing. But if I swing all the way until I feel a good stretch, I’ll be a little sore the next day and my flexibility will eventually decrease.
That’s just me. Your experience may differ.
Here are some examples of dynamic stretches:
- Arm circles
- Arm swings (horizontal or vertical)
- Torso twists
- Walking lunges with torso twist away from your rear leg
- Hip circles (no knee circles—they’re bad for your knees!)
- Ankle circles
- Sitting stance up-and-down/side-to-side motion
- Front leg swings
- Side leg swings
- Rear leg swings
- Inside/outside crescent kicks
- Squat and twist
There are lots more out there. Pick the ones you like. Just make sure you’re doing them for a specific purpose.
If you have any questions about the stretches above, there’s lots of information online, and you can alway leave a comment below.