How to correctly perform stretching

Stretching is a fundamental part of our conditioning

Stretching is at the base of every kind of training (martial arts, sports, etc.), for this reason, we want to give some basic indications on how to perform it correctly:

  • It improves our performances
  • It allows us to train with a regular cadence
  • It prevent and limit the injuries
  • It shorten the times to achieve our goals

To deepen this topic read Body flexibility and martial arts.

What to do before starting our first stretching session

Three important premises:

  • We always have to consult a doctor before practicing any kind of physical activity
  • Before the practice of stretching it is good to do some warm-up exercises (read Basic warm-up and How to correctly perform warm-up)
  • The rules we will describe are simple but fundamental, let’s focus on each detail

We will have to pay particular attention to these advice especially if:

  • We are over 30-35 years
  • We have suffered injuries (or suffer from specific physiological problems)
  • We usually suffer from cramps
  • We are naturally not too much flexibles
  • Very easily we get hurt (inflammation, dislocations, etc.)
  • It is a long time that we are not practicing a constant physical activity

Stretching: 2 types / moments

Without going into the details of the various types of stretching of 6 Dragons Kung Fu, we distinguish 2 moments of practice (corresponding to two different level of intensity):

  • The preparation phase – The one that is done to prepare the body to give its maximum, its peak performance (for training, sparring, sports competitions, etc.) that must be done before the most intense part of the effort
  • The elongation phase – The one that should be done only when the body is very hot (after training, etc.) that has the purpose of increasing the flexibility of our body (in an as much as possible lasting way, the one that the Shaolin monks call “tendons transformation”)

In the first case we prepare our body for the practice (low intensity), in the second we lengthen it (high intensity).

To these two phases correspond specularly another two activities:

  • The morning muscular awakening – Very useful to reactivate the body (eg. for a normal productive day)
  • The relaxation after training – To gradually prepare the body for a good rest (in view of the following training day, read also 5 regeneration practices to recover after training)

The correct way to stretch

Important – If this is our first approach to stretching let’s read carefully.

The general tips that we are going to share are especially for beginners (and refer mainly to exercises like the ones described in the article Basic soft stretching) but some of them are extremely useful even for the advanced practitioners:

  • Use the breathing – We must learn to perfectly synchronize slow and long breaths with the stretching phase (read Meditation method 5); generally speaking, we have to absorb the air as we come to tension and breathe out when we relax (but this changes in particular execises)
  • The right clothes – We must wear elastic / ample clothes that do not limit our flexibility in any way (no tight pants, constrictive underwear, fabric that creates thickness / friction, etc.)
  • Use only the weight of the body – Especially at the beginning, we must use only the relaxed mass of our body to exert a light and natural pressure on the parts we wish to lengthen (no muscular thrusts, extra weights, constriction tools, etc.)
  • Feel the tension – We must feel a tension, no matter its intensity, the fundamental thing is not to feel pain (if this happen we have to lower the intensity and if it continues we have to stop and consult a doctor)
  • Our limits – Let’s learn to know our body and its limits (as we always say “never train what is in pain”); the first times it will be more difficult to understand what is happening to our body but with the time we will be always able to find the right balance
  • Maintain the position – In the static exercises it is important to maintain the position without vibrations for 5-45 seconds (depending on the level and on the knowledge of the body of the practitioner); it is better to work on longer times than on stronger tension
  • Symmetry and equilibrium – Our positions must be stable, comfortable and balanced, we have to avoid postures that are excessively inconvenient or unstable (we must maintain the control of our body); in most cases the shoulders are relaxed and the back perfectly straight (but even this changes exercise by exercise)
  • Oppose a resistance – We always have to oppose a minimal muscular resistance opposed to the elongation direction (so as to strengthen also the involved muscles and avoid breakings / strains during dynamic situations); this is particularly important for martial arts
  • Concentration – We need to know what we want to stretch and bring our attention to those body elements so as to optimize the position and get the maximum benefit (we must focus our effort exactly where we want to work)
  • Be gradual – Especially as regards the elongations that require more effort, it is always better to divide the reaching of the extension peak into several steps (depending on the difficulty 2-3 sessions alternated with a short rest)
  • Be constant – To maintain and develop our flexibility we need to be constant; each person is different but to have a generic reference, we need a session at least every 3-5 days to keep the skill, and every 1-3 days to increase / reach it (the more complex it is, the more frequently we will have to work on it); in any case let’s never try to speed-up, exaggerate or watering down the practice
  • Relax – The mental stress causes stiffness, stiffness slows down our martial growth (read also Breathing for immediate relaxation); to forget our problems during the practice, let’s use for example the music (read Workout music: how, when, why)
  • Rest – Stretching is always good but a rest (for our ligaments, tendons, muscles and cartilage) once a week, can be useful (especially if we intensively practice every day, we cannot always be sure we are not stressing our body)

To deepen this topic read The secrets of Yoga effectiveness.

What influences our flexibility

The flexibility of our body it is not only a matter of exercise, it is also related to:

  • What we eat – White meal, fruits, vegetables (etc.) are good allies in terms of gaining flexibility (read Qi and proper nutrition)
  • What we drink – We need plenty of water every day to maintain our body elastic and vigorous
  • The environment – Continuous exposure to conditions / agents harmful to our organism can damage our body and limit its capabilities
  • Psychological conditioning – Our body is strictly connected with our moods (much more than we can imagine), stress is able to stiffen our muscles, tendons (etc.) without even realizing it
  • Correct execution of training exercises – Bad positioning, wrong methods, unbalanced physical efforts, the absence of warm-up (etc.) can cause chronic pain and stiffness
  • The way we live – From the way we seat (crossing legs, etc.), the way we walk, we sleep, the sports we do, the work (etc.), everything influences our flexibility

Final notes

A few conclusive thougths:

  • The results will come – Not all the people are equal but with determination, everyone (with much or less fatigue / time) can reach a good level of flexibility (more than sufficient for fighting)
  • Let’s do not worry – Sometimes it seems to get worse, we do not have to give up, it’s absolutely normal (not every day we can reach our top performance, let’s try to find the causes patiently)
  • The right age to start – There is not a limit age but it’s obvious that it is easy that a children could gain his first split in a few weeks, a teenager in months an adult in years (read The right age to start practice)

In the next article of this series, we will list the stretching’s most common errors.

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