How to correctly perform stretching

Before starting a stretching session

Three important premises:

  • We always have to consult a doctor before practicing stretching (and any kind of physical activity)
  • Before starting the practice of stretching it is good to do some warm-up exercises (read Basic warm-up and How to correctly perform warm-up)
  • In this context, we do not want to go too far into details but be as practical as possible

We have to pay particular attention to these pieces of advice especially if:

  • We are over 30-35 years old
  • 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

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:

  • Limiting the risks of damages
  • Trying to obtain the best results
  • Shortening the time to achieve our goals

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 preventive phase – The one that is done to prepare the body to give its maximum, its peak performance (for training, sparring, sports competition, 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)

In the first case we prepare our body (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)

We will talk more about them later.

The correct way to stretch

The general tips that we are going to share are especially for beginners (and refer mainly to the exercises described in the article Basic soft stretching). If this is our first approach to stretching let’s read carefully:

  • 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, etc.)
  • Use the breathing – Without going too much into the detail of particular breathing methods (read Meditation method 5), we must learn to synchronize a slow and long out-breaths with the stretching phase
  • Use only the weight of the body – Especially at the beginning, we must use only the mass of our body to exert a light pressure on the part 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 (“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 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)
  • Symmetry and balance – 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)
  • 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 practice)
  • 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 it)
  • Resting – Stretching is always good but a rest (for our ligaments, tendons, muscles and cartilage) once a week, can be useful (especially if we practice every day intensively we cannot always be sure we are not stressing our body)

There are many other things to say but for now, this is enough.

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.)
  • 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, the sports we do, the work (etc.), everything influences our flexibility

Final notes:

  • 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 reasons patiently)
  • The right age to start – There is not a limit age but it’s obvious that a kid will gain his first split in a few sessions, an adult in months an old man in years (read The right age to start practice)

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

Author: Master Kongling

Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.

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