Lesson 2 – Types of stretching

The elongation levels

Since gradualness is one of the fundamental pillars of 6 Dragons Kung Fu’s training method (read The instructor of 6DKF and the teaching method), we distinguish 8 levels of elongation:

  • Without effort (level 0) – This is the condition of mobility you reach during a normal warm-up; it does not create any kind of tension superior to the ones of the common daily life
  • Light tension (level 1) – You have to maintain this tension during the introductive stretching session (ideal to prepare your body for the training exercises after warm-up); it generates a low level of tension (vaguely perceptible and pleasant) and it is also useful to prepare your ligaments for the level 2
  • Middle tension (level 2) – This is the maximum tension that a beginner / intermediate should reach; it is a stretching level to be achieved at the end of training for a tendons transformation session (when the body is completely heated, read Lesson 6.1); it generates a kind of tension perceptible but that do not cause any kind of pain
  • High tension (level 3) – This is the maximum tension that an expert can reach during a stretching session; it is a level to be achieved only at the end of an intense training, useful for a better elongation performance; it generates a kind of work that causes an intense tension but in no cases, pain
  • Light pain (level 4) – This is the maximum tension that a beginner / intermediate can reach during the study of a lever (read Chin Na) but never during an elongation; it is a stretching level that causes light pain (indispensable to understand if a technique is applied correctly or not); it must not be maintained for more than a 1-2 seconds to avoid damages; even if the pain does not remains, beginners and / or not conditioned practitioners should give a few days of recovering to their limbs after these practices
  • Middle pain (level 5) – This is the maximum level that an expert can reach during a training application of a lever (in no cases during an elongation); it is a relatively dangerous tension that causes real pain; it is completely prohibited to beginners and must not be maintained for more than a 1-2 seconds to avoid real damages; this type of tension is also useful in a not life-risking self-defense situation or, sometimes, in high-level sparring sessions
  • Intense pain (level 6) – This type of prolonged elongation always causes damages and can be used only in self-defense situations (or in sports competitions); in this case, the risk of causing temporary damage is extremely high (in no cases this can be done during training, even against conditioned partners)
  • Breaking (level 7) – This is not a normal elongation, it is an explosive movement aimed at destructing specific body elements (tendons, muscles, bones, etc.); the risk of causing permanent damages is extremely high, this practice can be used only in the most dangerous self-defense scenarios (and should be avoided even during sports competitions)

Note – This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).

Despite the parameters provided, the various levels are quite indicative and require the development of an ever-increasing perception of your body conditions (in general and in the specific moment of application).

The basic types of stretching

These are the typical type of stretching of the human body, developed to gain flexibility and ample our range of motion (ROM):

  • Static stretching – This type of elongation is the most common, you simply take what you want to stretch to its extension and when you start to feel a light tension, you hold it; it simply consists of maintaining the position of stretch for a specific time (eg. 25 seconds); after a correct warm-up it is ideal for beginners (for increasing range of motion) but slightly less useful for flexibility experts
  • Dynamic stretching – This type of practice is good during warm-up, it is safe also for intermediate practitioners; it consists of the repetition of a movement (eg. 10 times) that alternates a no-tension phase with the gradual attainment of tension (under a load of a generally limited amount of inertia); you have to move what you want to stretch through its entire range of movement; first you start with a small motion and then, gradually, you can increase elongation and speed (without exaggerating)
  • Ballistic stretching – This is the most dangerous type of stretching and is performed by “bouncing” with momentum on the stretch position; it allows to reach high-level results but at the same time, it raises the risk of causing damages, especially (but not only) for not conditioned practitioners; it is almost useless / harmful to those who are not professional fighters / athletes who perform elongations concurrently of high-speed / high-loaded movements; it is suitable only for highly conditioned practitioners and, with the right adaptations, to young kids or naturally flexible people; it can be safely performed only gradually start from low-speed to high-speed and preceded by static stretching

A note by Master Kongling – It must be said that, according to some recent studies, ballistic stretching is an outdated method that is simply dangerous and that can be effectively replaced with static stretching. In any case, you can learn to defend yourself even by completely ignoring this type of exercises.

The types of workout

Each type of workout can be:

  • Active and Active Isolated (AI) stretching – For martial arts purpose, this is one of the best choices, instead of favoring the elongation, we make sure to oppose a slight muscular resistance in the opposite direction of the tension; this way, our body not only manages to expand its mobility but also learn to support it without damages during dynamic activities (the typical explosive movements of a fight); the idea is that if one muscle relaxes, the opposing one contracts
  • Passive stretching – It consists of using special tools (weights, machines, partners, etc.) to passively work on your elongation through relaxation and without any kind of effort / contraction; alone, this kind of stretching is not suitable for martial arts; as an accompaniment to other types of extension it can help to reach / maintain good results (but if you do not perfectly know your body or you are not sure of what you are doing it is better to postpone this category of exercises)
  • Isometric Stretching – Ideal for martial arts, this is a safe and effective way to work with our flexibility, it consists of resisting to the stretch position isometrically (to build for example the standing stamina, read The correct position of the rider (ma bu)); this kind of exercises can be performed alone or with a partner and can bring you to the best martial results

Last but no list we have the:

  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) – Born for rehabilitation purposes, it consists of a sequence of passive and isometric workout (hold-relax, contract-relax and rhythmic initiation); most of these exercises combine an isometric hold followed by a static stretch of the same muscle group (typically performed with a partner); this is the best possible stretching method and in a more advanced stage (with weights, etc.) can bring a flexible person to a contortionist-level (like the one of Shaolin monks’ Tong Zi Gong)

Important tips

The best solution is to use more than one method in combination but always paying attention to our body limits, all types of stretching must be performed:

In-depth articles

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Author: Master Kongling

Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.

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