Lesson 2 – Types of stretching
The elongations 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 must 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 a 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 (beginners and / or not conditioned practitioners must 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 practice is useful in a not life-risking self-defense situation or, sometimes, in high-level sparring session)
- 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 an elongation but an explosive destruction of body elements (tendons, muscles, bones, etc.); the risk of causing permanent damages is extremely high, this practice can be used only in serious self-defense scenarios (and should be avoided during sports competitions)
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, when you start to feel a light tension you hold it; it simply consists in maintaining a 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 in 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 have to 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 high levels of results but at the same time it creates a high risk of causing damages, especially (but not only) for not conditioned pratctitioners; it is almost useless and harmful to not professional fighters / athletes who perform volatile or high-speed movements (it can be replaced with static stretching); it is suitable only for highly conditioned practitioners and, with the right adapatations, to young kids and natually flexible people (you can learn to defend yourself completely ignoring this type of exercises); they can be safely performed only from low-speed to high-speed and preceded by static stretching
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; in 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 contracts, the opposing one relaxes
- 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 on 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)
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:
- After a correct warm-up (read How to correctly perform warm-up)
- In sync with breathing (read the technique described in Meditation method 5)
- Without feeling any pain (inflammatory responses and nerve irritations can get worse with stretching)
- In conformity with our body limits (read How to correctly perform stretching)
- The easiest method to do the side split – A passive (or active) stretching exercise to increase the opening of the legs
- Side split: a few tricks – A few details, tips and precautions about the side split
Author: Master Kongling
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