In the last issue we learned how your body responds to your martial arts training and the kinds of herbal and non-herbal remedies you can use to keep your body healthy now and in the future.
In this issue I shall give you some very effective yet simple stretching exercises which you may find will “work wonders” over a period of time with regards to:
- how to achieve more flexibility without causing injury.
- How to cure back-problems acquired through movements made.
Again (as in the last issue) my writings have received the stamp of approval by 2 specialists in the field of sports rehabilitation; namely Dr. Gert Van Der Wait (Chiropractor) and John Sullivan (a top sports-therapist and UK Athletics level 4 performance coach).
Strengthen & Improve your back
Since your back (especially your lower back) will have to deal with a lot of moving around by performing high kicks, twisting kicks, spinning kicks etc. an “antidote” needs to be brought in to counter-balance the strain on the lower back (and shoulder region for punching) in particular.
In my martial art (C.K.D.) a Yoga-based stretch is performed before we start with our shield-drills, sparring etc. This is to help prepare your body for its workout since there is no profit in training “from cold” (i.e. not having had a warm up stretch) as pointed out in “Health in Martial Arts” (Part 1).
Some of the benefits in the following exercises will be felt immediately, others after a little while – overall a beneficial health effect will be guaranteed if you keep at it.
In (figure 1) I am demonstrating an easy yet effective stretch recommended by Dr. Gert Van Der Walt (I use it in my class stretching program also) which helps strengthening the back and muscles around it.
If you feel “after effects” from this or any other stretch described here in this article (or perhaps the next day) it will indicate that you would benefit greatly by applying these exercises regularly. However if you feel pain I would advise you get it checked out by a Chiropractor, Sports-Therapist or GP.
Try the following:
- Pull up one of your knees and bring the whole leg close to your torso (you may also push the leg in a little to the centre to increase the stretch).
- Hold for a few seconds then let go. Repeat the same with the other leg.
- Now take both legs and pull them up in the same fashion as you did with the single leg. Repeat these 3 exercises several times.
WARNING: As with all exercises given here it is important that they are performed very slowly and without any force whatsoever. Forcing your body will create a counter effect by producing minute muscle tears and should therefore be avoided. Take care of your body – and your body will take care of you!
Another exercise which I find excellent is depicted in figure 2. Try the following:
- Lay down on your back and relax.
- Pull up the right leg and touch the outside of that knee with your left hand.
- Pull the right knee & leg over all the way to your left side as close to the floras you comfortably manage it. Then do the same with the other leg (reversing sides of course).
Here are 2 more exercises which I find extremely useful. My wife, Svetiana Allison, is demonstrating (see figure 3) another variant of an effective back-stretch:
- Sit down with your knees upright.
- Turn to the right (looking to the rear) and either hold your right leg or right ankle (according to your flexibility) with your left hand.
- Do the same on the other side.
This precious exercise is also good for the spine. To further strengthen your back (see figure 4) do the following:
- Lay face-down on the floor with your hands to the side.
- Now pull up your legs straight and keep them in the air for a few seconds.
- Relax and repeat a few times (if you feel uncomfortable in the slightest: stop).
This last exercise is intended for those who have sorted out their back issues by doing the first 3 exercises over a period of time. In other words: If you have had a bad back to start with then just do the first 3 and only do exercise number 4 when your back feels fine (and … to keep it fine!). Incidentally cycling, swimming or a 15-20 minutes walk will give your back a beneficial stimulation leading to healing.
Prepare for Fast Punching
As explained in “Health in Martial Arts” (Part 1): If you move your arms forcefully by tensing your muscles you acquire a build-up of TOXINS which cause stiffness over time and hinder your punching-speed. Furthermore it feels quite uncomfortable and you know something is wrong with your body. Toxins can be got rid of in various ways including by doing such exercises as given below.
Incidentally “lock-out” or semi-lock-out punches (meaning expending your arms fully to punch as opposed to keeping them unlocked as in boxing) will put quite a strain on tendons (for this reason we do not perform them in our CKD classes).
Here are a few very effective stretches, which will help you a great deal. They will make you feel better by loosening up your shoulder region and therefore improve your fast hand techniques (as used by Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi whose nickname in Korea was “Flash” due to his incredible punching speed).
Figure 5 depicts the following:
- Sit down comfortably, cross-legged and with your spine erect.
- Outstretch your right arm with your thumb pointing downwards.
- Hook your left arm underneath your right arm and pull the arm gently over to your left (you should feel a pleasant stretching sensation in your right shoulder).
- Look the opposite way for an additional neck-stretch.
- Now do the same on the other side with opposite arms.
Figure 6 shows another shoulder & arm stretch:
- Sit down cross-legged. Extend your right arm and place it behind your head.
- Rest your left arm on top of your right elbow.
- Do the same on the other side.
Another good exercise (not shown) is to stand upright and fully swing your arms forwards then backwards in very big circles (again: excellent for your shoulders region). After all these exercises your arms and shoulders will we “loosened up” and ready for punching!
Preparing for Kicking
The knees and leg-tendons / muscles are the primary “tools” for your kicks. “Lock-out” or semi-lock-out kicks (see explanation for “lock-outs” in last chapter) will put a lot of strain on your knees and extra care needs to be taken therefore.
I can show you how to improve your flexibility regarding your leg tendons but concerning your knee-region I can only advise you not to kick hard in the air … the air of course does not give you resistance as a sparring shield does; so the power you produce by kicking hard into the air will “bounce back” to your body. Even though we do not do the lock-outs in CKD I always tell my students NEVER to kick and punch hard into the air … and here’s another secret: relaxed punching and kicking produces more speed.
Here are a few exercises for your leg flexibility. Do the following (figure 7):
- Sit down with your left leg “tucked in” and your right leg outstretched.
- Bend forward towards the right foot by bending from the hip (not lower back).
- Do the same with the other leg. Then site with both legs outstretched and repeat exercise.
Figure 8: You might find this one more difficult. Bend the left leg as shown and extend the right leg. Stretch towards the extended leg (do both sides).
Figure 9: In the “Butterfly Stretch” your leg muscles should be used mainly to push your knees towards the floor (use elbows or hands lightly to support the knees). This will help to prepare for your “box-split” or “Side-Stretch” exercise (which all martial artists are familiar with – shown in figure 10).
Finally in figure 11 keep right knee bend and extend left leg – repeat wit the other side. If you have knee problems however leave this one off your programme.
As with everything you do: Should you feel any kind of pain when performing the above exercises then stop until you feel ready to continue. And if you have a sensitive back to start with I would recommend no bending down action at all. Rome wasn’t built in one day and “easy does it”.
Of course one cannot cover the whole spectrum in one short article. However I have explained some of the very important health and flexibility stretches and do hope I have answered some of your questions by addressing various intriguing aspects at the same time helping you to feel better in order to prepare for your martial arts training.
The Korean “Pil Sung” translates “Certain Victory” (our school motto) or: NEVER GIVE UP! Have fun with the exercises given above!