Sifu Anne Vandrus

Youth Student’s Corner

When we do Kung Fu we are stretching our bodies quickly to extend out techniques. If we want to kick higher or have more control of our strikes, then we want to improve our flexibility—and we achieve that by stretching. Since Kung Fu is an all-season activity, we need to be aware of how to take care of our bodies so that we are still training safely and effectively, whether it’s hot or cold.

We start every class with a 30-minute warm up so that we can heat our muscles up before stretching them out to prevent injuries while training Kung Fu techniques. In the winter, when it’s colder, this warm up is even more important.

To understand why this matters, think of your muscles like cheese: if you take a cold piece of cheese and try pulling it apart, you will probably just break off a chunk. If, however, you heat up that same block of cheese first, you can slowly pull it apart without it breaking—it will stretch. Our bodies aren’t made of cheese, but they’re similar in that, if our muscles aren’t warm when we try stretching them, they’re more likely to just tear. When we warm up first, and stretch slowly, we’re less likely to hurt ourselves.

Once you’ve warmed up, you need to make sure you’re stretching correctly. If you’re holding a stretch and it starts to hurt, then you’ve gone too far; the slight tug is the stretch, but it should never feel painful. Especially when you’re flexible, it can be hard to know what muscles you’re supposed to feel the stretch in, or if you’re doing it correctly, so make sure you ask! Chances are that one of your classmates is also wondering the same thing, so you’ll be helping everyone learn by asking questions.

Remember that stretching is individual, and some people are just more and less flexible in different ways. For example, you could have really flexible hamstrings (splits), while someone else could have flexible Achilles tendons (squatting stretch/knee-tuck), and another person could have really flexible quadriceps (standing/laying down quadricep-stretch). So don’t try extending your stretch to match someone else—listen to your own body!

You might find many stretches easy, but it’s still really important to keep practicing your stretching now, so that when you hit a growth spurt you don’t lose that flexibility. As we get older, we need to stretch even more because growing our bodies and building our muscles makes them tighter. If you ask your parents, they will probably tell you that they’re not as flexible as when they were kids… and this happens to everybody!

While the warm summer is the best time to improve your flexibility, you can still safely stretch in the winter! Kung Fu is an all-year activity, so keep your stretching goals alive all year too!