Sifu Rebecca Knapp, Waterloo Kung-Fu Academy

By Sifu Rebecca Knapp

Adult Student’s Corner

My last article identified that different types of flexibility are achieved through different types of stretching. This article provides examples of the different types of stretches and outlines how to use them to increase flexibility and range of motion.

I’m overwhelmed at the sheer number of conflicting perspectives on stretching: what’s good, bad, when/how to do it, in which order etc. SO…after much reading and evaluating my sources, I’ve decided what makes the most sense to me. Here it is, in (very) brief:

The two most important types of flexibility for martial arts are dynamic, and static-passive. Dynamic stretching facilitates dynamic flexibility, and two other types of stretching facilitate static-passive flexibility: relaxed (aka: static) and isometric (aka: PNF).

Remember dynamic stretching is flexibility in motion. Forward leg raises are a perfect example. When you raise your leg through a plane of motion, you relax the extended (antagonist) muscle- hamstring in this case, and contract the moving (agonist) muscle- quadriceps in this case. The idea is to move your limbs while gradually increasing velocity and range of movement. If you are working out (vs. just working on increasing flexibility) it should be part of your warm up, for 10-15 minutes, two times a day. When not part of a workout, dynamic stretches are best done upon waking, as they help “reset” the nervous system’s regulation of the length of your muscles for the rest of the day. When you do leg raises, stretch to the front, side and rear on each leg to have well-rounded flexibility and prevent muscle imbalance. Start slowly and gently; gradually increase speed and range. Don’t force it!

Isometric, (PNF) stretching is done by adding strong tension during static stretches – in class we often do this with partners, but it’s easy to do on your own as well, and with most stretches. Seated groin stretch is a good example, or the splits. Go down into your splits as far as you can without causing pain. Contract the muscles that are stretching and hold for at least ten seconds. Relax and immediately go deeper into the stretch. Isometrics should be done 2-3 times a week to build flexibility and once/week for maintenance. Perform them after the main part of your training. Do not do these stretches when you are sore…and kids should not do isometrics – ever!

Relaxed stretches are straightforward: Focus on completely relaxing into your stretch. Using the splits as an example, or even a forward bend, stretch as far as you can comfortably do so, wait until the tension relaxes, then go deeper. A proper stretch takes at least 30 seconds. Do these after your isometrics at the end of your training, or on their own. Do them daily, and don’t ever bounce!

To summarize the “ooo” (order of operations) in your standard training session: start with joint rotations and light cardio, then dynamic stretches, followed by your main workout then isometric stretching, and finally relaxed stretching.

For more information I recommend the books “Stretching Scientifically”, and “Secrets of Stretching”, as well as information from Brad Walker aka “The Stretch Coach”. The Google Gods will direct you 😉