When I used to teach martial arts, I was always struck by how tight
Many adults, even those in good shape, could barely do the basic
stretches which were part of our regular warmups…let alone move
into the more radical stretches, such as splits and bridges.
Some people are naturally more flexible, other less so. Most of
us are in the middle.
However, flexibility is not only an attribute, it’s also a
learned skill. Yes, even if you are as tight as a drum, you can
make enormous strides in your flexibility if you will just put
in a little time and effort.
Most people think of flexibility and stretching as the few
minutes of warm up or cool down activity they do before and
after a workout. They may spend 45 minutes to an hour or more
working out….but less than 5 or 10 minutes stretching.
I think this is a big mistake.
Stretching – in the right way – is wonderful preparation for any
workout or training. Not only does it help prepare your body
for activity. It also prepares your mind and spirit for the
training to come. It helps you reset mentally and put aside any
pressures, rushing or problems of the day so you can focus on
Stretching as part of your closing ritual or routine is equally
important. It’s easy to omit or cut short, especially if you’re
in a hurry or have only a set time to complete your workout. But
don’t shortchange yourself! Stretching now, when your muscles and
joints are warm and tired, is the best time to stretch!
Not only is it easier to reach into each stretch, it’s also an
ideal way to conclude your workout, bring down your heart rate,
focus on your breathing, and relax.
Adding a few more minutes of stretching at the conclusion of
your workouts can make a significant difference in your overall
flexibility as well as your ability to recover, AND in an
amazingly short period of time.
I saw this enough times in the training hall to know it to be
At the beginning of each class, we would take the students
through a series of dynamic and static exercises to help loosen
them up, as well strengthen certain areas. Then we would move
into the main portion of the class.
We usually left it to the students to stretch after class. But
I noticed that most students would take off after class. Even
those who stayed to work on specific techniques, sparring or
forms would often end their post-class workout without doing
At one point, I decided to conduct an experiment. I started
working with a couple of students – one guy in his forties,
the other in his fifties – and each as tight as a drum.
They both had difficulty with many of the stretches, found
stretching to be uncomfortable and even painful, and could not
get their kicks up any higher than hip height – a situation
which was causing them immense frustration. In fact, one of
them was thinking of quitting.
Basically, I told them to stop worrying about how they did or
how they looked doing the in-class stretching. In effect, I told
them to do the movements and go as far as they could to help
warm up their bodies, but not to worry about how far they
stretched or whether they were making progress.
This helped take the pressure off and move them away from the
“stretching has to be painful” mindset.
More importantly, I had them stay for about 15 minutes after
each class and stretch with me. I took them through part of
the post-workout routine I usually did.
As we stretched together, I was able to see where they needed
the most help and make corrections to their position, their
pace, even their facial expressions (very important!).
I helped them with physical and mental techniques or “tricks”
which can help increase your flexibility immediately,
without any straining or discomfort. (I discuss some of these
in my book, <em>”Dynamic Flexibility: The Secret To Healthy,
Pain-Free Joints, Limber Muscles and Maximum Mobility“.)
I have to say – even though I’m bragging a bit on myself –
their results were outstanding!
After just three weeks of regular, post-class stretching
(we averaged three times per week, plus I had them stretch
at least one other time on their own), each guy’s flexibility
had skyrocketed! I’d say they easily increased their
range of motion by 300 to 500%, depending on the particular
Instead of fighting the stretch with reflex tension, resulting
in pain and discomfort, they each were learning how to relax
and let go, to let their muscles and connective structures move
more naturally into the stretched position.
And they actually began to enjoy their stretching sessions.
What’s more, their leg and hip flexibility and strength
improved so much that their kicks got higher. One guy was
now able to do roundhouse kicks to head level – a goal
he had set for himself by the time he reached Black Belt
(he was a green belt at the time).
Imagine his glee as he “surprised” his fellow students
during sparring by sneaking in a few kicks to the head.
Mr. “Tight As A Drum” became “Mr. Gumby”. (Well, not quite,
but you get the picture.)
Based on this little experiment, I became a real champion
of stretching as the closing component of your workouts.
I continue to encourage people to do it today.
Even if I have just a limited amount of time to train, I will
shorten the other activity in my workout to allow for some
stretching at the end.
When I skip this or blow it off, I can really tell a
In addition to improved physical flexibility, there’s another
reason why this is very important.
I’ll share this with you in my next tip.
You Can Do It!
“Transform Body Mind and Spirit with Dynamic Energy Exercise!”
Copyright, Karen Van Ness, 2014