What is the first thing most people associate with martial arts? Is it the image of a martial arts fighter taking out his opponent with a single beautifully executed kick to the head, or Jean Claude Van Damme performing box splits between 2 chairs in quiet contemplation preparing for the battle ahead.
Experienced martial artists know that in reality these have little to do with actual self protection or street fighting. Remember back to when you first started training, did you aspire to have that kind of flexibility, or were you the kind of person that said ‘I cant do that, so I’m not even gonna try!’. Depending on the kind of training you were doing you may have been pleasantly surprised or quietly disappointed by your progress.
As my first instructor often told me (who by the way could easily do box splits cold) there is no magic pill, even small gains in flexibility take time to achieve. The older you get the more difficult it will be to improve your flexibility. Below are 5 easy methods, the 5 ways that I’ve found are the fastest ways to develop flexibility in anyone regardless of age physical fitness or experience. None of these require you to have your legs strapped into exotic looking pulley system and forced into a full split while muscles tear, tendons rip and bones break. In fact all of these can be done very easily with no pain or injury in just a few minutes.
1 Basic Stretches. Count and hold.
Yes it sounds a bit simplistic but I cant tell you over the years the amount of people who tell me the wish they had better flexibility but then when I ask what kind of stretching they do, it turns out that they’re not even stretching at all !!
In my experience the main reason people fail to develop flexibility is because they just do not put the time in. So do not underestimate the benefits of spending just a few minutes 2-3 times per week working on your basic stretches.
2 Dynamic Stretches
In Tae Kwon-Do we call these old school exercises leg raises. Leg raises can be performed to the front, back or side, will quickly get you to full range of motion and are great as part of a warm up.
Eg. Front leg raises, Side leg raises, leg raises to rear.
3 Active Stretch
Not much of an increase in flexibility but easy low impact stretch excellent as part of a warm up.
eg. perform a slow side kick in the air to about hip height or whatever you can manage, hold this position for 10 seconds, repeat a little higher if possible this time holding for 20 seconds, finally hold the third repetition for 30 seconds or as long as you can manage then repeat with opposition leg.
4 Isometric Stretches
The fastest way to increase flexibility. eg Sit down with on the mats with soles of your feet together, get your partner to stand behind you and apply downwards pressure to your knees. Relax and allow your partner to push your knees down for 5-10 seconds, then your partner continues to push while you use your leg muscles to resist his pressure. Hold the tensioned position for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.
5 Relaxed Stretches
Exactly how it sounds, best for at the end of a light to moderate workout. eg. Sit with legs apart, both legs straight. push yourself forward until legs start to tighten up. Hold this position for 10 seconds take deep breaths and try to relax your legs as much as possible. Push yourself forward until muscles begin to tense again, hold for 10 seconds trying to relax as much as possible. Repeat another two times hold the last stretch for 20 seconds always concentrating on relaxing your muscles.