Stretching for Taekwondo - A guide for the Students and the Instructors
When we think of Taekwondo, we often think of spectacular jumping spinning kicks. These kicks are the hall mark of classical Taekwondo and one of the main factors in achieving these kicks is flexibility. Flexibility allows us to do these kicks with minimal energy expenditure, kicking as economically as possible. Flexibility is one of the essential motor qualities of an athlete. A common misconception is that some people are flexible and some people are not. Some motor qualities such as speed are inborn. Others, like balance have to be developed from an early age to reach an exceptional level. Flexibility, is something that you can develop at any age, as is strength and endurance. In writing this thesis I have tried to be as simple as possible, otherwise this could quite easily turn into a long, mind boggling piece of work.
David Sims II Degree black belt
Flexibility is defined by Gummerson as "the absolute range of movement in a joint or series of joints that is attainable in a momentary effort with the help of a partner or a piece of equipment." Stretching is not just increasing the range of movement in your joints. It can be used for a warm up with a few dynamic exercises and also facilitates recovery, relieving muscle spasms and improving blood flow when used as a cool down exercise. In writing this article I have tried to not get too bogged down with the science behind what actually happens when your brain instructs your body to move as it would make for a very long article, instead I have tried to focus on making training specific for Taekwondo.
Why do some instructors use incorrect methods for warming up and stretching? When Taekwondo first came over to the UK the methods used for stretching were thought to be the best type of exercises for increasing flexibility. This has since been disproved by scientific studies. We now know how to increase our flexibility and this article shows you the basics. Note this well: Mental rigidity - the inability to abandon fixed ideas - is usually accompanied by a low level of flexibility. Some people spend hours weekly, year after year and get meagre results. Why? Because they are doing one or a combination of the wrong type of stretch at the wrong time, the wrong exercises in general or the wrong choice of training methods! I’m sorry to say it but it’s true!
Lets briefly take a look at the different types of stretching:
Dynamic Stretching: Involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, and speed . Examples are arm swing and leg raises. The should be done in sets of 8 - 12 reps. If you get tired the STOP! Do only as many as you can without diminishing your range of movement, any more will only reset the nervous regulation of the muscles at the level at the less than best repetitions.
Ballistic Stretching: Involves using the momentum of a limb to forcibly increase the range of motion. There are often bouncy or jerky movements. These movements cause microscopic tears in the muscle that can lead to reduced flexibility..
Static Active Stretching: Involves moving your body into a stretch and holding it there through the tensions of the muscle agonist in this movement. This helps the muscles that are being stretched to relax. An example would be holding you leg out in a side kick position
Static Passive Stretching: Also known as relaxed stretching, this involves relaxing your body into a stretch and holding it there via an external force or by body weight. For example raising you knee to the chest and holding it there, or doing the side splits whilst using the floor to regulate the weight
Isometric Stretching: Using positions similar to that of static passive stretching and adding tensions of the muscle you can cause reflexive relaxations that increase the stretch. The length of time, sets and reps will be discussed later.
In Taekwondo we need to be able to throw high, snappy kicks in quick succession. We need to use a combination of dynamic stretching and isometric stretching. Just as a sumo wrestler is fit to sumo wrestle and a marathon runner fit to run a marathon, neither are fit to participate in the others sport! Therefore stretching is also sports specific. We stretch different to how a Judoka (Judo player) would stretch for example. The 2 types of stretching that we need in Taekwondo is dynamic and isometric stretching.
What I am now going to show is a typical work out and within this we will concentrate more on these 2 forms of stretching. A good workout plan has the following 4 elements:
1. The general warm-up, mobilizing, cardio vascular warm-up and dynamic stretching.
2. The specific warm-up, in which movements resemble the main part of the work out.
3. The main part of the workout.
4. The cool down.
A warm-up should start of slow and get quicker toward the end of the workout a good warm-up is about 25 minutes long, which should include at least 10 minutes stretching. You should start with slow joint rotations until the movement becomes smooth. I do it in this order, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, waist and trunk, hips, knees, ankles, toes. The idea is to go from the outside in and top to bottom (Or vice-versa!). Normally 5-8 rotations in each direction is enough to get the joint ready for exercise.
After this I would spend 5 minutes of either skipping, jogging or shadow boxing. In class I would encourage relay races as a good warm-up here. Flexibility increases when the blood is flowing round the muscles. This is when I would introduce dynamic stretching after we are ‘puffing’ a bit!
When we are doing dynamic stretching it is important that we do not over do it to start with and we should know which muscles we are trying to stretch. Some people work up to being at full speed, whilst others recommend going to about 75%, I find that I like taking it to the limit because it helps me psychologically, but you may feel different! With arm swings I do 5-8 rep’s in all kinds of directions. With leg-rises, we should start of ‘slow an low’ and work the leg up higher each time. The leg should be straight and not bent. It is important to keep good posture. Do not look down, pick a corner of the ceiling to look at. When you look down you tighten all you back up from you neck so keep you head high. You should aim to get your knee to your chest on front rising kick, and always land in walking stance! Do not throw your limbs, lift them! Leg raises should be done to the front, side and back. I do one set of each and rep’s of 10-12. Never do too many as you re-set the nervous regulation as mentioned earlier. A little trick regarding nervous regulation for you here: Your brain will tell your leg to slow down towards the end of the movement to stop you from over stretching, but you can overcome this by putting your had out because it makes your brain think that your hand is going to stop it and allows you to kick at full speed! Side leg raises are best done against the wall. It doesn’t really matter the position of the foot as long as you are stretching you groin muscle. You may find it helps to tilit you hips forward, great, do whatever it takes to get it you highest. With back leg raises it is best to use a table - or a student crouched down! You can also do trunk rotations, 20-30 reps. To perform these sit down with your legs at 90° apart and swing you arms, be very careful with this not to overdo it! In this position you may like to clasp your hands behind your head and lean side to side, try and get your elbows to your knee!
After this you would do your specific warm up like kicking drills up and down the hall, followed by the main part of your exercise, kicking drills up and down the hall against a pad for example.
After this you will no doubt do your cool down and a good cool down will always have some type of light exercise and isometric stretching or relaxed stretching
Isometric stretching no doubt increases static passive flexibility. Passive flexibility usually exceeds active (dynamic for example) flexibility in the same joint. The greater the difference, the greater the flexibility reserve and therefore the greater the chance of increasing the amplitude of your movements. Please note that isometric stretching should not really be used for children or young adults, it can cause more dame that good in a variety of areas. You should only do one isometric stretch per muscle group and repeat it 2 - 5 times. Here are a few isometric stretching exercises:
Side Splits with hands on hips - ensure that you are stretching the groin with the hips pushed forward. Your feet should face forward as in annun sogi. Do not lean forward, keep an upright position. When you get to your limit tense and relax you muscles to make your legs go out further. Try and walk your way up from this position. Rest for a between 20 seconds to a minute and repeat the exercise trying for better results. Hold the last tension for up to 30 seconds in the last rep of your last set.
Here is an exercise for a different type of side split, with the toes turned up - You do the same as before however this time you can put your hands on the floor and push your hips back. You can stretch you hamstring with a good old fashioned sit down and reach for your toes. Many of you will know good exercises already, but may have just been doing them at the wrong time.
A good on for the thighs is your standard quadriceps stretch also known as a ‘calf stretch’ in some dojangs! You can do this against a wall and squatting with you knee on the floor. In all these exercises you should ‘tense and relax’ when at your limit to stretch further.
Much has been made on the subject of how long to hold tensions and relaxations. Russian researcher Metvyeyev (1977) recommends doing isometric stretches four or five times a week, ten to fifteen minutes a day using tensions lasting five to six seconds. These are for people who are fully developed athletes. Beginners to isometric stretching should use shorter times for tensions and not tens too much. Both beginners and advanced should start of lightly and increase the tension by the third or forth second. Always try and breathe when doing this type of stretching. After you have relaxed for about 3 seconds you should tense again, and keep the cycle going, however you should never hurt yourself during this type of stretching.
PNF Stretching: proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is basically the same as isometric stretching. A whole other article could be written on why it is not the same, but that is for another day, for the purpose of this article, PNF stretching is the last part of an isometric stretch, like when you push against or ‘pinch’ the floor in a side splits position for up to 30 seconds. However what people may be unaware of is that the golgi tendon organ relaxes the muscle after a muscle has had a sustained contraction for more than just 6 seconds.
When you have done your isometric stretches, it is important to get out of the stretches very slowly with no sudden movements. After you have done a stretch like this your muscles are in a sleepy state and any sudden jerk can cause serious injury. This was found out in a study (Etnyre and Abraham, (1985) it found that for several seconds following any type of static stretch your muscles are less responsive - your co-ordination is off. This was found out by the author of this article in 2005. I was a black tag and I was training hard for my black belt, I was supplementing my lessons with my own training at the gym - something we should all do. Doing the stretches the way I had been shown, getting into static stretches and holding them, forcing my legs out. Some hard music was on and as I got up, I went to give the bag a huge turning kick to the head - and ended up on the floor, there was a sharp pain in my left buttock. Looking back I think I tore something because I was struggling to walk when I got up. Something was not right at all. Rather than rest, I tried to train through it, which you should never do, this made it worse. I could not do and side/hooking kicks off my right leg or ax kicks of my left leg. Effectively I could not do my best kicks off either leg. The injury lasted for about 9 months and it was over a year before I got over it psychologically. During this time I researched stretching and the methods used and began to develop my own stretching routine for when I had recovered. I travelled to Master Woods to train ,along with other clubs, something that again we all should do. I endured a black belt prelim and a black belt grading. Need less to say I got a lot better on my other kicks and my hands got a lot better during this time as well. Training with a positive mental attitude is essential when training with an injury. You have to train what you can but stay away from anything that could injure you further. The best advice I can give for anyone that has a medical issue is to go to the doctors, however they will always tell you 2 things, rest and ‘Well, you know, if you continue to train in a combat sport…blah de blah…..STOP TRAINING!’ So you can now see why I did not seek medical advice on my injury, however to be fair it is 100% better now, you the reader however should seek medical advice!
Strectching Scientifically - Thomas Kurz M.Sc.
http://www.cmcrossroads.com/bradapp/docs/rec/stretching/ - This article is by a guy called Brad Appleton, Stretching and flexibility - all you ever wanted to know.
www.elasticsteel.com - This concept was written by a guy called Paul Zaichik who is an exercise science expert who also has la lot of free information on his you tube chanel, just type in elastic steel to go to his channel