Stretching and warm-ups for kickboxing
|Written by Peter Lewis on 10 September 2012|
There are a lot of articles on warm-ups and stretching and I expect that most of you are familiar with the basics. I do not want to waste your time so I am going to assume that you already have a routine as part of your training or prefight preparation. I am also going to assume that you know why you should stretch and the basic science behind it.
So what’s new? I think a significant addition to warm-ups and stretching at many clubs has been a major change towards including exercises for the back in many routines. There is a lot more awareness about what exercises are bad and classes are including exercises that are healthy for the back. A good example is the McKenzie extension exercise; known in Yoga as the cobra. It is like the push-up position but you keep your belly on the floor and push up with the arms while keeping the back muscles relaxed.
Another good exercise is the lumbar rotation stretch. Lying on the back with the arms out sideways you roll the hips and legs from one side to the other. An advanced form of this is that you keep the legs straight and reach with the right foot towards the left hand and then reverse sides. Both exercises are good for mild lumbar disc bulges, which of course are very common. The second exercise gives a good hamstring stretch at the same time.
Abdominal strengthening exercises have also improved. The crazy type of exercises such as the bilateral straight leg raise are generally a thing of the past. Most people know how to do a good crunch. Pilates exercises are making their way into kickboxing warm-ups too. You may be doing them without realising these exercises are from Pilates. Examples include resting on your elbows and the balls of the feet with the back straight and holding it. You can then raise one foot and the opposite arm so that you are balancing while holding the arm, leg and back straight.
I am especially aware of looking after the spine at my school where I teach a ‘master class’ for men in the 50ish age bracket. The class has proven popular with an incredibly loyal following. I recommend more clubs should offer something like it. It takes a while to build up, but I think it is really important to look after this age group. You have to be very careful about what exercises you do. The ‘boys’ love their sparring but we go light to the head. We also do a lot of Pilates in this class.
Many people want to know how to do the splits. Here are some facts...
I have spent the last few weeks training in Thailand with ‘Sifu’. He is neither young nor flexible but can still deliver devastatingly powerful high kicks. But he is a freak.
Nevertheless it is a real advantage if you are flexible and want to do high kicks. There is a small percentage of students who are naturally flexible because they are hypermobile. They are the ones who will be able to do the splits. You can identify them because when you bend their wrist forwards the thumb can bend all the way down to the front of the forearm. These students are nearly double jointed. In most normal men the thumb will only get to about 4–6cm from the forearm. I have discovered that if one of these hypermobile students walks into your club you should really look after them. Kicking comes easily to them and they can go a long way in the sport and many will become instructors. They can do all the trick kicks and they can kick with ‘style’.
What you have to watch out for is that these hypermobile students are easily injured. Their joints are less stable and they frequently twist their ankles and tear the ligaments and the meniscii in their knees. They should avoid exercises where they are jumping and landing on one leg. Especially volleyball and playing in the football ruck. Also bad for them is indoor soccer, which involves a lot of twisting and rotating of knees and ankles. This is especially true if your surname is Longinidis. Most people do not know that Stan had more serious injuries from indoor soccer than he did in his whole kickboxing career.
Stretching is usually good in moderation but if you overdo it you can end up with really tight muscles that then have to be rested for several days. This is frustrating and slows your progress.
Class time is precious, so be analytical about the time you allocate to each muscle group in your warm-up. What are the muscles that I treat from tears in kickboxing that may have been prevented by stretching? The answer is mainly hamstrings. I see a few groins or adductors. Also, some hip flexors. You get some calf tears but I do not think that they would usually be prevented by stretching anyway.
The next question is, what muscles should I stretch to improve performance during kickboxing? Probably the most neglected group is the hip flexor. Many people do not realise that tight hip flexors lead to poor hip position and posture during your kick, with the pelvis rotated forward. This not only reduces the height of your kick but also the power.