Flexibility is often associated with graceful movements, but its link to power is often an underrated aspect of martial arts. The truth is, flexibility is a key factor in enhancing your power. Let’s look at why flexibility is crucial, and explore three top flexibility exercises, pre and post training.

  1. Increased range of motion

Flexibility expands your range of motion. When you have a greater range to execute a technique, you can generate more power. For example, a mawashigeri (roundhouse kick) delivered with a full arc due to flexible hips and legs has far more force than a limited kick due to tightness.

  1. Optimised muscle engagement

This refers to the precise activation of muscles required for executing techniques effectively. In other words, it involves engaging the right muscles at the right time and with the appropriate intensity to maximise power and speed. Flexible muscles can engage more efficiently. When you stretch, you condition your muscles to fire optimally through the complete range of motion. This optimal engagement translates into more force when you strike or perform a technique.

  1. Whip-like action

Flexibility allows for ‘whip-like’ action in movements. Just as a whip gains power through its flexibility and snap, your strikes in karate can gain force through the quick, controlled release of energy that flexible muscles enable.

  1. Improved body mechanics

Body mechanics refers to the efficient use and coordination of the body’s muscles, joints, and bones to produce effective movement and power. For example, in a punch, the power starts from the legs, travels through the hips and core, and finally transfers to the fist, amplifying the force in the technique. Hip flexibility allows for proper hip rotation allowing for increased torque and power.

  1. Reduced resistance

Tight muscles act as resistance. The more flexible you are, the less resistance your muscles encounter during movements. Reduced resistance allows for smoother, faster techniques with increased power.

Incorporating regular stretching and flexibility exercises into your martial arts routine is a strategic move to enhance your power. As you progress on your flexibility journey, you’ll witness a remarkable transformation in the power and effectiveness of your martial arts techniques. It’s not just about the strength of your muscles; it’s about how efficiently you can utilise that strength through a full and flexible range of motion.

Here are 3 exercises you can do pre and post-workout to build your flexibility:

Pre Training

  1. Dynamic stretching: leg swings, arm circles, and torso twists are ideal choices to prepare your body for the motions involved in martial arts, enhancing flexibility and performance.
  2. High kicks: progressively execute slow and controlled kicks, aiming to increase your maximum height with each kick. This helps to increase flexibility and range of motion in your hip flexors, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
  3. Joint mobilisation: this enhances synovial fluid production, aiding in joint lubrication and flexibility, and includes wrist circles, ankle rolls, and shoulder rotations.

Post Training

  1. Static stretching: Only to be done when your muscles are warm, static stretching involves holding a stretch for a prolonged period, targeting specific muscle groups. Key stretches include the hamstring stretch, calf stretch, butterfly stretch, and cobra stretch. Holding each passive stretch for about 30-40 seconds helps lengthen muscles and increase overall flexibility. The stretch reflex, which contracts the muscle in response to stretching, helps maintain muscle tone and can significantly increase the speed and force of the strike.
  2. PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation): This involves contracting and relaxing muscles during stretching, improving flexibility by using muscle reflexes. For example, after a workout perform a hamstring stretch where you gently contract your hamstring by pressing your leg against your hands or a partner’s resistance, then relax and deepen the stretch. Repeat this sequence to enhance flexibility.
  3. Foam rolling: While not a traditional stretch, foam rolling is a myofascial release technique that can enhance flexibility. After a workout, use a foam roller on different muscle groups to release tension and knots in the muscles. This promotes blood flow and flexibility by breaking down adhesions and relaxing the muscles.

Incorporating these flexibility exercises pre and post-karate workout can significantly improve your range of motion, reduce the risk of injuries, and aid in muscle recovery. Always listen to your body, and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your stretches for safe and effective results.

Good luck!