Warming Up & Stretching
Warming up involves the physical heating of the muscles, lubrication of the joints and increasing oxygen and blood flow throughout the body. Running, jumping and skipping rope are all forms of warm-ups. Stretching the muscles is much easier once they are properly heated and the blood is pumping. Some think of “jumping jacks” (also known as “star jumps”) as funny looking, but they are a very good warm-up, moving both the arms and the legs at once. The muscles should be kept warm during the entire workout period, and any long periods of discussion/lecture in class should be followed by warming-up exercises when possible. There are different theories on the use of a “warm-down.” Let it suffice to say that it is usually advisable to do more, rather than less, warming and stretching of the muscles both before and after a workout. But the pre- and post-training routines should be different, as they perform different functions.
After the muscles are sufficiently warmed-up, they can be stretched further and with more ease. There are many theories concerning the proper way to stretch (for example, bouncing, slow-and-hold, PNF), but I will not get into them in detail here. I would not advise rushing stretches, nor bouncing past the maximum comfortable range. Lightly “bouncing” in some stretches is not usually harmful if done within your normal range of flexibility. But I would advise against forcing muscles to the point of discomfort and possible injury.
Some will find that they do not require as much stretching time as others. Many will never be as flexible as they would like to be. Some find that their muscles get cold quickly. Others find they can remain flexible for hours but suffer from occasional cramping of the muscles. No two people are exactly alike and we must understand our differences and limitations.
Do not force your muscles to the point that you are doing irreparable damage. Do not take it too easy either; flexibility helps us in many ways and stretching should be considered a necessary part of training. Those who feel they need more might want to try stretching lightly first thing in the morning and very lightly just before going to bed at night. Also, going to the dojo early can really pay off if you spend that time warming up and stretching, instead of just talking to your friends.
Remember that in stretching, just like any other Karate activity, pain in your joints is usually a sign of poor technique; be careful not to manipulate your joints in such a way as to cause pain. And if you feel any sort of pain during your warm-ups or stretching, I would advise spending some time considering if you can make improvements in your routine.
You should notice that you may feel better stretched after some kinds of stretching than others and it is recommended that you try to develop your ideal routine. This may not be ideal for everyone else in the class, and you should do your best to please everyone if you are leading the group taiso. There can be a noticeable difference in the performance of the students following a good warm-up and stretching set. Study why some are more successful than others in getting the class stretched out properly. One thing to consider is the progression of stretching from one area of the body to another (for example, moving from the upper body to the lower body, or starting from the center of the body [the hips & torso] and working out to the limbs methodically).
One problem many people have is that they do not know how many stretches to include. My recommendation is to consider that some muscles take longer than others to stretch (the larger leg muscles, for instance), so either include more of those stretches or spend longer on the few that you do. There have been studies conducted which claim that each stretch should ideally be held for 30 seconds. Although that seems a bit extreme, fast, bouncing stretches at the other end of the spectrum can often do more harm than good. Even if you do not spend a full 30 seconds on every stretch, there are more than enough different stretching exercises to fill up the better part of an hour. But most people can be sufficiently stretched after as little as 5 minutes, if done properly and follow a good warm-up routine (ideally several minutes in duration as well). It is just like everything else in Karate; study and practice!
Some instructors frown upon students wishing to stretch and/or keep their muscles warm between sets of movements. Although I do not advocate chaos, the opportunity to keep in top form throughout the class certainly has its advantages. I often remind students that they should do their best to keep warmed up and stretched out to gain as much as they can from each set of movements as well as to prevent unnecessary cramping or straining of the muscles. In contrast, I expect my students to not figit while going through the techniques.
I like to make sure I include 3 types of activities in my “warm-up” routines (not including the occasional strengthening exercise, which can also help increase blood-flow):
• Warming up – to raise the temperature of the body as well as the heart rate.
• Joint lubrication – twisting and turning of major joints.
• Stretching – including both dynamic (more towards the beginning of the routine) and static (only a little at the end of the pre-workout portion and more after the workout).
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published July 1998)