American Kenpo
My Journey Learning American Kenpo

My Stretching Routine

UPDATE:  9/7/09

Since May 13, 2009, I began working out at 24 hour fitness 4 days a week.  I also practice Kenpo and do some stretching.  I incorporate some of the stretching and exercises from Elastic Steel into my Kenpo workout, but as a whole, I have not continued the entire Elastic Steel program.  What I do is aerobic exercise and weights 4 days a week.  I work both the upper and lower body with weights.  I also have an ab workout I do as well at the gym.

What I’ve noticed since working out at 24 hour fitness and practicing Kenpo at home is that my strength, flexibility, and stamina has greatly increased.  My kicks cold are higher, more flexible, and much more precise.  My balance is much improved as well.  Not that I did not get any progress from my home workout with Elastic Steel, but I’m beginning to see a trend here.  Overall fitness is important to success in any athletic endeavor.  The more you do to workout your body, the more prepared with it be to do other activities as well.

For instance, I work out on all of the leg machines at 24 hour fitness at least twice a week.  Also, I have been doing lower back and abd exercises there as well.  As a result, my legs are stronger and more flexible.  My midsection, both abs and lower back are stronger as well.  What this has led to is the ability to perform kicks at a higher level of proficiency.  My midsection is able to stabalize better during kicks.  My hip muscles are stronger and thus I can lift my leg higher during round house kicks.  The aerobics I do has given me more stamina during sparring and drills.

My conclusion is that I personally have been able to push myself more by working out at 24 hour fitness on the equipment they have and achieve faster and better results than by doing Elastic Steel alone at home.  I’m not saying that Elastic Steel is not a good thing, but I think it is geared for people that have nothing else to work out on.  I actually discovered this for myself by accident.  As I began working out at 24 hour fitness, I found that I really enjoyed it, so it took away time I could devote to Elastic Steel.  As did my Kenpo workouts and attended class, I started noticing improvements in my kicks and overall fitness.

I believe that working out at 24 hour fitness with a dedicated aerobic, abdominal, and weight routine has helped me get gains to where I am at today.  This combined with my continued Kenpo practice and routine stretching seems to be an effective solution to my fitness and martial arts goals.  I was a bit surprised because I was not doing many of the Elastic Steel exercises anymore, but found I was getting more flexible and stronger in my legs and with my kicks.  I can only attribute it to being able to reproduce many of the same movements and exercises Elastic Steel covers but on weight machines at 24 hour fitness instead.

One more aspect is that of time.  I believe that my continued practice is also responsible for my continued gains.  I’m sure there is a cumulative effect going on with my progress and it is not just one thing that is responsible.  I’ve determined that being patient and continuing to workout with fitness in mind will enable me to continue to make gains in my martial arts efforts.

One thing I’d like to add is that I do believe Elastic Steel is a good program.  There is information that I have learned from it that I continue using to this day.  I may not have made the progress I did without it.  However, I am also realizing that maybe doing the splits is not in everyone’s genetic makeup.  High kicks are not something that I am concerned over.  My efforts are more on developing what I have.  If I gain height over time, so be it, great.  What I am more concerned with is an overall level of fitness.  I do not want to put myself through undo pain or injury for the sake of saying I can do the splits.  If it comes with time, great.  If not, doing the splits will not make me a better martial artist.

UPDATE:  5/5/09

From what resources I’ve attained knowledge from, there’s one thing that I’m discovering is quite true.  As strength is developed, flexibility is attained.  I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten stronger my flexibility keeps increasing.  As this is all new to me and since I started from such poor condition, I have to admit, I did not really know what to expect.  By practicing everything I’ve learned in Kenpo on a continual basis, plus with the stretching and exercises I’ve been doing, everything is not only easier, but I’m better at it.  I cannot say enough now great it feels.  It only makes me excited to see where I will be a year from now.

So, for those how are reading this and are starting in similar physical condition as I was (poor), don’t worry too much about how your performance is in the beginning.  If you keep doing it, it will get easier and you will improve.  I’m living proof.

UPDATE:  4/22/09

I went to Borders recently and purchased this book:

Ultimate Flexibility: A Complete Guide to Stretching for Martial Arts

Since Borders does not have a really great selection of martial arts books, I was surprised to find one there discussing stretching for martial arts specifically.  This book is really a “complete” guide.  I would recommend to anyone to go to Borders and check it out.  It’s a good read discussing everything from anatomy to different ways to stretch your muscles to having complete workouts designed around what your goals are.  I’ve included items in this book into my everyday routines.

UPDATE:  3/26/09

For anyone just beginning martial arts or anyone wanting to begin stretching for martial arts, please remember, you have to start somewhere.  I started as a stiff board, literally, and at the age of 38.  I am way more flexible now and will be even more so a year from now.  It takes time.

As of this date, I have revised my stretching routine to include some of the below and what’s included in a product called Elastic Steel.  I purchased the book and DVD about 2 weeks ago and have been, should I say, enlightened.  I’ve written a full review, so please refer to it for more details.

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Inflexibility is very frustrating especially if you’re trying to get back into shape, let alone trying to do martial arts.  So, stretching is very important for any type of physical activity.  I’m by no means an expert on stretching or anything related to physical fitness.  However, I’ve had my days of athleticism and I remember what it took to achieve positive results.  So, stretching and flexibility are of the utmost importance to overall health and wellness.

But, if you’re like me, and you’ve let your self go so to speak, getting back your flexibility is just a matter of developing a daily stretching routine.  Knowing what to do can be the tricky part, but some areas of the body are easier to strech than others.

Here’s one way to think of it, or at least how I do.  Think of your body from head to toe.  Start at your head and work  your way down.  As a general rule, try to relax, don’t be in a hurry, and try to envision your body stretching internally while deep breathing.  You can even close your eyes while concentrating on the area of your body that you are stretching.  Some stretches are done with the muscle of that area relaxed and some are done while flexing.

Think of every joint in your body and each direction each joint can move.  Every direction of every joint in your body should be stretched.  There are muscles that manipulate movement every direction of every joint in your body.  As you develop a stretching routine, you will find areas that are stiff as a board and areas that are very flexible.  Try not to get frustrated with the inflexibility you have.  After all, it’s your habit of stretching that will eventually increase your flexiblity over all.

Everything I do without machinery with the exception of the Versaflex.  I am still learning and will be adding more stretches as I’ve discovered areas of my body that I am not stretching as of yet.  Here’s what I do thus far:

***Starting at the head and neck, I do neck turns side to side, forward and backward, and rotations in a circle in both directions.

***Circular shoulder shrugs in both directions

***One arm at a time, I do arm propellers in both directions forward and backward.

***Using a wall with palm against the wall and arm behind me horizontal to the floor, I rotate my body to stretch my biceps and chest muscles doing one arm at at time.

***I stretch my elbow a bit by putting the palm of the same arm to the same shoulder as close as I can then using my other hand apply a bit of pressure to stretch the elbow slightly.

***Then I do something I learned in Aikido.  With one hand do a karate chop to your sternum.  Your other hand is going to grab with it’s fingers the meaty lower part of your karate chop hand’s thumb.  This other hand while holding the thumb is going to put pressure on the back of the karate chop hand.  Now, with that other hand just pull the karate chop hand straight out in front of you.  Your karate chop hand is going to want to move out in front of you as if someone is handing you something.  Don’t let it.  Keep the karate chop hand perpendicular to your sternum.  You are essentially stretching your wrist in one direction.

Now, the other direction is just as important for the wrist.  Put your hand out in front of you about chest level as if you are going to dive into a pool, fingers pointing.  Now rotate your hands up until they are back to back.  Keep one hand in this position, arm extended, fingers pointing, pinky up, and thumb down.  Now, with your other hand, reach it’s thumb over the bone below your diving hand’s pinky, it’s the bone that’s in the hand itself just below the pinky finger.  The other fingers of your other hand are going to reach under your diving hand and lock it’s thumb and other fingers in this position.  The idea is to use your other hand to hold the hand in that position so you can stretch the wrist in the opposite direction as the first wrist stretch.  Now, with your other hand just pull the diving hand into your sternum as far as you can while holding the diving hand pinky up and thumb down.

Be careful though.  Go slow with these wrist stretches as they are actually used to simulate wrist locks and stretch the wrist so practitioners can tolerate more aggressive range of motion during practice.  I’ve experienced these wrist locks and a bit too much pressure can hurt and injure.  As you do these wrist stretches you’ll feel muscles in your forearms stretch as well.

***Feet naturally apart, twist your hips as if hoolahooping.  Do it in both directions.  Then I move about shoulder width apart and do the same thing.  I like this stretch, although it can be interpreted as rather corny, because I allows me to feel my hips and lower back in action.  It can give you somewhat of a “macro” image of your pelvis area flexibility.  I actually saw this on a biggest loser dvd and it makes sense.

***Feet together, knees bent, and hands on knees…….we are skiing.  Do circles with your knees in both directions.

***Using a wall for balance, lay the tops of your toes on the floor behind you, stretching the muscles on the top of your foot and ankle.   Stretch forward and to each side to cover the range of motion of your ankle.  You can do kind of a semicircle if you wish.

***Using the wall for balance.  Stretch your calves one leg at a time by bending one knee while keeping the other straight and leaning forward.  I’m sure just about everyone has done this stretch before.

OK…..now for the hard part.  Or at least it is for me.  The back, pelvis, and hips.  As the CORE of our entire body, it’s an amazingly complex animal.  Just think of all the different ways the legs move in the hip joint, how the pelvis tilts, and how your lower back works in tune with it.  All those muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are concentrated in that area.  No wonder so many people have problems with lower back, hip, and leg issues.  It’s very complicated if you really think about it and look into it’s anatomy.

So, here we go.  I will probably update this stretching article as time goes on and I learn more.

***Feet together knees bent slightly, bend over slowly.  For me this stretches my upper back quite well.  It’s a nice comfortable relaxing stretching pose.  I get some nice pops in stressed areas between my shoulder blades from time to time.   It’s also a nice “into” for my lower back, a calm before the storm stretch so to speak.  Try to straighten your legs a few times and hold it, then relax back to knees bent slightly.

***Feet shoulder width apart.  Start at your neck and roll your spine down until you are bending over as far as you can.  Then relax and breath holding that position as calmly as you can.  Let yourself hang there.  As a note, as you curled yourself down you may notice where you’re stiff in your back and can’t curl any more.  That’s ok, just let yourself bend over and relax.  I’ve personally experienced back adjustments all along my spine when I first began doing this.  The key is when you experience stiffness during this stretch, just relax, concentrate on that area, breath, and literally tell those muscles to relax in your mind.  You will eventually fell those muscles release with practice.  Don’t be alarmed if you feel and hear “pop-pop-pop”.  You may actually feel some great relief as I have.

***Feet wider apart yet, do the same thing, stretch down.  Now you may be able to touch the floor or you may not.  If you can, you can always grab your elbows with each hand and hang that way.  Each of us has lower abdominal muscles.  As you’re hanging and relaxing into this stretch, try to activate those lower abdominal muscles, flex, hold for 10 seconds, and relax.  This is what I understand as active stretching.  Using opposing muscle groups to facilitate a greater stretch will thus increase your flexibility while strengthening those opposing muscles at the same time.  I believe this to be safer than having someone push or pull on you to get a greater stretch.  However, I’m no expert and am just discussing what works for me.

While hanging, you are now going to move your hands and body to each leg one at a time.  Grab your ankle, foot, calf with both hands, whatever you can do and hold that stretch.  Try to relax concentrating on the muscles you feel stretching.  Do this for each leg.

***Now it’s to the floor on your back.  Grab your knees and pull them to your chest, or if you got a belly, go wider to your armpits.  Of course you won’t be able to reach your armpits, but that’s the general direction.  Now rock your body back and forth.  When you are falling back try to pull your knees closer to you, essentially trying to stretch the tilt of the pelvis and the lumbar vertebrae.  It’s a nice massage on your entire spine anyway.

***Lay flat on your back, legs straight, arms straight, elbows locked, hands together in a diving position.  Make your abdomen as sunken in as you can and lift your rib cage up as far as you can while breathing.  The idea is to stretch the abdominal areas.  Essentially everything connected between the rib cage and your pelvis.  Also you are stretching the range of motion of your arms over your head at the shoulder.

***Still on your back, cross one ankle over the other knee just above it on the thigh, as if your in a sitting position with the other leg crossed over it at the ankle.  If your right leg is crossed over the left, your right hand will reach between both legs to grab the left knee.  Grab the left knee with your left hand as well, lock fingers with the other hand, and pull that left knee to your chest.  If you’ve ever seen anyone grab their foot and put it behind their head, this is a stretch for people who CANNOT do that, myself included.  Pull the knee to your chest as far as you can.  Do the same for the other leg.  I’m not sure what muscles are stretched, but I do feel it that’s for sure.

***Flat on your back, scissor cross your right leg over your left.  Reach your right arm out away from and perpendicular to your body.  Reach your left hand as far across your chest as you can and grab yourself just below your armpit.  Make sure your left heel is pulled in towards your buttock.  Then just let your knees fall to your left to the floor so as to get a good twist stretch to your lower back.  Repeat with the other side.

***Sit up with your legs slightly apart.  Keeping your knee and foot on the floor, bend your knee and bring your foot slightly toward your buttock.  Keep your other leg straight.  Bracing yourself with your hands on the floor behind you, lean back.  This stretches the internal rotation of your hip.  Repeat for the other hip.

***Sit indian style but with your feet together, sole to sole.  Grab the ends of your toes with both hands to brace the legs and push with your elbows down on your knees.  The stretches the outer rotation of the hips.

***Sit with legs together, flat, and straight, toes pointing up, back straight, and reach out and grab your toes with both hands.  If you can’t grab them, use those lower abdominal muscles to reach out for them as far as you can go.  Repeat a few times, maybe a count of 10, or whatever you can handle.

Slowly get back up for 2 more stretches.  Now that the legs, upper body, and pelvis are nice and warmed up, we can work on the groin and hip flexors.

***Simple.  One leg behind you with knee on floor, other leg in front of you with foot on floor as if you are jumping a hurdle.  Keep the legs straight as if you are going to sit down into a forward splits.  It’s best if you have a wall, or a chair on one side of you that you can hold onto for balance so you can concentrate on the stretch.  Head up, back straight, move that knee behind you and lean forward on the other leg’s foot to stretch the hip flexors of the knee on floor leg.

***I use a bench for balance, but a chair will work if you’re still not that flexible.  If you are flexible, then you can use your hands on the floor for balance just fine.  Feet apart pointing forward, knees locked, let’s do the splits.  Bend forward at the waist and work your feet out until you feel the stretch.  I do active stretches here where I try to pull my feet together, essentially flexing the muscles that I am trying to stretch to facilitate a greater stretch.  Hold the flex for a few seconds and relax/repeat.  Then try to inch out a few more and repeat the above until you feel you’ve reached your max.  If you had your hands on the floor during this stretch, you can do the next exercise as well.

***I do this because I’m not that flexible yet.  Sit knees bent, feet under buttocks, knees outward, fold forward, chest on floor, abdomen toward floor between bent legs, arms straight on floor reaching above you, as flat as you make yourself with hands palm down.  Keeping your hands and your knees where they are, sit up on all 4’s, keep your arms stiff and straight, head up, back straight, bring your hips to the floor.  I think this is called the downward dog in yoga, except the starting position is different.  Not only does it reverse stretch your back, but stretches your hip joints and hip flexors as well.

AND THAT’S IT!  So far.  My problem areas are my hip flexors, hip joints, and lower back.  That’s why I say it’s such a complex area of the body.  There so many interdependancies and connections in the lower back, pelvis, hips, and legs that it’s the most complex to stretch.  It’s going to be interesting to see what time and effort brings.  One video I watched on martial arts stretching on youtube.com summed up stretching for me as the instructor introduced his student who demonstrated.  Basically what was said was “This is Fred.  He’s been stretching for almost 3 years now…..”.  He couldn’t do the splits yet.  Like I said….time and effort.

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