The Importance of Stretching in Martial Arts
Stretching before a martial arts workout is something very common to see in gyms and dojos.
It is believed, with encouragement from instructors, that stretching prevents injury and prepares the muscles for the load that will be received during training.
Experienced bodybuilders, however, always say that stretching before training only serves to diminish the force. Based on their own training, these professionals stated that a slight warm-up is enough to prepare the muscles.
For amateur practitioners, the question is: stretch before, after or never?
A group of researchers at the Paulista School of Medicine published a study last year to test this theory.
After all, stretching before weight a workout is the way taught in most gyms and academies, but is this right? The answer is a resounding no.
The stretch we’re talking about is passive stretching, pulling on one body part, “stretching” the muscle for a few seconds.
Research has shown that passive stretching reduces the strength of that muscle for the session that will come next. In other words, if you do stretching, you are able to lift less weight in proceeding exercises.
The group of Brazilian researchers examined individuals in their 20s and maximum strength testing in classic bodybuilding exercises like bench press, biceps curl, leg press and pull-ups.
Observed in any muscle group, no matter whether the person had any experience or not with weight, loss of strength was observed. The conclusion of the research is that it “seems inappropriate to encourage static stretching before athletic events or physical activities that require high levels of muscle strength.”
Stretching and Injury Prevention
If injury prevention is the primary objective, the evidence suggests that athletes should limit stretching before exercise, and increase the warm-up time instead.
Some studies suggest that stretching the muscles before exercise actually causes the tissues to rupture more easily, rendering muscles and tendons more susceptible to strains and tears. Also, stretching can mask muscle pain, which allows you to push the body TOO far during training, again increasing the risk of injury.
It is believes believed that muscles may actually lose flexibility when they are overworked, somewhat like what happens when you continually stretch a rubber band. “It gets kind of limp. If you overstretch your muscle and then demand a power activity, it makes all the sense in the world that it doesn’t have the power or force that it would if it hadn’t been stretched.”
Warming the body without stretching
If we do not do static stretching, how do we prepare the body before a workout?
There are two forms.
The first is called “dynamic stretching” (in quotes, since it’s not exactly a stretch). You may have seen football players warming up before a match. They give repeated kicks in the air, rotate their torso to and fro, rotate their arms forward and backwards. That kind of heat causes the blood flow and warms the muscles before training, preventing injuries.
The second way is to simply start direct training, but making calls pre-series with less than half the charge. For example, if your workout begins with a series of three times on the bench press and you put 40 kilos on the bar this year, start your warm-up with reps of 20kgs or less. You can do the first series with only 10kgs and the second with 15, for example.
The same can be done with other sports exercises. In MMA and BJJ, you can start with technical repetitions with no resistance to warm the muscles.
So when should the stretching be done?
Static stretching has its place. It is important to maintain the body’s flexibility, especially in times like the present, where we spent most of the day sitting, shortening the hamstrings (back of the thigh).
A good time to stretch is immediately upon waking (if you are not doing strength training in the morning). Yoga is always a good option. Another option is to do static stretching after exercise, stretching out the muscles that have been worked, but not straining/weakening them before exposing them to high-intensity workout / heavy load.