When I started training seriously, my then kung fu teacher was of the old school: train hard, don’t whine when you’re in pain, then do it again the next day. There’s a lot to say for that method but in hindsight, there were also a lot of things wrong with it. But that’s not really what I want to talk about now. My teacher’s background is though, especially the consequences it had on his teaching.
He started as a gymnast when he was a kid in the ’60 and his warm ups and stretching reflected it. We used to do a lot of extreme ballistic stretching:
- Launching the legs all lover the place.
- Doing deep stretches and bouncing into them as hard as we could.
- Pushing harder and harder with every single rep.
I did get more flexible but progress was slow and often very painful. But that’s how it was back then so I didn’t really question it.
I’d been training like that for years before I read up on stretching and noticed that every book I picked up said this was the worst way to go about it. There is a time and place for dynamic stretching methods but what we did was not all that good for you if you kept at it for years on end. In a nutshell: you shouldn’t force a stretch.
Now I know some trainers and well known experts say otherwise and they have nifty methods that increase your flexibility big time in a matter of minutes. Which is all fine and dandy, right up to the point where something goes wrong and a muscle or tendon snaps or tears. I’ve had that happen too many times to mention and have seen it happen to others even more. It always resulted in loss of training time because you need to heal first. If you mess up the healing process, you get scar tissue in the worst possible way and lose both flexibility and a part of the muscle’s function. Not a good thing in the long run. .
Nowadays, I pay more attention to taking care of my body. It’s the one thing that is truly mine and I’ll be stuck with the consequences of everything I do to it, good or bad. I believe that staying flexible is a key part in your overall health and how you go about it makes all the difference. How to stretch correctly is a broad topic but let’s just say that this is not the way:
Now this may be a hoax but I’ve seen it happen a lot in some schools and gyms. The idea is to force the muscles to let go and therefor increase flexibility. Again, good for you if you can make it work but don’t come crying if your body decides to show you how displeased it is by tearing up. Or worse, you do this with one of your students and cause permanent damage. Which I’ve sadly seen happen too.
I guess my point is that knowing how not to stretch is just as important as knowing how to do it well.
UPDATE: Here’s part two of “How not to stretch.“