Every martial art is different. It may only be subtle to those with an untrained eye, but each martial art is distinct. BJJ isn’t karate, and karate isn’t judo.
But one thing ALL martial arts have in common is the muscles that are engaged when practicing them.
Failing to stretch properly before practicing martial arts of any kind will eventually lead to injury, so this article will look at the most effective martial arts stretches to avoid injury, the most common injuries, the main muscle groups that are engaged when practicing martial arts.
Also, the subtle differences between types of stretching that could make you a more effective martial artist when practiced. Ready to find out more? Good, because you’re in the right place!
Types of Stretching 101
Most people don’t know that there are two types of stretching. Yes, they know that there are many types of stretches, but the two types of stretching are less well known.
These are: Dynamic stretching and static stretching, and today you’ll learn the difference between the two, and which is the most effective for preparing yourself for a martial arts session.
Static Stretching Explained
Static stretching involves holding a particular position for a period of time to stretch out certain muscles and warm them up for the activity.
These are relatively easy to do, common across all martial arts (and indeed, many other sports and activities that require you to be on the move), and are very safe to perform. No movement is involved.
Dynamic Stretching Explained
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, involves plenty of movement. In fact, this form of stretching involves cycling through a range of motions to warm up your body for physical activity.
These are often slightly more complex and require much more physical coordination. The movement also requires you to engage more of your muscles in the warm-up process and allows you to target multiple muscles at once rather than focus on them in isolation.
Which is The Most Effective Stretches for Martial Arts?
You’ve probably already guessed it by now, right? Dynamic stretching! Because of the movement involved, the amount of flexibility required, and the number of muscles that are engaged at a time, dynamic stretching yields better results for you when practicing martial arts.
You can expect to see a wider range of motion, fewer injuries, more power, and a better performance overall.
The Major Muscle Groups Used in Martial Arts
So now you know dynamic stretches are the best way to get your body prepared for a martial arts training session, but that doesn’t tell you much if you don’t recognize which muscles you use the most during martial arts.
Only then can you focus your attention on dynamic stretches that will target the muscles that will benefit you the most before a session.
For your convenience, here’s a list of the muscles you use most often when practicing any martial art:
- Leg and hip muscles – including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and almost every other muscle in your upper leg, lower leg, and hips. That’s because stances are so important in every martial art, so you’ll need to engage your legs and hips constantly, which will give them a thorough workout.
- Core muscles – including your abs, obliques, and muscles in your lower back. Again, the transition between stances and practicing different grappling and wrestling moves involves engaging your core for maximum strength and stability.
- Arm muscles – including your biceps, triceps, and every muscle in your upper arm, forearm, wrist, and hand. Different grapples will require you to engage them all at some point, and even just practicing moves alone will have you working your arm muscles pretty hard during every training session, no matter the martial art.
- Back, shoulder, and upper torso muscles – including your pecs, lats, and delts. This is to do with your strength and stability again, both things that are supported by engaging the muscles in the top half of your body. Martial arts really are a full-body workout.
- Neck muscles – which will be engaged whilst keeping you protected in certain grapples and moves, protecting your spine from injury.
Most Common Injuries When Practicing Martial Arts
If those are the key muscles that are being used during martial arts (pretty much every muscle, considering how great martial arts are at giving you a full-body workout like no other), then it stands to reason that these muscles and the areas surrounding them will be where the most common injuries take place whilst practicing martial arts.
However, some injuries are more common than others, so let’s look at those before finally getting to the specific stretches that will help prevent injury when practicing martial arts:
- Muscle bruises are especially common when sparring, and failure to properly warm up and cool down can exacerbate the injury
- Knee sprains are much more likely to occur when the muscles around your knees haven’t been warmed up effectively whilst stretching
- Sprained ankles and wrists are common because of the grapples you practice – it’s important to note that very few static stretches target these areas either, further highlighting the importance of dynamic stretching
- Rotator cuff strains involve the muscles in your shoulders that help you rotate – these are commonly pretty weak, so warming them up is essential to avoid damage
- Groin strains are common because you’re using areas of your groin whilst grappling and wrestling that are not otherwise used in everyday life – that’s why stretching beforehand makes all the difference
Although these are the most common injuries, you can cause yourself any number of injuries by failing to warm up properly with dynamic stretches that engage all the key muscles you’ll be using.
Thankfully, the following section details the very best stretches for martial arts to help prevent these common injuries from occurring in the first place.
The Most Effective Martial Arts Stretches to Avoid Injury
Martial arts are demanding, requiring you to use muscles in incredibly powerful ways that you’d otherwise barely use at all. That’s why it’s important to stretch.
To finish, below are the three most effective dynamic stretches for martial arts that should feature in all of your warm-up and cool-down stretching routines before and after each session to avoid injury.
1. Assisted Reverse Chest and Shoulder Stretch
The key to success for this stretch is engaging all the muscles in your upper arm, upper torso, and shoulders. Stand with your back towards a table, placing your hands on the edge. Bend your arms to lower your entire body and pull back up again slowly.
This will help engage your core muscles too, and by repeating this stretch slowly a few times, you’ll effectively warm up many of the muscles you’ll be using, helping you avoid injuries such as sprained wrists, sprained rotator cuffs, and muscle bruising elsewhere.
2. Standing High Leg Hamstring Stretch
Still using the table from earlier, place one foot up high onto the table whilst keeping your leg bent. Now lean your chest into the bent knee on the table.
Lean in a few times to get that all-important motion in your muscles and then repeat with your other leg on the table this time.
This helps to warm up muscles in your legs, including your hamstring and quads, and it engages your core muscles again, especially your abs. This stretch will help you avoid injuries such as groin strain, knee sprains, and muscle bruises.
3. Squatting Leg Out Groin Stretch
Finally, don’t forget to focus on your groin this time, because it’s not an area you’ll work often besides martial arts sessions. Stand with your feet wide apart and lower down into a squat, with one leg stretched out away from you with your toes pointing out, and the other bent beneath you with the knee towards the ground.
Don’t forget the motion to stretch those muscles thoroughly, and then switch to the other leg. This will engage all of your leg muscles and help you avoid injuries such as sprained ankles, knee sprains, and groin strains.
Final Word On Martial Arts Stretches
So there you have it, the most effective dynamic stretches to prevent injury during martial arts.
Just remember that you use almost every muscle imaginable when practicing any martial art, and that dynamic stretches are key to not just avoiding injury, but also helping you perform at your best too!