routines consisted of running some laps, toe touches, and some hurdler stretches or seated straddles. As I got involved in the Martial Arts, the warm-up still consisted of some aerobics to elevate the heart rate, and largely static stretches designed to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury (or so it was thought). In fact we had one of those fancy straddle machines that you could sit in and crank your legs out farther and farther (see pic). I mean, it worked for Bill “Superfoot”Wallace and Chuck Norris, why not us? Sensei did introduce some PNF stretching, although we didn’t know that’s what it was at the time.
Did it work? Well, that depends. In 30+ years of karate, I never “pulled” a muscle or had any problems with hamstrings, quads, calves, or Achilles despite high volume kicking at my head height (or higher). However, I have had one knee scoped and the other one dislocated. Was that due to prolonged static stretching which caused instability around the joints? Will never know. There were also plenty of other participants following the same protocols that ended up popping a hamstring or suffering some kind of tear, sprain, or strain. It’s hard to ascribe cause & effect in these non-controlled cases. From my perspective I think that this “historic” method that focused heavily on static stretching
helped maintain/improve my flexibility and worked for my needs at the time.
More and more of the current research have focused on the use and types of stretching as a “warm-up” activity. Some have shown that “there is no evidence that static stretching
immediately before activity will significantly reduce injury rates.” In fact, some studies show that static stretching actually impairs immediate things like strength, power, and balance. So what to do?
Most studies and trainers are now focusing on a “dynamic warm-up” as a pre-activity routine. This typically includes some combination of dynamic (not ballistic) stretching, agility, and “specific motor pattern movements.” Basically an activity/movement is done to increase the core and muscle temperature and then you perform similar movements that occur during subsequent exercise.
A recent article (“A Dynamic warm-up model increases Quadriceps strength & Hamstring
flexibility”,Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(4): 1130-1141, 2012) found that a dynamic warm-up improved hamstring flexibility and quad strength. They also found that short duration (< 40 sec per muscle group) did NOT significantly reduce quad and hamstring performance. If you’d like a copy of their warm-up protocol and exercises for some ideas, give me a shout and I’ll drop you a copy.
I also really like the warm-up protocol found in Martin Rooney’s “Warrior Cardio”. This is the one that I’ve been playing with for the past year and it’s been working for my current needs. Am I as “flexible” as I was in the past? No, but I’m also not focused on kicking
someone in the head anymore. I’m more interested in quickly prepping my body for a workout that probably includes elements of strength, conditioning, and martial arts, often in the same workout. Now it’s about efficiency.
So, if you’re still sitting in one of those stretching machines or spending hours in
a straddle stretch or front/side split before working out, I think you’d be happier checking out some dynamic warm-ups.