Stretching for Strength

One of the most common questions from a Krav Maga student is how to get more flexible. Flexibility falls under the “use it or lose it” rule. You have to practice consistently, and the one thing people tend to forget is that strength and flexibility go hand in hand.

For example, when trying to bring your leg higher for a kick, most people think, “I can't get my leg up there because I'm not flexible enough.” That may be the case, but usually it also involves a lack of strength in the muscles that lift the leg. It goes back to functionality. Your flexibility is only useful to you if you have the strength to move through that range of motion. Both need to be challenged.

Static, dynamic, and active stretching have this strength component if done properly. Passive stretching does not involve strength training but is still very healthy for calming and relaxation and should feel really good.

ESSENTIAL

Within the Krav Maga fitness program it is recommended to hold stretches that are static for about five deep, slow cycles of breath before moving on to the next position. As you inhale think of lengthening and creating space, and with the exhale think about moving into that space and deepening the stretch.

Yoga Poses for Strength Stretching

Child's Pose

Child's Pose is a calming position and great for the lower back and hips. From your hands and knees, sit your hips back to your heels and rest your ribs on the inside of you legs. The knees should be apart and the feet should be touching. Your forehead should gently rest on the floor.

CHILD'S POSE

This is a great position to rest and recover in.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog (or Downward Dog) is a very common yoga pose. It is used a great deal in martial arts as well. The Downward Dog benefits a variety of things in the body. If done well it lengthens the spine and decompresses it from the force of gravity placed upon it all day. It lengthens the entire backside of the body, including the muscles of the lower and upper leg as well as the muscles in the back. Lastly, it strengthens the muscles of the legs and the shoulder girdle.

This position looks like an inverted V. The hands should be shoulder width apart with fingers facing forward, if you feel stiffness in the shoulders, you may want to start with the hands slightly wider then shoulder width and fingers turned out just a bit. The arms should be completely straight, and the muscles in the arms should be active.

The feet should be hip width apart, and if your hamstrings are tight you may step your feet wide and bend the knees as much as needed to move the hips back. This will allow the spine to lengthen and sink both heels closer to the floor.

Don't forget to breathe deeply. This is a great position from which to work on belly breathing, which can help to strengthen the abdominals. It also has energetic effects. When done in longer durations it can lessen fatigue and be highly rejuvenating.

DOWNWARD FACING DOG

Keep your head between your arms and your spine lengthened.

Runner's Lunge

The Runner's Lunge position is a very heating position, meaning that you will find when holding it for a long period your body will become warm. This stretch opens the hips and lengthens the hip flexor of the rear leg. If done properly it also can release the lower back and strengthen the muscles of the trunk and lower body.

Place the forward foot directly under the knee, keeping the pressure in the heel of the foot. Try to keep the forward knee at a right angle. The back knee can be either on the floor (Low Lunge) or it can be all the way straight and firm (High Lunge). If you choose to put your back knee on the floor you can add padding under the knee if needed. Remember to keep the integrity of the trunk. Keep the chest broad and the neck relaxed.

Arm placement: The hands start on either side of the forward foot. Once you are stable you may progress the exercise by reaching the arms up overhead. This will challenge your balance skills. Try to keep the ribs compressed onto the wall of the body, which will keep the abdominal wall engaged. Take full, deep, and controlled breaths.

RUNNER'S LUNGE

Avoid letting your knee go farther forward than your toes to prevent knee irritation.

Runner's Lunge with Rotation

With your torso in the upright position, bring your hands to your midline with palms touching. Rotate your torso in the same direction as your forward leg. For example, if your left leg is forward, then your breast bone will turn to the left. This challenges your dynamic balance and wakes up the muscles in the core of your body.

RUNNER'S LUNGE WITH ROTATION

Warms up the lower body and the spine.

Runner's Lunge with Twist

Place your opposite hand down on floor close to the inside of your ankle. Rotate your torso in the same direction as your forward leg, reaching your top arm up toward the ceiling. With each exhale, see if you can twist a little more. This challenges your balance and lengthens the muscles in your trunk, especially the lower back.

RUNNER'S LUNGE WITH TWIST

Stability and balance are required; remember to breathe.

Externally Rotated Runner's Lunge

This position is very similar to the basic Runner's Lunge. The only difference is that both of the hands are placed on the inside of the forward leg's ankle. The forward knee will move in toward the shoulder. Again, the back leg can be on the floor if needed. The external rotation is in the forward leg, so this stretch opens the front hip more than the basic Runner's Lunge. To increase strength, the back leg can be held straight.

EXTERNALLY ROTATED RUNNER'S LUNGE

Opens the hips of both legs.

Hamstring Stretch

From a Runner's Lunge position, place the rear leg knee down and extend your front knee all the way to a straight leg. If your hamstrings are tight it is fine to bend your front knee. Place one hand on each side of the body. Again, if this feels challenging, it may benefit you to place blocks under your hands. Try to keep the hips and pelvis square to the wall you are facing, elongate your spine out over your front leg, and breathe.

HAMSTRING STRETCH

Good for lengthening the back of the leg.

Cobra

Begin lying face down with your shoelaces facing the floor. Place you hands under your elbows and draw your elbows into your sides. Lift the chest, stretching the breast-bone forward and up as you press down into the hands. Look straight ahead and keep your elbows into your sides, relaxing the musculature of your neck. You should feel a small back bend in the upper back rather than the lower back, which is where most people tend to do the back bend.

Keep the legs actively reaching back all the way through your toes. This pose increases your range of motion and the lubrication in your spine while waking up the muscles in the back of your body.

COBRA

This pose may look simple, but it really works the muscles in your back so don't overdo it.

Forward Fold

Stand with your feet slightly wider than the width of your hips. Inhale and reach your arms overhead, exhale and take the arms out to the sides. Bend your knees and hinge forward from your hips keeping your spine lengthened. Place your hands on the floor and let the head and neck dangle. Keep your feet parallel to each other and let your body hang over your thighs as much as possible.

This is a great way to lengthen the muscles in the back of your body while releasing your neck and shoulders at the same time. Remember to keep your legs firm and upper body loose and dangly.

If you cannot reach the floor, bend your knees or widen the feet. Breathe deeply.

FORWARD FOLD

Lengthen the crown of your head toward the floor to release the neck and upper back.

Forward Fold with Wide Stance

Stand with your feet about three feet apart (if this feels too close or too wide, it's fine to adjust your feet for comfort). With a flat back, fold your upper body forward and down so the crown of your head reaches straight down toward the floor. Keep your legs firm and remember to breathe. You can also reach your arms and torso to the right and left side holding for two to five counts.

FORWARD FOLD WITH WIDE STANCE

Lengthens the back of the body and inner legs.

Happy Baby

Lay on your back with your feet up in the air and your knees bent. Grab the outside edges of your feet. Gently pull the thighs toward the floor as you reach your tailbone forward. Drop the shoulders down toward the mat to keep your chest open. Be sure your head is able to rest on the floor. If you cannot, place a small pillow or towel under your head to allow you to rest the neck. Breathe deeply in order to get a little deeper into the pose. If you're a flexible person, you may consider straightening the bottom leg along the floor.

HAPPY BABY

A great stretch for the hips and lower back.

More Stretching Techniques

Seated Straddle

Sit with your legs apart. They do not have to be as far apart as possible, rather it should be a comfortable straddle. If you find that it is hard for you to sit up, you may want to sit on a blanket, phone book, or something that elevates you slightly so that you can sit up tall without struggling to get there.

Start with your arms overhead, take a deep inhale and rotate your torso to the right, take another inhale and with the exhale fold your body forward over your right leg. Try to keep your breastbone reaching forward toward your feet to elongate the spine. Repeat on the other side.

SEATED STRADDLE

Lengthens the muscles of the inner leg.

Seated Lateral Bend

From a Seated Straddle, bend your left knee and bring your left heel in toward you. Inhale as you lift both arms up. As you exhale, take the torso and bend toward the right. The left arm reaches up and over the left ear to elongate the entire left side of the body. Repeat on the other side.

SEATED LATERAL BEND

Lengthens the side of the torso.

Thread the Needle

Lay on your back with your knees bent so the soles of you feet are on the floor. Cross your right ankle over you left thigh. Pick your left foot up off the floor and hold the back of your left leg with both hands. Gently press you right knee away from you as you pull the left leg in toward you. Repeat on the other side.

Laying Hamstring Stretch

Start on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Use a belt or strap to hold your foot. Wrap the belt around the sole of your foot and extend your leg toward the ceiling. Try to keep the lifted leg straight.

Spinal Twist

Lay on your back with your right knee pulled in tight to your chest and the other leg straight along the floor and inhale. As you exhale, drop your knee to the left, reaching your right arm out along the floor, and then look to the right. Take deep breaths and come out of the stretch with an exhale.

SPINAL TWIST

This is a great stretch for the muscles of the lower back.

Knuckles Behind Back

Reach your hands behind your back, placing your knuckles together. Pull your shoulders and elbows back without letting your front ribs lift up. To progress this, place your hands higher up on the back. This is a great way to open to the front of your shoulders and chest.

KNUCKLES BEHIND BACK

Expands your chest and opens the front of your shoulders.

Eagle Arms

Hold your arms in front of you, bent at 90 degree angles. One arm reaches under the other as the other arm reaches over. The goal of this position is to try to place your palms into one another. This will take time and practice.

In the beginning, your hands may be nowhere near each other. That's fine. Keep practicing and you will get better at this. This is a great stretch for the muscles in the back of your shoulders and in the middle of your shoulder blades, where Krav Maga students tend to experience tightness due to repetitive punching.

EAGLE ARMS

Opens the shoulder blade region of the back.

Flexibility and skeletal mobility are both important elements to any training regimen. The exercises in this chapter, if done properly and regularly, will help reduce your likelihood for suffering the aches, pains, and general injuries that are associated with daily life and physical activity. Flexibility is the key to acquiring a less restricted and painless freedom of motion.

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