On the heels of my post last week about my minor knee problems, I wanted to follow up with a post about a subject that oftentimes gets overlooked. Stretching.
I have seen people all too often wander out onto the mat without so much as a cursory stretch. I used to be the biggest offender, not in my recent entry into Krav Maga, but in prior exercise situations like my weight-lifting, biking, and running. It’s too easy to get caught up in the eagerness to get started in the activity and convince yourself that you’ll just start slow and stretch as you get into it. Naturally this is bull and is not only delusional but also downright dangerous. Not warming up and stretching can lead to soreness, pulls, and even (ouch!!) tears in muscles if you push it too much.
Muscles are amazing things but having been a past victim of many pulls and sore muscles, “forgiving” isn’t a way I’d choose to describe them. In fact, scanning the students in last night’s class, I’d say 5 – 10% of them had wraps and braces around various injuries, some of them I’d bet caused by pulls or strains due to not stretching properly.
When I started up with Krav Maga earlier this month I made a serious commitment to myself that I would always stretch before hitting the mat. So far I haven’t broken this commitment and hope I never have to. The key, I think, is arriving well before the class starts. Many days I am there half an hour early, making it possible for some quick socializing before ducking into the available dojo for some relaxing stretches. By the time the class rolls around I am as limber as I’m going to get and feeling good.
Now, I’m no expert. Sure, I knew a few decent stretches and also knew not to “bounce” but I was also aware that there’s a wealth of information I wasn’t yet clued into. To learn some more I purchased a book to help with my routine, Stretching by Bob Anderson. It’s a really nice book that’s been popular for over 30 years and for a lot of good reasons. It’s formatted and illustrated well (except for that scary face stretching routine which is truly frightening) and its easy to understand descriptions are helpful. One of the features I like about it is the section of stretches broken out by sport. And yes, there is a martial arts routine in that section. Another couple that are useful are the morning stretch and office stretch routines.
One thing this book has taught me, and it’s something I suspect would be news to a lot of people, is the importance of stretching after a workout. That’s right. When you’re all done working out, panting like a dog in heat, and so tired and sweaty you look like you just fell down the escalator stairs (the one going up, not down) while being pummeled by some world class water balloon fighters. At this point of your day, it is recommended by the book that you take a minute and stretch it out one last time. Doing so, the book says, will lead to less soreness and even better flexibility. As much as I toot my horn about stretching prior to class I have yet to practice the post-workout stretches, I have to admit. Feeling the soreness I do today, after last night’s class, I am thinking I might reconsider.
Whatever book you choose — or even if you don’t choose a book — I’d risk sounding “preachy” and add my voice to the thousands of stretch practitioners and physical trainers: ALWAYS stretch and warm up before your class. No matter how fit you are you are never immune from these injuries related to not being stretched.