Martial Arts Stretching – Are You Doing It Right?

martial arts stretching

Martial arts are, for the most part, seen as a way to learn how to fight, and moreover as a way to learn self-defense. Yes, striking, grappling, and learning to use weapons are all major components of most martial arts out there, but they are not the only components. You probably know that stretching your muscles is very important when doing any kind of exercise or physical activity. Well, this goes for martial arts too. Stretching is an inherent part of any martial art, because professionals know that it is vital to preventing injuries, to improving your technique, and so much more. Most people don’t see stretching as a vital component of martial arts, but that just is not true. Let’s talk about stretching, why it is important, and what some of the best stretches out there are.

The benefits of martial arts stretching

There are many different benefits that you can reap from martial arts stretching, each one being just as important as the next. Why is it so important?

pulled hamstring

That’s a badly pulled hammy!

Stretching your muscles will help make them loose, warm, and limber. Exercising and practicing martial arts with cold and stiff muscles can quickly lead to injuries like pulled muscles. Pulling or even tearing a muscle will hurt like no tomorrow, plus it will put you out of commission for weeks or even months, not to mention that it can cause permanent injuries. Stretching before any kind of martial arts practice will help to ensure that you don’t injure yourself.

Martial arts stretching will help you become much better at striking. In order to connect with a strike, whether with your knees, feet, shins, elbows, or fists, means having to be able to reach your opponent. Your opponent is not just going to stand there and willingly allow you to clobber him or her. They will try to avoid your strikes, which is easily done if you are not flexible. The more flexible you are, thanks to stretching, the better your range of motion you will have to connect with your strikes. On that same note, being more flexible, loose, and limber will also help you avoid strikes that are being thrown at you.

Martial arts stretching is also very important for the grappling aspect of things. Grappling requires you to be able to reach around your opponent and maneuver yourself so that you can get in an advantageous position, often for that finishing submission. If you are more flexible and limber, you will more easily be able to outmaneuver your opponents and apply those deadly submission holds on them. On that same note, being more flexible will also help you be able to resist submissions much more effectively. That painful arm bar won’t be nearly as effective on you if your arm is much looser and able to stretch further.

Finally, stretching is great because it helps to increase blood flow to vital areas of your body. Having a steadier and increased supply of well-oxygenated blood will help your muscles last longer. Your muscles need blood and oxygen to function, both things which come to them more readily when they are loose. Therefore, stretching can actually help increase your overall stamina and endurance.

Different types of martial arts stretches

There are a few different kinds of martial arts stretches out there, three main ones to be exact. So, let’s go over these different types of stretching and flexibility right now.


Dynamic stretching refers to stretching through motion. Dynamic movements help to increase your range of motion, mainly from the joints. This type of flexibility is needed for those high kicks and other far-reaching maneuvers. These involve your agonist and antagonist muscles, such as with a leg raise for a high head kick. For instance, when you do a leg raise, the hamstring muscles are the antagonists because they relax and the quadriceps muscles are the agonists, meaning that they contract. In other words, dynamic stretching benefits both muscle groups used for motion, the pushers and the pullers, used in many martial arts techniques such as those big kicks.


This type of flexibility can be illustrated by a gymnast holding their leg straight up in the air, usually with little or no visible effort. Generally speaking, this involves extending a particular limb like your leg and holding it there. Also, this means having tense agonists muscles while also stretching the antagonists at the same time. This is important for techniques where you might pause half way during the motion such as an axe kick where you may hold your leg in the air for a few seconds before dropping your foot down to crush your nemesis. It is all about being able to stretch a certain way and hold it there. To be fair, this is the least important of three types of stretching in terms of martial arts techniques.


This is the most well-known type of flexibility and stretching. It’s what you seen when people are doing Yoga or Pilates. It involved simply stretching something and holding it there. The splits are a perfect example of static passive stretching. They help you develop your general flexibility and range of motion. Together with dynamic stretching, this type of stretching is very important for martial arts. Having a better range of motion when doing static passive stretching will help increase your range of motion and success when it comes to dynamic stretching.


Stretching may not be the best or most glorious part of a daily martial arts routine, but it certainly is very important. There are many different kinds of stretching and flexibility, each which have their own specific benefits, and all of which work in unison to help improve your overall fitness. Martial arts stretching will indeed help make you better at martial arts, but it will also help make your everyday life easier too. Injury prevention and becoming a more comprehensive and well-rounded fighter are just some of the benefits you get from martial arts stretching.


I'm Steve D'Agostino, founder of Martial Arts Weapons and Training. Thanks for visiting and reading my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • http://mykindlebookreviews.com/ KD_Forsman

    Great post Steve, and a timely reminder about the importance of a proper warm up. I guess this goes for any sport, but it’s super critical for martial arts where you would be stretching and moving your body into all different poses and flexes. How much time should one spend on warm up and stretches before each martial arts session? Cheers, Karen

    • kungfuninja

      Thanks, Karen. You are so right! As far as how much time to spend stretching and warming up? Well, it depends. If you’re already pretty flexible, you might not need as much time as someone first starting out. In the schools I’ve attended, we’ve usually devoted around 15 minutes or so to just stretching. Other warm ups all depend on what all you’re doing. In our ninja classes, we spend 45 minutes warming up (including stretching, ground fighting, rolling and break-falling, and cardio conditioning and drills and such) then 45 on our belt curriculum material 3 times per week. At the gym, I only spend a few minutes stretching before lifting since a) stretching too much before lifting weights can actually be detrimental and b) I already stretch a lot. I hope that helps!

  • ridesisapis

    I’m going back some now and showing my age when I got into martial arts, but the stretching books that were featured at the back of the combat magazines were all Bill “Super foot” Wallace etc, and there were some weird contraptions you could buy too!

    It was at uni I got my black belt – absolutely loved the training – but I couldn’t afford the books etc, so I went to the public library and got books out on loan on ballet and men’s gymnastics. I found the additional instruction and pictured exercises in these books really helpful in building up to full stretches – and cool down exercises.

    I agree that stretching is really important, without it, you don’t have the control or form, you’re just throwing kicks out and hoping to get your leg back before you upend yourself! 🙂

    • kungfuninja

      Durn right! So what was your black belt in? I’ve found that different arts (I’ve studied at 5 schools) focus on different stretches, even though most of it all translates from one discipline to the next.

      I think you’re not so old, as I remember the Superfoot tutorials and leg stretching contraptions (which you can still get and are pretty cool: http://amzn.to/2ykaXEY) in the back of some of the martial arts mags in the 80s and 90s. Love it!

      • ridesisapis

        I’d grown up loving martial arts flicks, so wanted to get into something, anything, and where I lived only club there was, was a Shotokan Karate school. I didn’t know the difference, so joined and started progressing through the belts….

        … but I wasn’t happy. It all felt very flat-footed and unrealistic, the big swinging blocks – that you always stepped back performing i.e. moving out of the way so what was the point, and there was no “flow” or dynamism to it.

        When I went to uni I saw a poster for the upcoming Freshers Fare for a chinese martial art, and I thought I’d switch to that, as I thought that might be what I was looking for, with fluidity etc (and like I saw on video movies).

        Except those guys didn’t show, but the guys from Freestyle Karate did, so I went to their stall, chatted, and joined them and stayed. I was allowed to keep my Shotokan grade and do a style-change over period, and found it much more to my liking, with the movement I was looking for, so stayed with it through to first dan and the end of uni.

        That was kinda just the beginning, though 😉

        • kungfuninja

          What a great story! I had a similar experience in the small town where I grew up. The only thing available for a while was a Karate International (McDojo), and it left me kind of empty. It wasn’t until we got a kung fu school when I was 18 that I finally started to get to learn what I truly wanted.

          I love hearing other people’s journey stories. It’s fascinating to see how we all so differently came to love the same things!

  • Gregory

    Well stated. I am constantly surprised how many martial artists (or other sports practitioners) don’t know enough about proper stretching. And in this discipline, stretching is the key. In the past, I had to go to jogging websites to learn proper stretching, as that crowd seemed to have it figured out. I like the article!

    • kungfuninja

      Thanks, Gregory. There is a lot that people get wrong when it comes to stretching, so it seemed to make sense to do the post. The #1 key, though, is to do it regularly. Doing it before working out actually has relatively minimal benefit, but being limber overall from consistent stretching makes all the difference in the world!

  • kungfuninja

    Thanks, Jasmine! I’ve actually come to enjoy stretching. It can hurt sometimes, but it’s that good, satisfying kind of pain (as if there’s not enough pain experienced just through studying martial arts in general). And you’re right, there’s more benefit than just being more flexible. It’s one of the most important parts of the day! 🙂

  • Marsha

    This has been very informative. i am sure that this type of stretching is good for any sport, or just to become more limber. It is a good reminder of the importance of stretching and a good description of how to do the stretches.

    • kungfuninja

      Yep, these are good for all types of physical activity. Being limber has so many advantages, regardless of the sport. I’m glad you found the post helpful. Thanks for your comment!