Myths that May Stretch the Truth
When it comes to martial arts, Taekwondo’s kicks are what set it apart from all others. High kicks, jump kicks and spinning kicks are always impressive to watch and even more fun to learn. They are also really hard to do without adequate flexibility.
Being able to deliver a flashy head kick is only part of the need to be flexible as a martial artist. Flexibility impacts your balance, relieves stress from muscles and even improves your strength. All of these contribute to a better performance, and more importantly, the ability to utilize your martial arts most effectively in a self-defense scenario.
In order to use stretching in the best way for your training, you have to know what to do and how to do it properly. The challenge is that there are a LOT of misconceptions out there. Let’s take a look at some of the common myths about flexibility and get facts from our flexibility experts.
Myth: You have to be naturally born flexible.
Fact: Although genetics can lend itself to certain people being more limber, the truth is that it’s something you have to continue to work on regardless of your DNA. “Just like strength, flexibility is something that can always be improved upon,” says Cheryl Vance, ATA 5th Degree Black Belt and former Olympic gymnast. “While some athletes have natural flexibility, if they do not keep working at it, they will eventually lose it.
Michael Esco, Ph.D., from the department of kinesiology at the University of Alabama believes “that the appropriate amount of flexibility you need is specific to the primary movements of your daily sports life, and as a martial artist, you must adopt stretching into your regular routine to maintain a full range of motion.”
Myth: When it comes to stretching, no pain, no gain.
Fact: Pain is the body’s way of giving a you a warning signal. Though many people live under the false assumption that pain is a form of progression, it could be a warning sign that something is wrong.
Vance, who was also a Doctor of Physical Therapy for 20 years, emphasizes that ATA athletes really need to know their body well to understand what it’s telling them. “There is a fine line between discomfort and pain. If you are reaching a point of pain, then your body is telling you to back off,” Vance explains. There are going to be times when you feel a little less comfortable than others and may even be sore the next day, but understanding that true pain could be a sign of a tear, a sprain or something worse, is crucial to keeping you on the mat and off the sidelines. Bottom line, Vance says, “Listen to your body.”
Myth: I’m too old to start stretching or worry about flexibility.
Fact: “As we age, our body changes and one of the best ways to limit injuries is to stay as flexible as possible,” says Vance.
In fact, some experts believe that the older you get, the more that proper stretching and flexibility become a major part of your ability to stay active with few limits. Jim Miller, creator of SavvySenior.org, says that “When you age, your muscles naturally lose their elasticity if you’re not active, which can make common day-to-day activities more difficult.”
This principle doesn’t just apply to those who are aging gracefully. It is also important to remember if you live a more sedentary lifestyle. Quite simply, our bodies were made to move, so keep doing things you love like Taekwondo!
Myth: Why bother with flexibility? High, flashy martial arts kicks aren’t effective.
Fact: There is a time and place for all kicks and having the right amount of flexibility to make them powerful and accurate enough, most definitely make them effective!
As a matter of fact, Eternal Grand Master clearly explains why Taekwondo kicks are so important in “The Way of Taekwondo Philosophy” book, stating that the legs are both longer and stronger than an opponent’s arms. These types of kicks can allow you to defeat a bigger opponent and also offer the element of surprise (just ask some famous MMA fighters we know). None of these things will matter, though, if you don’t work on your flexibility to be able to kick high, with strong, balanced technique.
As a martial artist, flexibility is essential! It can help you nail that kick to the head in your championship sparring match or simply reach down and tie your shoes without any aching. Flexibility is key to training at your peak level. Be sure to add the right type of stretching to your workout and become more comfortable with challenging your body in new ways. Do this, and you’re sure to not get bent out of shape!
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