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The Post Exercise Stretch As An Important Tool In Preventing Martial Arts Trauma

By Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C

Editor's Note: This is a second in a series on stretching. See the first article by Miller entitled, Stretching As An Important Tool In Preventing Martial Arts Trauma.

One aspect of stretching which seems to be almost universally ignored is the stretch which should be done during the cooling off period. When the body exercises for any significant amount of time there are waste products which build up in the muscles. There are also small amounts of muscle damage which occurs to small muscle fibers. The third thing which happens is a re-contraction of the body's muscular system.

When we are done stretching (correctly) most of our muscles are loose and flexible. As we work, however, we exert force on the joints of our body. As we have said earlier each one of these joints are surrounded by small muscle fibers to prevent joint movement in unwanted directions. In order to do this, these muscles tense up (contract), and soon non-moving joint muscles can be even tighter than before we began our initial stretch. Note, however, that it does take a small period of time for this to happen and those muscles which are in motion may tighten up but will not be as tight as they were before you stretched out.

This tightening of small motion joints is particularly important in our back. Whenever we do any significant exercise like running or weight lifting or even kicking and hitting a bag in martial arts our body's joints adjust to compensate for the force load. Vertebrae shift to take up the shock of our feet striking the floor as we run or the impact of striking a bag or lifting weights. While this may be desirable while we are under these stress loads, the vertebrae are also supposed to resume their normal alignment once the force load has been removed. However, because the muscles surrounding the vertebrae (vertebrae are joints) have contracted, it may be hard for the body to regain its correct alignment.

Since the real reason we stretch should not only be to prevent injury but to enable us to move smoother and easier throughout our entire active life styles, we need to restore the looseness of the muscles we have caused to tighten. The post exercise stretch can do this.

The proper method is gradually to decrease the amount of work you are doing. You should continue to do enough work to generate small amounts of heat in the main muscles you had been using, as you stretch back out again. This gives you the advantage of allowing those muscles that are already loose to contract slowly while you loosen up the contracted muscles.


The fact is that most people who are on their feet a lot have pain in their back, usually their lower back. In many cases, the cause of the pain has nothing to do with any muscle, bone, tendon or ligament damage. The real cause of the damage is improper alignment of the spine.

The spines of the vertebrae stick out from each side of the vertebrae and from the back. When these spines are in proper alignment, they fit into the parts of the body which are designed, space wise, for their presence. When they move out of this natural position, they press on the tissue in the area which occupies this new space.

The body's vertebrae are supposed to be able to twist and turn. If this was not true there would be no reason for these joints. The body would be comprised of solid bone in the back which would be stronger and less susceptible to being damaged. By being able to twist, the vertebrae can accommodate the way we turn our bodies and also help take up some of the shock when we walk or do some other shock generating actions. What keeps these vertebras from moving too far is the ligaments and muscles which surround each vertebral joint. These tendons, ligaments and muscles are supposed to let the vertebral joints rotate in the correct angles but also keep them from moving out of position with each other.

Unfortunately, our body works on a use or lose principle. When we do not stretch out these muscles and ligaments, they naturally tend to shorten with time and age. Soon we are left with ligaments and muscles which give us the range of motion we need for most of our daily activities, but just barely.

When we make that sudden movement, we can force the spines of our vertebrae over the top of muscles, tendons and ligaments which were supposed to stretch out of the way when the vertebrae rotated, but couldn't because they weren't long enough any more. Compound that fact with the changes in posture and stress loads caused by wearing shoes with heels and you quickly begin to understand why our backs can hurt, even when we have never had a noticeable back injury.

Many people mistakenly believe that their problem is only related to lack of exercise and start a workout program. Luckily in most cases, their exercise program generates some added stretching and thus does in fact help decrease their pain. Assuming they don't produce an injury by not stretching those overly tight muscles before they exercise them. The advantage built into martial arts is that it causes you, at least in most styles, to have that regular stretching program.

What the back really needs is to be stretched out several times each day. It also doesn't hurt to involve yourself in a general toning program designed to improve muscle tone and maintain proper body posture.

What I recommend to friends and patients is that they stretch out a minimum of twice a day. I usually recommend that they stretch the first thing in the morning and the last thing just before they go to bed at night. These are excellent times because it is easy to get into a routine. The important thing to remember is that you should never bounce. Try to put the palms of your hands on the floor as you keep your knees locked. Initially most people find that they can't stretch this far. They find that the backs of their knees and thighs are too tight. After several weeks they find that their range of motion has significantly improved, and even if they can't reach the floor yet, their pain has significantly decreased.

**** WARNING ***
**** WARNING ***

The proper position for this stretch is to stand with your feet at shoulder width. Lock your knees and slowly bend over as far as you can. Hold this position for at least 20 seconds. The second part of the stretch is to cross your legs by putting one foot just in front of the other. Again bend over as far as you can. Do not bounce! Hold it for 20 seconds. Lastly reverse your feet and bend over again.

The whole procedure takes only slightly more than 1 minute, but within a month you will notice an improvement in how far you can stretch and how you feel.

About the Author:

Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C, is a 6th degree black belt in the style of Quan Li K'an and a teacher of Tai Chi which he combines with his Western medical training as a Physician's Assistant to provide his own unique perspective on the martial arts. He is a well known teacher, seminar leader and author who has produced thirteen books and four videos on various karate related subjects including freefighting, pressure points, the principles of kata, Acupuncture, and light force knockouts. For more information on his books, vidoes and seminars see:

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

stretching,Preventing Martial Arts Trauma, Martial Arts Trauma, small motion joints, tightening

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