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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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How much stretching do we need?

What kind of stretching and when?

Avi Rokah


Stretching should be done intelligently. We have to understand how dynamic and static stretching effects us, and when dynamic or static stretches is appropriate.


The cave man did not stretch or go through yoga poses. His lifestyle kept his range of motion, he had to throw spears and use his torso in full rotational movement, he had to squat in order to gather foods or even to go to toilet, he sat on the ground rather than chairs and kept his range of motion in his hips, knees and ankles.


The primal man had to move in all plans of motions, and in all patterns of movement such as squat, lunge, bend, twist, pulling and pushing. When he woke up in the morning he stretched naturally, the same way that cats do to release any tight muscles (it’s a problem if you don’t do it).


Our life style, especially as adults does not require us to move through full range so we should have special time dedicated to keeping our range of motion and the extensibility of the muscles and joints..


We are lucky in karate that we have the kata. The kata is very special in that it has movement in all plans, saggital (forward and back), frontal (side to side), transverse (rotation), and including all primal movement patterns (those movement patterns that the cave man could not survive without), and all to the full range of motion. Also in karate we develop stability and strength to the full range which make it functional flexibility. If we are flexible to a range that we cannot stabilize the joint, we have higher risk of injury when moving at that range.


Tonic and phasic muscles


Research shows that shortening of the tonic muscles and lengthening and weakening of the phasic muscles result from faulty loading, which is over use (repetitive movement pattern or faulty pattern when certain muscle compensate for another weak muscle or link), under use, abuse (such as trauma).


Tonic muscles are mainly postural muscles or the extensor muscles that keep us upright against gravity and other muscles with high percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers, those are muscles that hold us up against gravity and are primarily stabilizing muscles, and meant to work for a long period.


Tonic muscles have low threshold and are easily activated, and when someone develops faulty movement patterns or is inactive, those muscles will shorten and tighten and often will become hyper active and inhibit their antagonist muscles.


When the brain sends a message to the lower abdominals the over active hip flexors will try to do the job instead.


Phasic muscles, are muscles that are mainly movers, and they have higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers, and are used when we have to throw an object explosively, when we have to jump or sprint.


Phasic muscles have high threshold, they are “lazy”, and when someone develops faulty movement patterns or is inactive those muscles will lengthen and weaken, or the brain will lose communication with them.


Dr. Janda, a most respected rehabilitation expert from Czech Republic took 200 people with back pain that had weak abdominal relatively to the lumbar erectors muscles and put them on program to strengthen the abdominals, after a while he found out that those patient’s abdominal strength improved but the lumbar erectors also strengthened proportionally, so the imbalance remained.


An EMG showed that when the patients did their abdominal exercises their back muscles were as active as their abdominals, after stretching the lumbar erectors and than doing the abdominal exercises the EMG showed activation of the abdominals and quiet back muscles.


From here we learn that we need to stretch the tight muscles before strengthening the weak muscles to create balanced musculature and movement, we have to stretch the tonic muscles before any skill movement training otherwise when the brain calls the abdomen to work, the back or the hip flexors will take over. That means that we have an orchestra that makes noise not music, when the violin is called into play the tuba respond instead.

Much like the guitar player will not tighten all the strings or loosen all the strings to tune his guitar so do we should not stretch all the muscles or strengthen all the muscles, we will than just get out of balance in a loose way or a tight way.


Since muscles act on joints from both side, and if the muscles are out of balance, the joint mechanics will be altered, early degeneration or injury could result and energy could not be transferred smoothly which means that the quality of movement will be compromised.

Stretching the tonic muscles before training is especially important, since the tight tonic muscles could inhibit their antagonist muscles, and become over worked, and we got faulty movement patterns.


Such as the lumbar erectors working when the abdominals are supposed to do the job, or the hip flexors inhibiting the abdominals and that can cause to lose of spinal stabilization.
In many instances tonic and phasic muscles are directly opposed and/or opposed in their postural actions on various joints in the body, which can destabilize joint structures throughout the entire body.



Muscles that
tend to tighten (Tonic)

Muscles that
tend to weaken (Phasic)

Upper Trapezius
(neck and shoulders)

Serratus Anterior (fingerlike muscles near armpit)

Levator Scapula
(neck to shoulder blade)

(between shoulder blades)

Short Cervical Extensors (back of neck)

Middle and Lower Trapezius (mid-back)

Pectoralis Major (chest)

(back of arms)

Pectoralis Minor
(deep chest muscle)

Gluteus Maximus

Lumbar Erectors
(low back)

Gluteus Medius

(hip flexor)

Transverse Abdominis (deep abdominals)

Rectus Femoris
(one of the quadriceps)

Rectus Abdominis - lower segments (abs)

(deep hip muscle)

External and Internal Obliques (abs)

Short and long adductors
(inner thighs)

Vastus Medialis (inner/front of knee)

(back of legs)


Gastrocnemius (superficial calf muscle)


(deep calf muscle)


If you think of karate training it is important to stretch the lumbar erector (low back) and hip flexors before training, so the core muscles can work in concert to keep a natural pelvis alignment, and a stable spine, so the muscle in the center of our body can work in concert and so we can move from the center out and tie the body center to the extremities.

It is also important to stretch the chest muscles and strengthen the rhomboids (scapula adductors) to prevent the common head forward posture and to prevent migration forward of the shoulders, this will prevent overworking of the shoulders and allow transfer of energy from the center through the shoulders to technique.

Also if range of motion is limited at the ankle for example, then the eccentric loading of the entire kinetic chain will be incomplete and force production will be limited.

If range of motion at the ankle or hip or thoracic spine is limited there will be compromise along the kinetic chain, usually below or above the limited joint.


We don’t need to be super flexible, but we should make sure that all students have at least normal range of motion, or range that allow for techniques to be applied without strain.
It is even more important to balance the range of motion on both sides of the body.


When and how to stretch?

Dynamic stretch for worm up, static stretch for improved flexibility and muscles balance.


Before karate class or workout, do your dynamic stretch, which is smooth continuous movement to the full range of motion, this is different than ballistic stretching which involves bouncing and jerky, forced movement, a ballistic stretch actually cause the muscles to shorten because of the myotatic reflex, stretch reflex, as the muscle stretch myotatic reflex will cause it to shorten as protection mechanism, it takes 18 seconds according to some research to overcome the myotatic reflex.

Research shows that static stretch slows the nervous system, impairing reaction times and balance.  It is detrimental to strength, strength endurance, jumping height and sprinting time, it will reduce the rate of contraction, which is the ability to recruit more motor units in shorter time, this is obviously not what we desire before karate class when we need quick reactions and explosiveness.


Stretching statically can change your sense of balance and where your limbs are in space (proprioception), which can alter the coordination.


Dynamic stretching on the other hand, especially if done standing, using ground reactions and gravity, such as lunge variations, will stimulate proper proprioception, since the lengthen muscles are working as a part of the chain from the body center out and from the ground up.


The exception is the tight tonic muscles, such as the hip flexors and lumbar erectors; those can be stretched statically before training.

There are few sports where achieving static flexibility is advantageous to success in the sport.  Therefore according to the principle of specificity it would seem to be more advantageous to perform a dynamic warm-up in a way that resembles the activity of the sport.


Dynamic Flexibility increases core temperature, muscle temperature, elongates the muscles, stimulates the nervous system, and helps decrease the chance of injury.

Static stretching should be done as a developmental stretch to improve flexibility, to balance the body for injury prevention and pain reduction. It is ideal after class, to restore the muscles length since the muscles tend to shorten after explosive movements, and to help recovery. It is also good to stretch before bed time, since at night the body does most of its tissue healing and if they heal in a lengthened state the body will progressively balance.

Stretching in the morning will increase energy flow and make you feel better.

Stretching should be an important component of our training, most of us need to give more attention to it.


Things I learned lately.


I am very excited, I was suppose to go to the World Cup in Poland on October 15th, and I had to cancelled my participation at the last minute, since I hurt my knee and it is still not 100% stable.


I’m not excited about missing the competition or being injured, but until the last few days Sensei Nishiyama pushed me as if I am competing, and I learned a lot.


I did not learned a lot of new things, a few new angles and deeper understanding of some concepts, but mostly I learned the importance of the fundamentals and how easy it is to neglect what seem obvious.


What we hear all the time and is obvious to us logically is not necessarily internalized in us, and we have to continuously reflect on ourselves, I think that that is real learning, than we grasp a little more of that concept or another each time we come back to it.

I’ll tell you few of the points that Sensei was pushing me with and you will see that you are all familiar with them, but I felt some kind of enlightment each time Sensei and Aiko San went into it.


Project your energy to the opponent-

From the body center through the kamai arms, if you don’t, you are one rhythm behind, you have to decide, confirm and than move, breath reaction without interference of the brain is not possible.


Projecting your energy including extending the kamai arms to the opponent, within the functional range, that give you bigger territory, and more space for your game, strategy.