I'll get right to the point. Every dojo I've ever practiced at does stretches, but very few people at any of these dojo ever seem to get very flexible. There’s a good reason for this: most people are stretching wrong. This article is about stretching right. Just look at the number of people who have been doing Taido for a few years, yet are still stiff and immobile. If we stretch every time we work out, it seems like we should be able to expect anyone doing Taido to be pretty flexible after a year or so. But this is clearly not the case - in fact, very flexible Taido students and instructors are pretty rare. Most of us are stiff and immobile. I'm not going to dwell on how ridiculous this is.
Of course, there are a lot of excuses. Making excuses is always the easiest way to deal with failure and disappointment. I used to be flexible, but now I'm not as flexible. It's just because I'm older now - it's natural. I had a really bad groin pull a few years ago, and I never really got my mobility back.
Maybe those are good excuses, but they don't make me more flexible. And the standard stretching routine we use in Taido warm-ups hasn't helped either.
I'd like to suggest that, whatever excuses we may like to use, our standard stretching routines are far from the most effective means of improving flexibility and mobility. Perhaps better methods exist that would allow us to see better results - even despite our favorite excuses.
If It Ain’t Broke...
First, I should probably mention a few of the problems with the way most dojo do their stretching. Now, you might be the exception. Your dojo might do everything right. If so, this article is not for you. It is for the other 95% of Taido students in the world. For the rest of us, it will help to look at some mistakes we may be making.
It’s hard to fix a problem we can’t identify, so let’s take a look at what specific issues we have to address in order to improve our flexibility training.
The “standard” Taido warm-up includes joint mobilization and static stretches. It may be preceded by a minute or two of jogging. I first learned this warm-up as a child in Atlanta and have since seen it done in dojo and at tournaments everywhere I’ve done Taido. Everyone does it because it’s the warm-up they learned from their instructors.
There are two major issues with this routine: time and timing.
Not Stretching Long Enough
I just ran through the old warm-up in my dining room, and it took me all of three and a half minutes. Of course, it may take a little longer with a group of people, but let’s just call it “under five minutes,” for convenience. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Well, no, not really. If you are already in great shape, sure, five minutes is enough to prepare for practice. However, most people need to do extra work to build and maintain flexibility. Think about it: five minutes of stretching, two or three times a week. Do you honestly believe that you can improve your abilities with such a pathetically small amount of work?
We’re going to have to devote more time to stretching.
The other issue is timing. Most of the stretching in Taido dojo happens at the beginning of practice. It seems like a good idea to include stretching in the warm-up to prepare the body. That’s not incorrect, but it doesn’t do much to improve our flexibility because our bodies aren’t yet warm enough.
To get the most out of stretching, we need to do it when the muscles are warm and relaxed. It even helps if they are tired. After practice is the obvious chance to take advantage of these conditions. There’s nothing wrong with stretching before class to get ready, but if you’re serious about improving your flexibility, you also need to stretch after class.
If you want to get anything out of your stretches, do them at a time when your body is warm and relaxed.
Fix These Two Things
These two issues - time and timing - are the biggest problems with the standard warm-up. Together, they sabotage our potential for flexibility. I’ll be making more detailed suggestions in another article, but in the meantime, you can improve the results of your stretching by simply stretching more after practice.