Karate training tends to focus on improving technique and coordination, but it doesn’t usually focus on flexibility or mobility—this is a significant oversight if you want to prevent injuries and have a good range of motion in your karate techniques. Building up your flexibility can be very valuable in Karate, so how do you develop it?
Implementing 20 minutes of daily mobility and flexibility work around karate or other forms of exercise can have a significant impact on building better karate skills. Having good flexibility is quite helpful for karate as it both prevents injuries and improves technique quality and range of motion.
Lets’ take a look at how to improve flexibility for Karate through fundamental stretching and mobility exercises and how best to structure these exercises into improved overall flexibility.
Do I Need to Be Flexible for Karate?
You don’t need to be flexible for karate. Although flexibility is not a requirement, it can improve your technique and reduce the chances of injury. If you are more flexible you will be more efficient with your techniques and be able to perform them with a better range of motion.
Additionally, better flexibility makes it easier to relax into techniques and execute them properly so you can hit your target without over-extending or under-extending yourself.
A general rule of thumb is that every time you double or triple your age, 1-2 inches (2.54-5.08 centimeters) of flexibility will be lost in every joint, so building up and maintaining your flexibility will be very helpful as you age.
Building up flexibility and mobility is very important for longevity in karate, and is one of the ways you can make sure you never feel too old for karate.
What Are the 3 Types of Stretching?
The three types of stretching are static, dynamic, and active isolated stretching. Static stretching doesn’t require movement, dynamic stretching involves movement that’s held for a short period, and active isolated stretching is quick and doesn’t rely on momentum to create muscle tension.
Each type of stretching has its own benefit. Static stretching is done with little movement, but you can feel your muscles lengthen as you hold them in one position for about 30 seconds. Static stretching can help reduce muscle tension and create better passive flexibility. Static stretching is best done after training when the muscles are warm for maximal impact.
Dynamic stretching involves taking a muscle through its full range of motion by performing mobility movements, such as swinging your arms or legs through useful ranges of motion to open up better movement through different joints and muscles. Properly utilizing dynamic stretching before workouts will be able to take their movements through a better range of motion which carries over greatly into Karate techniques.
Active isolated stretching (AIS) is a type of stretching that most people don’t know by name but can be quite effective. It allows you to get the benefits of static stretches in 1 to 2-second holds before the stretch reflex kicks in and provides tension. This can maximize the benefits of stretching in a shorter amount of time in many cases and I do this to help with my stiff hamstrings on a daily basis.
What Type of Stretching Is Most Suitable for Karate?
Dynamic stretching is most suitable for Karate. Dynamic stretches build mobility through a range of motion which is directly applicable to building up to better execution of techniques in the proper range of motion.
However, just because the dynamic type of stretching is most suitable for Karate does not mean that other forms of stretching should be neglected. Using passive stretching and active isolated stretching are both valuable undertakings that should be integrated into your training routine to maximize your flexibility and mobility overall.
You can consult your instructor to get specifics on what areas you should specifically work on for your mobility and flexibility in training.
How Do I Become More Flexible for Karate?
Practicing stretching techniques before and after workouts can greatly improve your flexibility on its own, but adding activities like Yoga can greatly increase both your range of motion and flexibility while improving your mental health and your body’s posture and alignment through movements.
The first step to improving flexibility is figuring out your specific mobility and flexibility needs. From there, create a personalized plan that’s tailor-made to work on those areas of weakness.
If you have tight hips, they will need more time spent on them than other parts of your body. Also, if you are looking for flexibility and mobility specific to Karate, you’ll want to spend time building up mobility in your hips and legs since they are used heavily in Karate.
Understanding the anatomy of the body can also significantly improve flexibility. For example, many people underestimate the importance of stretching the hamstring muscles. Tight hamstrings can cause issues with your lower back, hips, knees, and ankles. These are all essential for both stability and movement in Karate and life in general, so keeping those muscles mobile is important.
One of the best ways to address flexibility overall is to contract your opposing muscle groups when you are stretching. Jesse Enkampe does a great job explaining this holistically in the video below.
General Tips to Improve Flexibility
Below are some general tips that can help improve your flexibility:
- Participate in a physical activity that requires flexibility. Staying active and doing typical stretching routines can go a long way, but participating in activities like Yoga can take your flexibility and mobility even further and is one of the best ways to improve your range of motion.
- Warm up your muscles before stretching them. This will help the collagen in your muscles to be more elastic before doing your dynamic stretching.
- Stretch regularly. Regardless of how and when you choose to do your stretching, doing them regularly is important in order to see real progress in your range of motion and flexibility.
- Listen to your body. If something feels sharply uncomfortable, don’t take it that far because it can both cause minor injury and trigger your stretch reflex which will actually hinder your ability to increase your flexibility.
- Be patient! It can take a while for your joints and muscles to become more flexible and move better. Be patient and keep practicing regularly.
Building up your flexibility and mobility for Karate requires consistent training and is best done through dynamic stretching modalities. Integrating stretching before and after exercise has the biggest impact on increasing your overall flexibility and mobility. Adding in other activities like Yoga can also take these traits to a new level and are helpful to integrate if you have the time to do so.
For more check out Do You Need to Be Fit to Start Karate?