Safe Stretchingby Dunken Francis Aikido, like any other physical activity, relies upon a healthy body. A key factor in any physical regime is maintaining flexibility through proper stretching and although nearly all Aikido activity involves stretching in some form, it is still important to build correct stretching exercises into every pre-practice warm-up, and at the end of the session as part of the “warm-down”.
Stretching is not the same as warming up! It is, however, a very important part of warming up. Warming up is quite literally the process of “warming up” or raising your core body temperature. A proper warm-up should raise your body temperature by one or two degrees Celsius. It is very important that you do your general warm-up before you stretch.
Warming up can do more than just loosen stiff muscles; when done properly, it can actually improve muscle performance. On the other hand, a bad warmup, or no warm-up at all, can increase your subsequent risk of injury.
Ideally, a particular stretch should work only the muscles you are trying to stretch. Isolating the muscles worked by a given stretch means that you do not have to worry about having to overcome the resistance offered by more than one group of muscles. In general, the fewer muscles you try to stretch at once, the better.
Any decent Aikido instructor (especially those with Coaching qualifications) should know the difference between safe and unsafe stretches.
Proper breathing is important when stretching. Correct breathing helps to relax the body, increases blood flow, and helps to remove lactic acid from muscles. Take slow, relaxed breaths when you stretch, exhaling as the muscle is stretched.
The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the abdomen (not the chest); hold the breath a moment; then exhale slowly through the nose or mouth.
Basic rules of Stretching • Warm up first • Do not ballistic stretch ie. using a “bouncing” motion • Don’t hold your breath whilst stretching • Stretch slowly and gently • Try to hold your stretch for around 20-30 seconds • Pain is your brain’s way of telling you to stop! • If it stretches tendons or ligaments, don’t do it!