MMA Success - Part Four!

Is stretching necessary for mixed martial arts athletes? Find out if it is and why here...
A few years ago I was backstage at an event in Indiana preparing fighters as they were about to enter the ring. There were all types of activity taking place such fighters jumping rope, hitting punch mitts, performing jumping jacks etc?

One athlete in particular caught my attention. He sat in the split position for about 30 minutes. He thought he was preparing his body for battle, but in reality he was putting his nervous system to sleep and weakening his ability to perform in the dynamic event that was getting ready to occur. This probably sounds familiar to many athletes and coaches. Stretching is important, but the right kind is just as important.


Static Stretching

A small volume of Static stretching (relaxing your body into a stretch and holding it there by the weight of your body or some external resistance) would probably not be detrimental, but at the same time too much of this type of stretching before competition can be detrimental. I know what you are saying right now. This guy must be crazy.

Everyone knows you stretch before you perform an intensive activity like fighting. You are correct, but the right type of stretching is crucial for performance enhancement.


Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching (moving body parts in a controlled manner with gradual increases in range and speed of movement) is the preferred method before performing dynamic activities. We save the static stretches for post workout.

If you are involved in martial arts particularly traditional martial arts, you have been exposed to the slow stretching regimen for years. As I pointed out earlier, this type of stretching is fine and can be conducive when performed at the right times in the right doses.

Below I have provided a few reasons why excessive amounts of passive static stretching are contraindicated before engaging in combat.

Why Passive Static Stretching Before Combat:

  1. Relaxation of the nervous system
  2. Mild fatigue
  3. Decreased coordination
  4. Decreased agility
  5. Decrease in quickness
  6. Weakens the stretch reflex.

All of the above qualities are side effects of the relaxation of the nervous system - which is responsible for all movements. As you can see from the above information, if the nervous system is relaxed there is no way you can perform at optimal levels.

Static stretches performed post fight or workout can offer the trainee positive benefits such as mental relaxation, calming of the nervous system, specific static flexibility and enhanced recovery.

On the other hand Dynamic range of motion stretching is just what the doctor ordered before intense physical activity. The following are some benefits that can be expected with a proper DROMS program.

Benefits From DROMS Programs:

  1. Increased neural firing
  2. Coordination
  3. Stability
  4. Muscle lengthening
  5. Improved body awareness
  6. Balance
  7. Improved agility and quickness


Isometric Stretching

Isometric stretching (use positions similar to those in Static passive stretching and adding strong tensions of stretched muscles) is another type of stretching that I should briefly mention.

The benefits of this type of stretching are particularly important for grapplers. Grapplers require great static strength to enhance their ability to hold certain moves. Static holds with weights and isometric stretching can improve this quality.

When performing static holds with weight simply hold a weight in a particular angle that stretches the intended muscle and joint. An example would be to sit at the bottom of a front squat or overhead squat while holding weight. Another example would be to find a heavy partner and have him lay in your guard while putting pressure on you as this heavily stretches the hips and the posterior chain. Be cautious when using these techniques.

All of the stretches mentioned above can have positive effects concerning performance. Adequate flexibility (your ability to move your joints through their intended full range of motion without a large decrease in absolute strength) is necessary for athletes to perform at optimal levels.

As stated above it is of utter most importance that athletes understand what types of flexibility is most needed for their sport. Do not forget that the manner in which the athlete performs should also be taken into consideration when developing a flexibility program.

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If you are a fighter who likes throwing high kicks or likes to pull off fancy submissions from the guard, hip and leg mobility should be top priority. If you box and throw low Thai kicks this attribute will not be as important, but hip mobility is important in all ground based sports.

You simply cannot produce maximal force, speed, agility or proper mechanics with tight hips. Do not neglect hjurdle hip mobility drills. I use these hurdle drills in all of my programs. Refer to Renegade Training For Football for an in depth look at these exercises. On a final note flexibility is one of the easiest motor qualities to attain with a little time and dedication.


What Types Of Stretches?

Below I have provided some examples of different types of stretches.

Dynamic Stretching:
Arm Thrusts

Standing in an erect position with the arm to the side, swing the arms forward and backward. Keep the elbows locked and swing from the shoulder. With each movement attempt to increase the range of motion. Keep in mind this is a controlled movement.

Static Stretching:
Kneeling Lunge

Sit on the ground on your knees in an upright position. Now step forward in a lunging manner with the left foot. Keep the back straight while the right knee remains on the ground. Shift your weight forward as it tracks over the left foot. This provides a great stretch for the right hip flexor. Hold the position for 5-10 seconds and then slowly move into a deeper stretch and hold for 5-10 seconds. Alternate legs and perform the same movement.

Isometric Stretching:

A partner lies in your guard whole applying moderate pressure to your body. This is a great stretch for the posterior chain.

The stretches mentioned above were just a few of the many that are detailed in MaxCondition (www.maxcondition.com).

About Coach Hale

Coach Hale is the owner of Total Body Fitness, Winchester Golden Gloves Boxing and MaxCondition Sports Conditioning. He designs comprehensive training programs for coaches and athletes worldwide. He is the author of Optimum Physique and contributor to numerous exercise and sports publications. Coach Hale is an official member of The World Martial Arts Hall of Fame in recognition of his strength and conditioning work with martial artists. He also serves as vice-chairman for the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. To learn more about coach Hale visit his website at www.maxcondition.com.