I am a guy in my 40s and would like to improve my flexibility in Tae Kwon Do. Not new at it but there is always room from improvement. Any sugestions?
Thanks in advance
I have always been told by my instructor that regular hip stretching (sitting on the floor with your legs apart with a partner or a stretching machine pushing them) is the most effective way to increase kick height.
After 6 years at TKD and many, many hours invested in this specific stretch I have to say that personally I don't think that has been effective for me in any significant way. Other stretching exercises have been very effective and this wasn't something I was doing in isolation.
I recently found a superb local sports physio for an injury. I asked her what she thought would be most effective and she has got me on a program of resistance band training - basically doing side rising kicks with resistance. She pointed out that you need to do targeted exercises that will build up that lateral strength and doing resistance exercises does that and also includes stretching that is targeted at the muscle groups necessary for high turning and side kicks.
It is too early to know if this is going to be truly effective, but understanding that strength and flexibility must go hand in hand has been a useful eye opener for me - even if it might be obvious to many.
For side and round-house kicks you need flexible hips. Use a very wide horse stance (your legs and the ground should be close to an equilateral triangle when stepping out), then switch slowly (about 2 seconds in each position) left-center-right, back and forth, as low as possible 10-12 times on each side. Stay as relaxed as possible while doing these moves. This exercise works the hips without damaging the ligaments from the knees (as it can often happen when you try to do the side split or stretch with a partner). Your leg muscles are going to feel like burning in the beginning, but you will improve your leg and back strength and your hips will become more flexible. When done, come out of the stance VERY slowly. If you keep doing it once a day for several weeks, you will see a lot of improvement.
For front kicks, it's the back tigh muscle that usually makes the trouble. One of the best exercises is to put the stretched leg on a table or something higher in front of you while standing, then slowly bend towards it. In time, the purpose is to reach the knee with the forehead, then with the chin, then to reach the shin with your chin. As your flexibility improves, you can lift the leg on a support that is chest or shoulder high. The most (crazy) flexible people can do that inside a door's frame - set the leg up and bend towards it. If you feel any pain in the ligaments, stop, don't push, don't ever force it. Ligaments can only extend about 10% without damage, you don't want to damage them. The stretch should always come from the muscle relaxation, muscles can expand easily 50%. One can never force-stretch, it always backfires and can even create long-lasting ligament injuries. Don't stay bent over the leg for more than 10-15 seconds and always cone out of the stance slowly. Never push hard, never force it. Just relax.
These two exercises, done daily, take less than 5 minutes both and have done wonders for me.
I'm a huge fan of dynamic stretching and/or PNF/isometric stretches and exercises to improve flexibility.
Too often, static stretches are suggested. These would be butterfly, or sitting in a position trying to achieve a split, or hurdler's stretches... these do not improve flexibility in any way. Some, like the quad and calf static stretches, are used for post workout stretches which alleviate the muscles of built-up lactic acid, which can cause cramping later on. And these statics can be used to ease into exercises when coming out of recovery from injury.
But for regular use, dynamic stretches and PNF are the best you should do. PNF is best, because they include the weightlifting which is needed, but these also tend to require a partner, and if you don't have one, the dynamic stretch is better.
Dynamic stretches can be done as often as you want: multiple times a day, every day, without worry of injury. As these are also your warmups, you don't need to warm up. Progress is not as fast as PNF. Also, you need to augment these stretches with mild weightlifting, because having flexibility is no good unless you can control your kicks at the maximum range of motion. That can injure you or your opponent, and rob you of technique. So strength training is needed, and this needs to be done every other day (or less often, if you are older).
PNF/isometrics are combined flexibility and strength training all in one. These require a warmup, and, you must give a day or more rest in between these exercises. These are unequivocally the best stretches, as you will see results much faster. But they do often require a partner.
Read up on Tom Kurz, http://www.stadion.com
He gives a very thorough analysis of muscle fibers, studies, and recommended stretch practices. He is a big proponent of dynamic stretches, though.
There is also evidence that stretching at all is not helpful. All that is needed, these studies show, is a good warm up and competent exercise as part of your regular workout. You do not need to practice doing the splits in order to perform the split, they say.
So bottom line, whichever regimen you choose - and you can change them up if you want, just stick with one or the other for 6 months or more - but be sure you are also weight conditioning as well. Flexibility is dangerous without being able to control at your maximal ranges of motion, and that is partly achieved with weightlifting. (and regular practice to perfect technique... that should always go without saying)
Yoga is excellent for this purpose. Being married to a yoga teacher and injured in my TKD class at 40 yrs old, the injury benched me. It was yoga that healed the injury and taught me alignment, slowing down enough to understand my body, proprioception and many other things. That was 23 years ago - I'm 63 now and extremely flexible. Some martial artists simply won't do yoga, but I'm married to a yoga teacher and it was a missing link for me, especially when I reached my 40's. It's a part of my daily martial arts practice now.
As you do not ask about a specific problem, I assume you just mean alround flexibility in the whole body.
I can suggest the book "Becoming a Supple Leopard" where many techniques for gaining flexibility are explained in great detail - stretching being one of it. It also explains how to self-diagnose your problems, with many practical examples. It is targeted towards strength training, but the concepts seem global to me.
It is not a miracle cure for every problem, but it might give you some ideas.
You did ask your teacher about it, right?