Types of Flexibility and Their Importance in Karate

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FLEXIBILITY TRAINING MUST BE ADAPTED TO YOUR STUDENTS’ GOALS AND CONDITIONS

Do you recognize these kinds of students on your Karate Classes? (fictitious names)

  1. John, who makes a full split, but can’t execute a Mawashi Geri to the level of his head
  2. Maggie, who raises the knee to the chin in slow motion, but can’t make a fast Mae Geri
  3. Cameron, who has less flexibility than Diogo, but can execute a Mawashi Geri to the level of his head line and Diogo can’t do it

Well, all these scenarios have scientific explanations!

But first, you have to understand, with any doubts, the Flexibility concepts. This is the only way you can improve your Dojo’s performance.

Active Flexibility

Static Active Flexibility – Static Active Flexibility refers to the ability to hold your full Range-of-Motion, without using an external object or help. For example, instead of holding your leg on a high Yoko Geri with a bar or help from a training partner, you would only use your own leg muscles to hold it up. This combines Flexibility and Strength (of the opposing muscles to those being stretched). This is probably the most difficult kind of Flexibility to achieve.

Dynamic Active Flexibility – Dynamic Active Flexibility refers to the ability to stretch a muscle through its Range-of-Motion with movement (not static or holding the position). This can be done at a normal or fast speed (Ballistic Stretching). It doesn’t include bouncing movements.

Inside the concept of Dynamic Active Flexibility we can distinguish Functional Flexibility, which is Sport Specific. That is, for example, specific Range-of-Motion or Stretching exercises which allow you to have a good Shiko-Dachi, the necessary ankle mobility to a deep Neko Ashi Dachi or Zenkutsu Dachi or a wider Ura-Mawashi Geri..

Passive Flexibility

Passive Flexibility – Passive Flexibility is the most trained type in Dojos, all over the world. Is it important? Yes, but most Karate Instructors use Passive Methods more than desirable. Passive Flexibility is when you stretch a muscle or group of muscles with the help of external forces. It can be a Karate partner, the belt, a bar or the ground/gravity (as in a split). Passive Flexibility happens when you don’t need to use the opposite muscles’ contraction to stretch the muscle you want to improve.

The 5 Most Useful Stretching Methods to Karate

Although we can identify many different Stretching methods, you only need to know the following ones:

The Guidelines about the above-mentioned Stretching Methods would be too much information for this post. That’s for another time…

Stop Making this Mistake

In Karate, the development of overall Flexibility is critical and you, as a Sensei,  have the obligation of making sure your Stretching training program is effective.

The flexible Karate student has clear advantages over the not so flexible Karatekas. He or she will have a greater ability to learn skills faster, lower risk of injuries, ability to perform a greater variety of skills and usually an improved aesthetic appeal (crucial for Kata performance, for example).

BUT… Karate programs, especially in the developmental years, place a greater emphasis on Passive Stretching, giving little attention to the improvement of Dynamic and Active dimensions.

And the worst scenario is when a Karate athlete already has the maximal required Passive Flexibility for what he or she needs, but the Sensei continues to prioritize Passive Stretching methods…

… in this example, you should be prioritizing the Dynamic and Active methods. This way, your student will be able to take advantage of all his/her potential, both in Kata or Kumite.

Flexibility Training Limitations

Before you read this part of the article, always remember one thing!

NO MATTER THE AGE, GENDER OR OTHER LIMITATIONS, EVERYONE CAN INCREASE THEIR FLEXIBILITY WITH TRAINING.

The limitations we are going to talk about just lead to a different level of Flexibility gains, between Karate athletes/students.

And also influence the type of method and elements like Intensity or Volume – especially, in the case of injury or in the case of children, for example.

These are the factors that you need to consider:

  • An injury or orthopedic conditions
  • Excessive fat or muscle bulk
  • Skin – especially scar tissue over a joint
  • Connective Tissue – ligaments and tendons
  • Temperature of Muscle – optimal temperature for muscle stretching is between 39C (102F) and 43-44 C (110F)

These are the controllable limitations…

You also need to know the limitations that go beyond your control:

  • Joint Structure / Type – each joint has a certain degree of movement
  • Collagen Crosslink’s/Age – collagen crosslink’s present in the collagenous connective tissue (such as ligaments and tendons) increases with age, and the ability to stretch gets harder.

DESPITE BEING HARDER TO STRETCH AT MORE ADVANCED AGES,  YOU MUST TRAIN FLEXIBILITY WITH YOUR NOT SO YOUNG STUDENTS BECAUSE THEY MAY NOT REACH A FULL SPLIT, BUT THEY WILL HAVE RESULTS AND THEIR MUSCLE’S HEALTH WILL BE THANKFUL.

  • Genetics – some people tend to be more flexible (for example, in Asia, like Mongolia or China).

BUT WE ALL HAVE STUDENTS FROM OTHER RACES THAT ARE AMAZINGLY FLEXIBLE, RIGHT?

  • Fiber Type Distribution – Type IIb muscle fibers tend to be more elastic than Type I
  • Gender – females tend to have more compliant connective tissue than males due to less muscle mass.

TEND… UNDERSTAND THIS WORD!

THEY JUST TEND. IT SHOULD NOT BE AN EXCUSE TO THE LACK OF RESULTS IN MALE KARATE ATHLETES.

BUT, PLEASE, DON’T BE ANGRY WITH YOUR KARATE MALE STUDENTS, IF THEY’RE NOT SO FLEXIBLE.

P.S. – When you have a student who has high levels of Static Passive Flexibility – high enough to make an easy kick to the head or do full-open Shiko Dachi – you should train, most of the time, Dynamic and Active stretching. Static Passive methods should be used for just a few minutes, with the goal of maintenance. What should you do if you have a few students like these and a lot of others who are not so flexible? You should have them making different types of exercises.

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