Valkyrie Fitness Bit #15: Stretching

Valkyrie Fitness Bits is a twice-weekly series of videos and blog posts covering a single exercise each. Learn to build strength and mobility for your martial arts training, and mix and match your favourite exercises to build a workout that fits your goals and training style.

Stretching

In the second part of our prehabilitation mini-series, we’re going to look at some active and static stretches to help re-align and loosen up your wrists, hips, and back. Active stretches, where we smoothly and deliberately repeat a motion that expands our range of motion and increases mobility in affected muscles, are a great way to warm up before technical training that requires fine motor control. They can also be a major component of dedicated prehabilitation sessions. Static stretches are designed to use gravity and time to correctly align major muscle chains. These should be long, still relaxation exercises that are part of your posture work, and should never be used to warm up before training.

Wrists and Forearms

Still sequence showing the motion of the wrist stretches

To warm up your wrists, gently increase your range of motion, and increase mobility and smooth tendon operation in your forearms, use this stretch series. Begin in a kneeling position, with your hands on the floor directly below your shoulders and the fingers turned outwards. Make sure that your arms are straight, and adjust the amount of weight on your hands until you feel gentle, even pressure on your wrists with no discomfort. Slowly begin rocking back and forth, stopping your motion as soon as you begin to feel discomfort in your wrists or forearms. Continue this action for a minute or so, gently expanding your range of motion as your body warms up. Next, switch to a side-to-side rock and continue for another minute.

Still series showing hand positions for the wrist stretch

Repeat both rocking actions with your fingers facing forward, with them facing inwards, and with them facing backward. Then, turn your hands over so that you are resting on the backs of your hands, and go through the entire series of positions again. You will most likely find this second series much less comfortable than the palm-down versions. Make sure to modify the amount of weight on your hands as necessary to avoid pain, and make sure your forearms remain as straight as possible throughout the series.

Posterior Muscle Chain

The two positions of the posterior chain stretch

Your posterior chain runs from the top of your head, down your back and the backs of your legs, to the bottoms of your feet. It’s responsible for spinal alignment and affects your standing and walking posture. To re-align the muscles along your spine and stretch out tight shoulder blades, thighs, and calves, begin with the position on the left in the image above. Lie flat on your back, with your pelvis tilted so that there is no gap between your lower back and the floor. Place your arms out at a 45-degree angle to your body, and allow your shoulders to relax and your head rest in a neutral position. Place your legs against a wall, extending them fully and flexing your feet back towards your body by contracting your quads and shins. Your feet should be hip-width apart and your feet should pull back evenly, rather than twisting as they flex. Hold this position for 3-5 minutes, relaxing into the floor as much as possible.

Once you’ve relaxed fully into the first position, it can be modified to lengthen the insides of your thighs and your hip flexors, and engage the flexors on the outside of the hips. Beginning with your legs vertical, engage your outside hip flexors and slowly straddle your legs out, gently pulling your feet towards the ground. Once you can no longer pull comfortably, relax your hips and allow gravity to continue stretching your inner thighs. Hold this position for 3-5 minutes, maintaining contact between your whole back and the floor.

Troubleshooting

I can’t get my hips at a 90-degree angle or straighten my legs against the wall. This hurts!

If the L-position stretch is too aggressive for you (a common issue with tight leg muscles), you can modify it to get many of the same alignment benefits with less discomfort. Rather than extending the legs straight upwards, bend them at the knees and rest them on top of a step, platform, or cushion. Adjust its height so that your knees are bent at 90 degrees, and your hips also have a 90-degree bend. Spend 3-5 minutes in this position.

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