Stretching for Wushu Kicks
By Helen Liang
There are special techniques for stretching the legs for Wushu or external martial arts kicking. The three fundamental ways to stretch outlined here will allow many people to increase their flexibility and decrease their susceptibility to injury. Although these techniques can be practiced by anyone, everyone should remember to be gentle and progress gradually. Those over 40 should take more care not to over-stretch.
These techniques can be done anywhere but obviously should be done where ground is not smooth or slippery. Also, the area should be clear of clutter and large enough for one to move and relax. Although the methods taught here are demonstrated on a wall, a sturdy table or railing will also suffice.
Stand facing the wall and rest one heel against it. The standing foot should point towards the wall while the stretching foot should be flexed and pointing back towards the head. Though your weight is on the standing leg, you should be leaning slightly towards the stretching leg. Both legs must be straight.
To stretch, lean back and forth slowly with your back straight towards the stretching leg. This simulates a front kick. For beginners, this must be done very gently. First aim to raise your foot above your head. As you progress try touching your nose to your leg. You should feel the stretching mainly in your hamstrings, the tibialis posterior, and the gastrocnemius (the muscles behind your shins).
As you advance, take note that your hip must not be turned outward and that your whole body is facing the wall. To understand this posture, aim to touch your toe to your forehead, and then your nose, and finally your chin. If you leg is extended over your head, then your hip is not facing completely forward, and you must turn your hip back to pull your leg down.
Stand with the wall at your side and rest one heel against the wall. The standing foot should point in the direction you are facing while the stretching foot should again be flexed and pointing back towards your head. Though your weight is on the standing leg, you should be leaning slightly towards the stretching leg. Both legs must be straight.
Like the Front Stretch, lean back and forth slowly with your back straight towards the stretching leg, but make sure your shoulders remain perpendicular to the wall. Keep your leg behind your shoulders and arms as you do this. Again aim to raise your foot above your head. This stretch mainly focuses on the inner thighs, but also again affects the tibialis and the gastrocnemius.
For advanced martial artists, place your inside arm on your stretching foot, and pull the toes downward toward your head. At the same time, reach with your opposite arm over your head to touch or hold your stretching foot
With your back to the wall and a sturdy chair in front of you, lean forward on the chair and extend one leg backward so that it rests comfortably on the wall. The standing foot should point in the direction you are facing while the stretching foot is pointed backward such that the top of the leg is in contact with the wall. While the standing leg is straight, the stretching leg can bend slightly depending on comfort.
To stretch, try raising your body up and down using your arms without moving your legs. For more advanced martial artists, try leaning backwards toward the wall. It is important to remember to keep the hips down, i.e. the hips should be parallel to the ground. To understand this posture, try looking over your left shoulder while stretching the right leg and vice-versa. You should feel the stretching in several places including your lower back, the quadriceps on the raised leg, and the hamstrings on the standing leg.
How Far Should I Go?
Ideally, each stretch on each leg should be done for approximately 3-5 minutes, though they should all be done for at least 1 minute each. Essentially, you should only feel that you are stretching and have no pain. For beginners, it is normal to feel sore after stretching, as this denotes your body is stiff. Advanced trainees may not feel this soreness but should not push themselves to over-stretch. Like most things, flexibility follows the rule of diminishing returns, that highly flexible martial artists will take longer and more training to see improvement. As you become more comfortable stretching at a certain height, you should definitely try to go to the next level.