Three daily exercises to improve your martial arts – and body

We all know that we should do more exercise. Our once- or twice-a-week martial arts classes are not enough to balance out our long days of sitting at a desk hunched over a keyboard.

But we’re busy.

And there are so many options. Do you stretch? Which body parts? Do you need more aerobic exercise? More strength? More flexibility?

It’s too hard, so we end up doing nothing.

I know, because I’m guilty of it too.

I’d love to say I do these three exercises every day, but the truth is that I often back-slide. That’s ok, as long as you pick yourself up and start again.

Because when I do manage a week of daily exercises I feel great.

Now, obviously there is going to be a lot of variation here depending on your current body condition and the martial art that you do. Do you need high kicks? Do you duck and weave a lot? If you’re not sure, talk to your own teacher about what skills they think will help.

However, there are a lot of things which are universal. Here are three exercises that I’ve found to be particularly helpful.

If you’re in pain, seek professional help. I am not a doctor or physiotherapist, just someone who does this a lot and hasn’t killed herself yet!

Hip mobility

The whole body is connected. A lot of people have hip pain that turns out to be tight hamstrings, nerve pain in the feet that turns out to be stiff glutes, back pain that is caused by tight hip flexors, and so on.

For me, lower back pain is the thing, and I’m told by experts I trust that it’s mainly caused by my hips and glutes.

Get down on one knee. You should have your knees at 90 degree angles. Now, tilt your pelvis forwards. This will increase the stretch on your hip flexors. If you’re not feeling it yet, congratulations, you’re more flexible than I am.

Rock gently forwards and backwards, always keeping the pelvis tilted. After you’ve done this a few times, push into the stretch and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat at least three times, and then do the other side.

You should be feeling the stretch down the front of your back leg – the hip flexor muscles.

If you’re feeling enthusiastic, you can throw in some pigeon stretches too, to focus on the glutes.

Shoulder mobility

This one is for the keyboard warriors. You spend all day hunched forwards – time to open out!

First, circle your arms backwards. Make the circles really big, brushing as close to your ears as you can. Do this five times slowly, and then shrug your shoulders loosely a few times to release any tension.

Do you have doors in your house? Find a doorframe and stand in the middle of it. Put your arms out to the side and brace against the frame. Gently rock forwards, pushing your arms backwards. Push into it five times, then hold the stretch for a few seconds.

I’m not affiliated in any way with these people, but they have a very clear explanation. The doors in the dojo were too wide to film it myself!

If you have super-stiff shoulders you might find your fingers start to tingle where the nerves are getting pressed. Change the angle of your arms slightly until you find a position that is comfortable for you. As you progress your range of motion will increase.

Hamstrings

Ah, tight hamstrings. The bane of many a person’s life.

Kneel down again, but this time keep the front leg straight. You’re going to lean forwards over it.

The important point here is to keep your lower back flat. If you hunch over, you won’t get the stretch in the right place. You won’t be able to get as low down over your leg as if you hunch, but it’s so much better for you.

Once again, move gently into and out of the stretch a few times and then hold it.

That’s it, just those three things. I could add others – spinal rotations and strength exercises and complex movements that activate several different things, but I know myself. If I add too much then I find excuses not to do anything!

What exercises do you do (or wish you did!) every day? Share your experiences in the comments.

Published by Nicola Higgins

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something* martial artist, Girlguiding Brownie and Ranger Leader, and actuary. She somehow also finds time to read, fuss her cat, and occasionally spends time with her husband. * please note that "ten or more" is still something.

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