What Are the Best Martial Arts for Improving Flexibility?


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Flexibility is important for a variety of exercises and overall health and vitality. And some martial arts naturally provide great training that helps improve it. But, what are the best martial arts for improving flexibility?

The best martial arts for improving flexibility are Taekwondo and BJJ. In Taekwondo, you will have to do lots of stretching as part of your training so that you can execute the complex kicking techniques. In BJJ, you will become flexible as you practice using certain techniques and positions.

But Muay Thai is also great for flexibility, strength training, and improving both muscle tone and weight loss. Krav Maga is another we’ll cover also.

Let’s have a closer look at what makes those martial arts so good for improving your flexibility, and physical health, and some ways you can improve your mobility for martial arts training.

Can martial arts help with flexibility?

Martial arts can help improve your flexibility, as training will warm up your muscles, and you will get a chance to stretch them both statically and dynamically.

The type of stretches you do will depend on the martial art you train. But the important thing is to make sure you’re doing some type of flexibility workout on a regular basis.

There are two ways in which you can stretch:

  1. Static stretching – These are stretches where you put yourself in a position and hold it. This is very common in BJJ, where you may be locked into a grappling position for a short period of time. Static stretches are usually done at the end of a martial arts class as part of the cool down.
  2. Dynamic stretching  – This is where you stretch your muscles with a quick movement. Punching and kicking are dynamic ways to stretch. Dynamic stretches are more common in warm-ups and in striking martial arts.

Not all martial arts require you to be flexible to succeed.

However, flexibility is a huge asset in all martial arts. If you are flexible, you are less prone to injury, have more control over your movements, and have a better range of motion, meaning you can do the techniques of martial arts easier.

If you are flexible, you will also have better coordination, which is essential for striking martial arts.

Martial arts help with flexibility, as you will usually do stretching at the beginning and end of class, and you will warm your muscles up in training.

There are some techniques, such as head kicks and the triangle choke, that will really stretch your muscles and improve your mobility.

Is Taekwondo good for flexibility?

Taekwondo is good for improving your flexibility, as in Taekwondo classes, stretching is an integral part of training. Also, Taekwondo is a very dynamic sport, so you will constantly be moving and continuously improving.

And let’s face it. High kicks are a HUGE part of Taekwondo. And without a greater flexibility level in your body, you just won’t be able to execute those as well as you should.

The key to improving your flexibility in Taekwondo training is to improve at a rate that is comfortable for you. Don’t try and do a head kick on your first day. See if you can kick the body, and you will gradually find yourself becoming more flexible and kicking higher and higher.

If you want to fully benefit from Taekwondo classes, you will have to do some stretching on your own outside of class. Just copy the stretches you do in class during your free time, and over the coming months, you will find yourself becoming more flexible.

Taekwondo is a martial art that requires incredible dexterity in the legs in order to perform the intricate spinning kicks and other techniques. In order to achieve this, Taekwondo practitioners do about 30 minutes of stretching every day – outside of class.

During a Taekwondo class, you will do about 5 minutes of stretching during the warm-up, and 10 minutes at the end of class, during the cool-down.

In addition to stretching, Taekwondo practitioners also practice “forms”.

Forms (called poomsae in Taekwondo or kata in Karate) are sequences of techniques you repeat over and over again in order to improve your muscle memory.

Check out this recent article on my site, where I talk about Taekwondo forms and how to work on your muscle memory to master striking.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Do MMA fighters train flexibility?

MMA fighters train flexibly every day.

Flexibility is important for MMA fighters, as they need to be able to perform head kicks and many Wrestling moves. They also have to be flexible in the event the fight goes to the ground and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques are required.

Most MMA fighters are naturally athletic and flexible, however, they also do stretching outside of class. Most MMA fighters prefer static stretches as opposed to dynamic stretches, as Taekwondo practitioners do.

This is because, with a static stretch, you hold the position, which prevents muscle knots from forming after training. MMA fighters also use foam rollers and massage guns to remove muscle knots so that they can stretch even deeper.

Flexibility is not emphasized as much in MMA as it is in Taekwondo. However, it is still pivotal to preventing injury and being able to perform all MMA techniques.

MMA, of course, means mixed martial arts.

So it’s not just one. But the most common martial arts that are used most often in the UFC include:

  • Muay Thai
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Kickboxing
  • Judo

Some arts, such as Kung Fu or Aikido, are rarely used. But within the umbrella of Kung Fu, there are a couple of styles that would be beneficial for opening hip flexors and improving your overall level of flexibility.

Those 2 styles would be Wing Chun (what Bruce Lee did originally) and Tai Chi.

Which martial art requires the most flexibility?

Taekwondo is the martial art that requires the most flexibility, as Taekwondo practitioners have to be able to jump, turn, and kick at the same time. There is no other martial art that requires the leg dexterity of Taekwondo.

Taekwondo is not the only martial art where you have to be flexible though.

Every martial art is different and has different requirements. For example, in BJJ, you have to have flexible hips so that you can keep hold of triangle chokes and perform omoplatas and gogoplatas.

BJJ is a super complex martial art, and there are hundreds of submissions and techniques to learn.

Check out this recent article on my site where I mention the top 49 techniques you must master if you want to be proficient at grappling.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Having flexible shoulders and knees can make it difficult to armbar, kimura, and leg lock. BJJ fighters have powerful core strength.

And while many BJJ moves require a flexible lower body, ground fighting really requires a level of strength, speed, and flexibility such that someone who may have a smaller size or body weight can submit a larger and/or heavier opponent.

How Muay Thai improves flexibility

Muay Thai, also called Thai Boxing is a very dynamic martial art.

It utilizes powerful punches, kicks, elbow strikes, and other powerful techniques. Training is intense and works the entire body and is a great way to improve not only flexibility but also blood flow, and muscle strength, and get an overall healthier body.

In Muay Thai, you have to have a flexible upper body because if you are stiff, you won’t be able to extend your arm out fully when you punch.

Also, having a flexible back can prevent injury for martial arts practitioners when they are punching as hard as they can.

How Krav Maga improves flexibility

Krav Maga isn’t really a martial art.

I say that because it’s more of a self-defense system with no eastern roots or spiritual components. Not that all martial arts have to be from the eastern world. But to truly get called a martial art, they do need some level of a spiritual side.

That being said, Krav Maga is a powerful system with simple, but powerful and deadly moves culled from several different martial arts:

  • Muay Thai
  • Kickboxing
  • Aikido
  • Judo
  • Jiu-Jitsu
  • Boxing

It also typically goes hand in hand with weight training (often you’ll see a Cross-fit gym nearby).

In Krav Maga you may be doing any of the following types of techniques:

  • Punches
  • Palm strikes
  • Groin kicks
  • Fast squats (to defend a bearhug grab)

The high level of physical activity, combined with the various techniques used and a full-body workout will all lead to better flexibility.

Plus you’ll be well equipped to defend yourself.

How to improve flexibility for martial arts

To improve flexibility for martial arts, ensure you do both static and dynamic stretches. Also, use a foam roller or massage gun to remove knots from your muscles and keep active even on your rest days. Always cool down after training to prevent knots and muscle cramps.

You should do dynamic stretches at the start of class.

If you try and do a static stretch whilst your muscles are cold, then you risk injury. Dynamic stretches are good for warming up and helping to loosen up knots and muscle cramps before training.

It is important that you don’t have knots when you are stretching, as stretching with a muscle knot will only make it worse. You should consider getting a foam roller or a massage gun to help with knots.

Once you are warm, you can then do deep, static stretches. Ensure you hold your stretches for at least 20 seconds; otherwise, the muscle won’t improve its flexibility.

Try to perform other exercises and see if your range of motion is improving. Try and squat lower and lower, do the splits, and see if you can touch your toes with your knees straight, or even go beyond that!

Improving your flexibility for martial arts is not an overnight job. It requires you to build good habits and make fitness a lifestyle.

A couple of beneficial lifestyle changes you can make if you want to improve your flexibility are to keep active on your rest days and to eat enough salt. On your rest days, you should do low-impact, low-resistance activities to keep the blood flowing around nicely. This will help your body transport nutrients to your muscles and help them recover quicker, preventing injuries and muscle soreness.

Ensure your diet has enough salt in it, as this helps prevent muscle cramps. You can either add more salt to your food or put a pinch in your water to help nourish your muscles.

My Daily Stretching Routine for High Kick Flexibility

Conclusion

Flexibility can easily be improved through martial arts training. Most martial arts, particularly BJJ and Taekwondo, have stretching at the beginning and end of every class.

You don’t need to be flexible to start training martial arts, but if you are flexible, you are less prone to injury and will find it easier to pick up the techniques than if you were stiff.

Different martial arts will require different types of flexibility in different areas of your body. Be sure to ask your coaches and the advanced martial artists what their favorite stretches are for the requirements of your specific martial art.


Image by Neel Shakilov from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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