The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Common Exercises Teach Hip Tightness When Kicking, Stretching, and on the Stairs

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Tuesday night my martial arts students showed they had improved. When I came in they were waiting in two neat rows. I still had to cue them to sit up straight.

In the post Is Bad Martial Arts Good Exercise? I mentioned showing the class not to let their neck, back, and hip round forward when kicking. By straightening, strength and stretch are built into regular movement.

Several readers e-mailed me that they noticed for the first time that they let one leg pull forward when lifting the other (notice the standing leg in the left-hand photo, at left). They said they felt a good difference when they straightened (right photo).

If the front muscles of your hip are tight, when you lift one leg high you may find that you round your back and bend the other leg. Watch for this during kicks in martial arts and aerobics, when lying on your back raising one leg overhead to stretch the hamstrings, and ascending stairs. The common practice of allowing the other leg to bend forward perpetuates a tight anterior hip, which in turn, contributes to walking bent forward and back pain.

In martial arts, you don't want your standing leg completely straight. That is an invitation for your opponent to kick your knee, snapping it backward. But for both health and effective martial movement, you don't want to bend the leg more than a small amount. Bending the back, hip, and leg when kicking decreases force of the kick, pressures your discs, and reduces stretch on the hip and hamstrings. The rounded-under hip position keeps the hip tight, a hidden cause of groin pulls. It also looks weak and unskilled. For lying hamstring stretches with one leg overhead, it is often taught to keep the second leg bent to "protect the back." However, keeping the leg (and body) flat on the floor give a far better stretch and is healthier for your back. Even in slow easy motions of stair climbing, leaning forward and allowing the second leg to pull forward reduces the normal hamstring and hip stretch, decreases the exercise on your hip and leg muscles, and reduces the back muscle activation for holding the straight position you need for health and back pain prevention.

It is said the martial arts gives you discipline and strength. It won't if you practice unhealthy habits. When raising one leg, hold your neck and back upright. Prevent the other leg from pulling forward. You will get a built-in hip stretch, one of the places you need to stretch most. You will get back and hip exercise in the way you need to move in real life, and prevent tightness and weakness that leads to poor movement and pain. You will change from kicking like a bent over old lady to a young strong athlete. Exercise as a lifestyle is not something done "for body parts." It is built into your normal movement to make it healthy movement.

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Photos Copyright © Dr. Bookspan from the book from the book Healthy Martial Arts
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About the Author


M.Ed, PhD, FAWM

Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.

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