Stretching is an essential component of fitness, as flexibility has become increasingly recognized as something that directly affects health, wellness, and overall fitness. However, not all stretching is the same, and it’s not quite as simple as saying “stretch as much as you can”, especially if you’re a serious recreational or competitive athlete. Therefore, we would like to share some information about optimizing your stretching routine.
During your typical warm-up, it’s highly likely that you already perform some sort of cardiovascular exercises as well as some resistance training under your own body weight (e.g. pushups, arm circles, core work, etc). However, when it comes to stretching before a workout or a fight, it has recently been shown that static stretching (like in the image above) may reduce the risk of injury, but it can also decrease your peak muscular power output by up to 8%. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re going toe-to-toe it may be the extra 8% you need.
This leads us to the appropriate form of stretching during a warm-up: dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is something you may already do. It’s simply a form of stretching whereby you actively move through your range of motion. For example, relaxed leg swings are a form of dynamic stretching. This is where you would stand on one leg (holding on to something), and try to relax the swinging leg while you swing it through it’s range of motion, hitting some stretch closer to the end points of the range of motion. This can be performed for any limb movement, as long as it’s in a well controlled manner. This type of stretching has shown a reduction in injury risk without compromising performance, which is why it’s now being implemented into modern training regimes.
Stretching during the cool down in boxing is similar to any other sport, you may just place more emphasis on muscle groups that you know you need to work on. Nevertheless, post-workout or post-fight stretching should include a high proportion of static stretching, which is where you stretch a muscle group in a still position. An example of a static stretch would be the classic sit-and-reach stretch for hamstring flexibility that you see in the image accompanying this article.
In our opinion, we find three sets of 30 seconds each for a particular muscle group is adequate, but this can very from person to person, so feel free to develop your own methods, but use our protocol as a guide if it helps!
During your off days, which you may or may not have lots of, static stretching can really help promote flexibility and decrease the risk of injury in your subsequent workouts. Yoga is often a great alternative to sitting on your butt and going through the same old stretches, as it can actually be quite a workout. Also, yoga is challenging enough that you will be able to track your improvements in flexibility based solely on what you are able to accomplish from session to session. It can also be done in a more social setting if that’s a priority for you.
Otherwise, another really great type of stretch to try is proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, which is more commonly called PNF stretching. PNF stretching is often used in a rehabilitative setting where you ‘re looking to improve both strength and flexibility, but it’s also one of the most effective forms of stretching in general, so can be quite useful for any type of athlete.
PNF stretching is performed with a partner who will assist you in your stretches and with providing resistance. One example of a PNF stretch for hamstring flexibility is if you lay down on your back and lift one leg up in the air. Your partner who is standing at your feet facing you will grab your foot and help guide you through a stretch. Once your leg extends/”reaches back” to the point where you feel the stretch, your partner will help you hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds. Then, instead of lowering your leg and repeating with the other leg, your partner will still hold your foot and provide resistance while you try and push your leg back to the ground with substantial force for 5-6 seconds. Your leg should be straight this entire time, as you’re targeting the hamstrings. Then, after pushing towards the ground for 5-6 seconds, your partner will help guide you through and hold the exact same static stretching position that you did before for 20-30 seconds. You may be surprised by how much your range of motion increased after just one repetition, and you will only get that effect with PNF stretching.
One word of caution for PNF stretching: be very gentle especially at first. Your partner won’t be able to feel the stretch like you do, so just go through things slowly until you’re both on the same page. Also, if you have any sort of injury, then PNF stretching is NOT recommended unless instructed to do so by your physician or physiotherapist.
These are just some ideas to help you optimize your stretching routine for boxing or any other form of training. You may find different things work better for you, but hopefully our information was useful to some degree!