Ask any martial artist what they want to improve and chances are that one of the things they will list will be their stances. Stances are at the core of every fighting style. They are the literal base from which we learn and the foundation upon which we build our skills.

Stretches With Your Stances

With this in mind, I recently went back to try to address some of the issues I’ve had with my stances throughout my more than 15 years of practice. I’ve read books, watched videos, consulted physical therapists, and experimented on myself to find what works the best, and now I want to share some of those tips with you.

When you bring up stances, often the first thing you think of is sitting in a horse stance for interminable lengths of time, sweat running down your face, and legs shaking. There is value in holding stances, which is why it has been such a staple of martial arts training from the beginning of time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to supplement your training. With this article, we will look at several ways to improve your flexibility and let you get down into those deep stances with more ease.

Martial artists often have a love of stretching, one of the favorite goals being the splits. Nothing looks quite as cool as dropping down to the ground in a side or front split. But due to the focus on achieving these awesome goals, oftentimes the flexibility goals necessary for proper stance alignment are ignored. Let’s look at some stretches you can add into your repertoire to help round out your alignment and allow you to have more well-rounded flexibility.

3 Stretches to Make Your Stances Better

Stretches #1: Hip Flexors

Stances Stretches

So much time is spent in martial arts school stretching out the hamstrings to achieve those beautiful high kicks, that often the hip flexors are completely ignored. This is a shame, because tight hip flexors can cause all sorts of misalignments.

You can check for yourself: drop down into a horse stands and check the alignment of your lower back. Is it arched backwards? Does it look like your bum is sticking out behind you? This is called a posterior tilt. This can be caused by weak stomach muscles, tight back muscles, or tight hip flexors. In my particular case, it was most apparent in my cat stance. The further down I went, the more my bum stuck out.

That misalignment of the hips not only makes your stances look awkward and unnatural, but it also weakens your stability, making it easier for people to push you over or knock you out of your stance.

The classic lunch stretch is still one of the best ways to open up your hip flexors. Don’t leave it out of your routine!

Stretches #2: Piriformis

Stances Stretches

The hips are very complicated joints. Designed to twist and turn in so many different ways, it can be easy to ignore parts of the complex musculature when we work on opening our hips up. One of the more common forgotten areas is the piriformis.

Like many martial artists, I have spent time stretching my hips in every conceivable direction, but when an expert in flexibility directed me in the correct way to stretch my piriformis, I was shocked to find that that one little part in my hip capsule that was so tight, it was as if I had never stretched at all. Give it a try yourself:

Stances Stretches
Stances Stretches

Lie down on your back with your knees bent, pointing up at the ceiling, with your feet flat on the floor. Now cross your right leg over your left so that your knees are on top of each other. Now walk your left foot two or three steps to the outside of your body, drawing both of your legs to the left. Finally, try to bring your right knee diagonally across your body toward your left shoulder. You will likely feel a stretch deep down within your hip capsule. This is your piriformis. Now repeat the stretch on the other side.

Stretching your piriformis will not only help you open up your hips allowing you to move in and out of your stances smoothly, but also, it will help with your posture, giving you the flexibility to align your hips correctly.

Stretches #3: Internal Hip Rotation

Stances Stretches
Stances Stretches
Stances Stretches

External hip rotation is ubiquitous in martial arts training. Stretches such as the butterfly and pigeon stretch are found in almost every martial arts school. But often internal hip rotation is ignored. For healthy hips and muscle balance, consider adding in an internal hip rotation stretch such as the one below.

You can start in the same position as the piriformis stretch. Lie flat with your knees drawn up and pointing at the ceiling in your feet flat on the floor. Now cross your right leg over your left with the knees on top of each other and walk your left foot to the outside, just as before. But now, you’re going to use the weight of your right leg to rotate your left leg to the inside, as if you’re rotating your left knee towards the ground.

Make sure to keep your left foot on the floor, and try to keep your left hip on the floor as well. If you let your whole torso start rotating with the movement, you’re taking some of the intensity off of the hip capsule and lessening the stretch. Try to really focus on restricting the stretch to the muscles you intend to target. This is the internal hip rotation. Now switch legs and try it on your other side.

Flexibility is about more than spectacular high kicks and impressive splits. It’s also about looking after your health, body alignment, and ease of movement. The stretches are just a few ways to expand your horizons, widen your repertoire, and explore new ways to improve your stances. Now go give it a try and check back in next week for my next installment on improving stances: strength training. Happy stretching!

Disclaimer: in learning and working on these stretches, I have spent a lot of time under the supervision of professionals. Stretching, like martial arts, should be done under the watchful eye of an expert. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you’re doing these moves right and if you have any concern, confusion, pain, or discomfort, please stop immediately and seek the guidance of a qualified instructor.

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