Physical Training July 2001

Massage for the Martial Artist

 by Emily Dolan

Flexible Hips

The most important factor in the healthy hip is, without a doubt, flexibility.

I was careless some years ago and went to an aikido class the day after riding horseback for about 4 hours consequent to many years of not riding. Unknown to me, I had strained my front hip flexors riding, and strained them even worse taking a highfall. I noticed some pain, "walked it off" and took another fall, at which point my body informed me that I wasn't doing that again.

The scar tissue from this injury, paired with my stiff rear muscles (gluteals) and fascia on the same side, have prevented me from learning and doing as easily on my left side as I do on my right.

A massage therapist myself, I have gone to my teachers and fellow practitioners for help and have recently regained a significant portion of my function, but I have much work to do yet.

If I had immediately iced the muscle, rested for two weeks, and been to a competent myotherapist to straighten out the torn fibers, I'd be in a lot better shape now.

I also believe that if I had kept my gluteals and ilio-tibeal band better stretched, the imbalance would not have led to so many injuries on my left side.

The most important issue coming up in my contemplation and reading is flexibility.

The average budoka is not a daily athlete. We might spend time on the treadmill, but as a general rule, we train two to five times per week and we don't train for it specifically in the gym (a large and happy bravo/brava to exceptions).

Particularly before training in a new and different art, warm the rotators of the hip and prepare the ball and socket joint of the hip for activity. All joints are lined with durable fibrous tissue and secrete synovial fluid when moved about, in any stretch performed in massage therapy we move the limb first to prepare it. I do this for my hips before I train and it makes me more mobile and comfortable.

You can simply stand, raise your arms, and describe a large circle with them from your hips with your torso and upper body. Move like a flower tracking the sun. Repeat five times in each direction.

Remember to involve your hips in this movement.

If I am in a hurry, I use the kendo warm-up wherein you stand and rotate the leg, knee bent, in front of you in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions, alternating legs and keeping balanced.

Before you begin your stretching program, please read Brad Appleton's Physiology of Stretching (it's quite understandable) here:

My favorite front hip stretch is a sidelying quadriceps stretch taken a bit further with the upper leg angled behind me. If I've a bench or bed, I lie on that face up and dangle the leg I want to stretch off, with the knee bent, and allow the deep hip muscles to elongate slowly. This is better for warui-hiza (bad knees) budoka, as you do not have to bend the knee double and then put your weight on it, as in the traditional groin stretch shown in most dojo I have attended.

Hold it for 10 seconds as you breathe out. Repeat, to increasing stretch, no less than five and no more than eight times. Do NOT take yourself to the point of agony! Just stretch! The point of this exercise is to begin gently and increase your range of motion.

In any stretch you have to defuse the "stretch reflex" wherein the muscle reacts to tension by resisting. Moving slowly and using the body's general relaxation response to exhalation allows the muscle to be stretched.

Brad Appleton has one of the most-referenced stretching sites on the Web. He is not a health professional, but he has created one of the most common sense references out there for stretching.

Hip, leg and groin stretches are here:

Please take time to read about warming up before stretching.

No one can take responsibility for your body but you, and while we may share information and advice here on this site, YOU are responsible for your safety and well-being. If you have doubts, or have not done anything physical before, see your doctor.

I am very fond of the yoga pose which looks like a lunge with the hands stretched straight overhead as if holding up the heavens, as it both strengthens and stretches, done correctly.

I also highly recommend physioball exercises such as bridging and "table" straight leg lifts and used these types of exercise to rehabilitate my hip. If you buy a physioball from your local sports or health store (and it should cost you less than $20 US, by the way) you will get a video or poster with it which will demonstrate how to use it.

My hint -- do your physioball exercises well away from anything you would find uncomfortable or inconvenient to fall on, as it takes some time to get used to balancing on a physioball and breathing, much less doing anything else.

Any time you enter a new activity, pay attention to what muscles you are using and straining, and be sure to stretch them and drink plenty of water as your body adjusts to new demands. If your hamstrings are tight, consider that your quadriceps may well be tight too. If you choose to strengthen with a weight program, cautions about balancing your training count double. Most good programs have you strengthening opposing muscle groups directly in sequence so that you do not forget. Most of us really can't stretch too much, with the exception of those who are naturally extremely flexible. Those folks are best served by getting a bit stronger so as to not accidentally overstretch.

As in our training, the key is balance and persistence.

Good training, ya'll!

Anatomy of the hip and leg: (simple visual) (very scientific)

Emily Dolan has been practicing budo (aikido, kenjutsu, judo, wing tsun, and most recently Kokoro Ryu Aikibudo in Indianapolis)  for 8 years and is a graduate of the Lauterstein Conway School of Massage in Austin, Texas (  She enthusiastically welcomes input and networking from budoka and health professionals who treat them. Her web site is:

Physical Training July 2001