Ultimate Flexibility

Want crazy flexibility?  You could take a seminar where the leader shows you the best way to stretch and break some psychological barriers preventing you from being more flexible.  Or you could read the following book.  Sang H. Kim has put together an incredible book in “Ultimate Flexibility: A Complete Guide to Stretching for Martial Artists.” This book is awesome!

Mr. Kim’s writing is packed with quality information about types of flexibility, factors impacting flexibility, styles of stretching, methods of efficiently stretching the body, and even workouts for specific areas in the martial arts.  Now, you might think this book would be HUGE, like 500+ pages full of anatomical pictures and medical terminology.  To your utter amazement, you will find that this is not the case; this book is written in plain, simple language that is easy to understand, yet it is not condescending in the least.

As a martial artists of 13 years with experience in four different martial arts, a martial arts instructor for almost ten years, and a holder of a minor in athlete coaching from my local university, I have seen stretching techniques and flexibility theory.  That did not prepare me for the high level of quality material in this book or the new ideas and techniques Sang H. Kim describes within its pages.

To start, Mr. Kim gets the reader to determine which one of three groups of martial artists he or she falls within; newbie to flexibility, moderate level of flexibility but looking to improve, or the advanced student seeking ultimate flexibility.  Then for the groups, he explains ways each group can use the information given in the book.  I did not realize how valuable this would be, I thought that I knew enough about flexibility to just open the book and use it.  I am really glad I read this section first because it has allowed me to focus on techniques to help regain a lot of flexibility I lost after a hip injury. Then to be able to take my stretching and flexibility to a new level.  I believe I am now more flexible in all areas of my body than I was before the injury!

The next two chapters are probably the most critical of the entire book.  It may sound funny because they compose only 29 pages of a 295 page book, but they truly are the most important.  They are the discussion on the difference between flexibility and stretching.  On a basic level, we all understand the difference but these two sections do a much more thorough job of explaining it, yet he keeps it simple enough to understand.  So, what is the difference between flexibility and stretching?  “Flexibility is the ability to move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion.” (page 20) “Stretching is a means to improve your flexibility, but it is not necessarily the only means.” (page 27)  The flexibility chapter focuses on factors that influence flexibility like age, gender, genetics, and injury as well as several ways to measure flexibility.  As a martial artist, I was very impressed with this chapter because it was a great explanation and helped me to understand better why some of my students have a harder time stretching than others while doing the same exercises as their peers.  Several of my students have very good flexibility in one dimension of movement but extremely poor flexibility in others.  For instance, I have a student who can perform a head high ax kick but cannot get his leg to perform a correct waist-high roundhouse kick.  It has been frustrating on both sides to try to remedy this issue but this book is helping out greatly. 

When Mr. Kim moves on to discuss stretching he could be dry and boring, but he is not. He is down to earth and simple, it is quite refreshing to read.  Starting the chapter is a really quick overview of the benefits of stretching, then the basics of stretching.  Alignment, control, fluidity, and breathing are all important elements in performing quality stretches.  For all the information geeks like me, the next six pages are fascinating. They are all about the way stretching works; reciprocal inhibition, bones, joints, connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and the types of contractions the muscles can perform.(page 33 – 38)  This is all fantastic information about how stretching works and incredibly valuable for learning how to stretch properly but the best part comes next; types of stretches.  I had learned in college about static, ballistic, and dynamic stretching but this book also talks about active stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF stretching.  As an advanced stretcher, the PNF stretches give me the best stretch with the highest return on investment. 

Chapter Four is called “Understanding Your Body” and is exactly what it says; it describes in brief the different areas of the body and lists some exercises for beginning flexibility, maintaining flexibility, and improving flexibility in each area of the body.  A section like this comes in very handy when I am sore or tight in a particular area and need to find out how to stretch that area more effectively. 

Chapter Five is about creating your workout plans so that you get the most out of your stretching.  Chapter Six is detailed explanations of the exercises along with great black and white photos.  At first, I was disappointed that the photos were not in color but in reality it was not necessary as the photos are just a reference, they are not the primary focus.  I think color photos would make the book more cluttered and confusing, this is actually a good use of black and white photos.  Chapter Seven is a layout of several specific workouts for sparring training, grappling training, weapon training, warm up, core, cool down, and others.  This is really a good section because it has a single picture of the exercises and then a page number of where you can find the detailed explanation.  The final few pages is a Top Ten list of his favorite exercises and some top ways to increase flexibility in specific areas.  These are not workouts but a quick list.

Overall, as you can tell, Mr. Sang H. Kim has written a great book, full of wonderful information.  As a martial artist and instructor I appreciate having a single, simple reference of effective stretching.  This is a book I can throw in my gear bag and bring with me to class.  That is awesome!

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