I have been a martial artist for 29 years. That is a long time to commit to a specific fitness routine, and there is a reason why I have stuck with it. Martial arts encompass not just physical exertion, but also a focus of the mind and spirit. When you put all three of these elements together, as we will in this martial arts-inspired warm-up, you will strengthen your life in ways you could never imagine.
If you have never tried a martial art class, or know little about the arts, then this warm-up is designed specifically with you in mind. Combining the aesthetic beauty of physical movement and a mindful reflection, this routine will help you embark on a journey that can lead you to a much deeper fulfillment of mind, body, and spirit in your life.
Whether you use this routine to warm-up for a martial arts practice, a running session, or an appointment with the barbell, it will get you stretched, get your heart pumping, and focus your mind in a unique way that only martial arts can offer. If you are a beginner, then this routine alone may be the perfect workout session for you.
Step 1: Meditation
Many martial art classes begin with a moment of quiet reflection while sitting in a crossed-leg posture with closed eyes and hands resting on the knees. Many yoga classes use a similar approach. This will be the beginning of your martial arts-inspired warm-up, as well. We start with a warm-up for the mind.
How does meditating help in anyway whatsoever with practicing a martial art?
You may think that stretching or jumping right into to the martial art routine would be the best way to get going. However, carrying thoughts of the day, stress, worries, or your to-do list inside your head will hinder the effectiveness of both your warm-up and your workout.
With our ground-zero beginning, you will sit in a meditative state for only a few short moments, but it will clear your mind so you can practice with a new perspective:
- Find a comfortable meditative posture, normally done sitting with legs crossed.
- Sit with your back straight, tuck your chin in slightly but hold your head as if a string is gently pulling it up from the heavens.
- Open your lips and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
- Gently breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Focus on your breathing — this will help clear your mind.
- Breathing in and out, focus on the areas of your body where you feel tension or discomfort. You will stop thinking about other things as you enter the moment.
- After a few minutes of your regular breathing pattern, change to an inhale and exhale of five seconds each.
- Then, go back to regular breathing and open your eyes.
Now, we head into martial arts-style stretching.
Step 2: Stretch and Warm-up with Martial Arts
Most martial art classes incorporate stretching at the beginning. There can be a lot of vigorous movements during some arts, while other classes incorporate movements or poses that are held for extended periods. You may also be using this martial arts-inspired routine to warm up for something other than martial arts. Regardless, stretching allows you the opportunity to work at maximum capacity by getting your muscles ready, instead of trying to go all-out when you have not prepared your body.
While you are stretching, pay attention to your breathing, your aches and pains, and where you feel discomfort. Never stretch to the point of pain, and if possible, relax into each position. For this stretching section of your martial arts-inspired workout, you will hold each stretch for at least ten seconds. In addition, remember that what is done on one side must be done on the other.
- Sit on the floor with legs wide.
- Flex your feet so the balls of both feet are pushed out slightly and toes are pointed up. The reason for this flexion is that this position is similar to the foot position in a front kick and helps you prepare for that movement later in the workout.
- Keeping your legs wide, gently reach to the center as far as you can. Walk your fingertips out as far as possible. Hold for ten seconds.
- Do the same to the left and the right, facing your leg and foot on each side.
- While still seated, pull the soles of your feet together.
- Once together, pull your feet close to your body.
- Gently “flap” your knees up and down, and then alternate this movement with pushing the knees down with your hands or elbows.
- Sit with your legs straight out in front of you.
- Reach forward and hold ten seconds.
- Do 20 jumping jacks, 5-10 push-ups, and 20 sit-ups.
- Stand up and touch your toes.
- Roll your shoulders a few times to the back, then to the front, and then shrug them up and down.
You are now stretched, warm, and ready for some kicking!
Step 3: Stretch Kicks
Although the word “kick” is in this exercise, it is more of a stretch than a kick. The idea is to gain flexibility for the real kicks you will be doing momentarily. Between the stretching you just did and the stretch kicks, you will gain an improved flexibility in your body.
I love stretch kicks because they show me how high I can really go. As you practice these, you may be surprised, either in a good way or a bad way, about your flexibility. Can you go as high as you thought or is it a struggle? The wonderful part about flexibility is that you can improve.
There are several components to the stretch kick. Let’s start by getting in our basic stance:
- Stand with your feet slightly apart, but side by side.
- Hold your “guard” up, which means elbows bent and your two fists held in front of your own face. Your palms should be facing each other. This is the typical martial art “guard” that you see in photos or magazines or on television.
Now you are ready for the stretch kick itself:
- Start with the left leg. Keep your leg completely straight except for a very slight bend in the knee as to not over-extend. Keep the foot flexed with the ball of the foot pushed out, just like when stretching earlier.
- Raise and lower your leg quickly, as high as you can, straight out in front of you. Think of the leg as all one unit for this stretch kick. There is only a slight bend to the knee, but other than that, the leg acts as one unit and goes up then back down to starting position.
- Do ten on each leg, pushing the legs up as far as they can go each time.
Step 4: Real Kicks
I call these “real kicks” because the stretch kicks you just completed are not defensive, but only for stretching. A real kick can hurt an opponent quite a bit. Do not practice these on people, but if you have access to a heavy bag, you may enjoy kicking it. For all kicks, hold your hands tightly in fists by the front of your face.
The key to effective “real” kicks is the same for all three basic kicks, front, side, and back. For all three, the knee starts in the same position, directly up in front of your body — as pictured above. That’s right, even if you are kicking to the side or back, your knee starts high in front of your body. Sounds unusual, but it is true.
How to Front Kick:
- Stand feet shoulder width apart.
- Raise your right knee in front of you as high as you can.
- Push your flexed foot out (with the ball of your foot pushed out), then bring it back under your knee, with your knee still held high.
- Put your foot down.
- Do 10 of these on either leg.
You can do these slowly to increase strength or quickly to see how fast you can do them. Either way, you are improving balance, strength, and flexibility, and learning a new defensive tool, too.
How to Side Kick:
- The side kick starts and ends the same way as the front kick, with the knee up in front of your body.
- After the right knee is up, pivot your left foot’s toes to the left (literally, turn your foot so your left toes point to your left).
- Shoot your right leg out to the side and try to keep your right heel pushed out in this side kick.
- Do 10 of these on either leg.
How to Back Kick:
- This back kick starts and ends the same way as the front kick, with the knee up front of your body.
- Turn your head slightly to the back and lower your right knee so it’s right beside your left knee.
- Shoot your leg straight back. (Hint: think of how a donkey kicks.)
- Do 10 of these on either leg.
Step 5: Congratulations
This warm-up is just a portion of what is typical for a martial art class. Along with the stretches outlined here, we do many others. And the three kicks that you learned are just the basics. There are also spin kicks and jump kicks, for example. But as in most athletic disciplines, in martial arts, we always build upon the basics.
The other thing that I hope you noticed about this routine is the mindfulness and thought process involved. Unlike other fitness routines, you must stop to focus and really think about what you are doing. The meditation in the beginning gives you a new perspective and readies you for the kicks and warm-ups and time-honored traditions.
A warm-up with martial arts kicks and stretches can be an amazing, fun, and refreshing way to wake your body and/or get into shape. Maybe once you try this routine, you will find an interest in learning a martial art or self-defense. Or maybe it will offer you a way to spice up your regular fitness training with some new moves.
Truly, there is no better place to go for inspiration than the martial arts — they are the ultimate mind, body, spirit connection, and everyone can use a little more of that in their lives.