We’ve all been there. Performing a dedicated static stretching routine before or after training or each night while watching TV. Yet, even after years, you don’t see much improvement in flexibility. It’s all too common.
Yet, when I perform the exercises listed in this article, I see rapid changes in my flexibility and mobility. Why is that, and why doesn’t stretching work for Muay Thai?
Why Static Stretching Doesn’t Work For Muay Thai
There, I said it. Static stretching isn’t doing much for your Muay Thai flexibility and mobility. While it’s a common prescription for tight hips, static stretching doesn’t cause any structural changes to the muscle.
This means any improvements in range of motion are not long-lasting and could potentially have adverse effects. For example, 3-8 weeks of static stretching did not change muscle or tendon properties but, instead, increased the individual’s stretch tolerance .
Essentially, you “numb” yourself to the stretch sensation allowing you to push a little further each time. For example, if I asked you to touch your toes and you could only get to the middle of your shin, then you perform a few static stretches holding an 8/10 sensation. At the re-test, you’d get closer to your toes.
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But at what cost? Do you want the extra passive range of motion? I like to define mobility as being able to actively control an end range of motion. Being mobile for Muay Thai means being able to control my leg with various kicking techniques.
If I cannot control the end range of motion and throw a high-speed, high-force roundhouse kick, I can potentially cause injury.
A great example of the braking forces required by the hamstrings when throwing heavy roundhouse kicks against the bag is how sore your hamstrings are the following day if you haven’t ever thrown kicks.
This happened to me the first time after throwing power kicks against the bag. My hamstrings felt like they were going to be torn off the bone! You may encounter problems if you create an artificial change in stretch tolerance and throw head kicks when you previously couldn’t get there.
So, what can you do instead to gain more mobility and flexibility for Muay Thai?
6 Best Stretches For Muay Thai
Here are 6 epic exercises you can do to open your hips for devastating kicks. They are all based on eccentric and isometric contractions at long muscle lengths. Why? Isometrics at long muscle lengths and eccentric contractions lead to structural adaptations within the muscle.
Most importantly, adding sarcomeres (blocks of muscle fibers) in series lengthens the muscle fibers . In doing so, you shift the length-tension relationship up and to the right, increasing the angle you can generate the most force .
If you can generate more force at longer muscle lengths, you have reduced your risk of injury when throwing hard and fast kicks and enhanced your force production capabilities.
Loaded Isometric Bulgarian Split Squat
The couch stretch, standing quad stretch, or other hip flexor stretches can have their place. But nothing will give you noticeable improvements in hip flexor length than the loaded isometric Bulgarian split squat.
Remember, the goal is strength at length, which the Bulgarian split squat position provides. Take deep breaths and sink further into the stretch with each out-breath. You can sit the hips back if you want to accentuate the stretch.
Whether you need to have more flexible hamstrings is a debate in itself. Often, the tightness is caused by weakness. Using the Romanian deadlift strengthens your hamstrings through a long stretch leading to meaningful gains in mobility.
But many people get this exercise wrong and treat it as a “bending over” exercise. It’s not about bending over. It’s about pushing your hips back as far as possible to lengthen the hamstrings.
Since the hamstrings are biarticular muscles (crossing two joints, the hip, and knee), fixing the knees in place while pushing the hips back stretches them under load from both ends.
Sumo Good Morning
The adductors, or groin muscles, assist with hip extension, among other functions such as stabilizing the leg during single-leg tasks. Think running or the stance leg when throwing kicks. The semi-straight leg sumo good morning lengthens the “long” adductor simultaneously in hip abduction and extension.
This is why getting good depth in this exercise is very difficult. But, if you can shift your hips backward and reach a flat torso position, you’re doing well.
The Cossack squat is an excellent bodyweight exercise to lengthen and strengthen the “long” adductors. Be careful if you haven’t spent much time in these positions. You can quickly go too far and strain the tendons close to your pubic area.
You can perform a Cossack squat as a lateral lunge keeping the trailing foot flat, or you can have the foot rotate onto the heel. The second option is the Cossack squat variation. Either variation will put the adductors under stretch.
Butterfly Plate Lift
When dealing with the adductors, you typically want to perform straight and bent leg exercises as they target different muscles. The bent leg exercises target the “short” adductor, and you’ll feel the difference when you do this exercise.
Start with a 10 kg plate and work your way heavier as you get stronger. The goal is to get your knee to the floor.
Band Reverse Nordic
The reverse Nordic curl is a brutal eccentric exercise for your quadriceps. Especially the rectus femoris that crosses the knee and hips. But doing this exercise without assistance takes serious strength and mobility.
So, use a resistance band to help you. The most important technical point to consider is squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward. You want to maintain a straight line from your knees to your head.
This is challenging especially if you have tight hips from sitting often. You’ll feel yourself sinking deeper with each rep as you get more comfortable.
How Often Do Muay Thai Fighters Stretch?
Muay Thai fighters typically static stretch after each training session. In some cases, this might be every day! And there’s nothing wrong with spending time after training to perform some static stretches if you feel it helps you and you enjoy it.
Relaxing breathing techniques and bringing your heart rate down while stretching can get you into a state of rest faster than doing nothing.
How Long Should You Stretch For Muay Thai?
For the loaded isometrics I’ve listed, I prefer holding for 20-30 seconds for multiple sets. For the eccentric exercises, perform sets of 5-8 reps depending on the exercise and how intense it is. If you’re holding static stretches after class, 30-60 second holds with breathing are the typical recommendation.
Sometimes, I prefer to hold by breath count instead of seconds. It makes your stretching more mindful, and you can focus on sinking deeper with each out-breath. For example, holding a particular stretch for a 10-breath count.
How To Increase Hip & Leg Flexibility For Muay Thai?
The exercises I’ve listed in this article will help to increase your hip and leg mobility for Muay Thai. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be able to kick the head off a 6’4” giant. Strength, stability, and technique play a vital role too.
Award-winning Thai trainer Steve Pipe detailed some of his favorite exercises in his “How To Kick Higher” article.
Static stretching may not be the path to devastating head kicks and brutal teeps. Instead, loading isometric and eccentric exercises make structural changes to the muscle leading to long-lasting changes in muscle length. Pair that with regular Muay Thai practice, and you have a recipe for quickly improving flexibility and mobility for Muay Thai.
1. Freitas, S. R., Mendes, B., Le Sant, G., Andrade, R. J., Nordez, A., & Milanovic, Z. (2018). Can chronic stretching change the muscle‐tendon mechanical properties? A review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 28(3), 794-806.
2. Konrad, A., & Tilp, M. (2014). Increased range of motion after static stretching is not due to changes in muscle and tendon structures. Clinical biomechanics, 29(6), 636-642.
3. Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long‐term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 29(4), 484-503.
4. Brughelli, M., & Cronin, J. (2007). Altering the length-tension relationship with eccentric exercise. Sports Medicine, 37(9), 807-826.