Martial arts are as collaborative as they are competitive, so you usually have a partner around with whom to stretch. For times when you're out on your own, you need leg stretchers. Here's how to choose the right equipment for every situation.
Types of Stretchers
There are multiple categories of leg stretchers for martial arts. Here are the most popular styles, along with examples of each from the AWMA online catalog:
- Pulley: Economy Exerpull®
- Bar: Flex-A-Tron® Steel Leg Stretcher
- Machine: ProForce® Stretchmaster
All of these are completely serviceable stretchers, and they each have distinct advantages under certain conditions.
Pulleys are compact stretching options for your home, gym, or school. Installation kits usually have everything you need, except the tools:
- Two pulleys
- Hardware, such as bolts or screws
- High-quality rope
The cuff is your main contact point. It attaches your ankle to one end of the rope. Make sure it's comfortable, sturdy, and designed specifically for leg stretching. As far as installation goes, you need a few square feet of space, a strong ceiling beam, drill and screwdriver. When in doubt, simply follow the instructions included with the kit. If you are looking to save even more space, consider purchasing a wall hook to tie off the rope while you aren't stretching.
Bar-style devices are lightweight and simple with the sole purpose of providing a quick, reliable substitute for stretching with a partner. Look for quality materials when you're shopping for these–tube steel is usually best. In addition, look for comfort features, such as thick foam rubber on the ankle posts. Don't worry too much about fit. Sizing adjustments along the outer two bars allow children and adults alike to comfortably use the same bar stretcher.
These are the most complete stretchers; some even consider them more efficient than partnered stretches. The ProForce® Stretchmaster is a good example:
- A backrest promotes proper spine curvature and ischial position
- Padded contact points promote comfort and reduce abrasive injury
- A micro-adjustable wheel allows gentle stretching and readjustment
- A folding backrest and removable wheel allow for easier storage and transport
Which Type of Athlete are You?
The stretcher you need depends mostly on who you are and where you're stretching. Here are some categories of martial arts practitioners along with the stretchers each type needs.
A bar stretcher with multiple settings is good starting gear for young athletes. A child can use the same stretcher for years, simply adjusting the size to match physical growth. Bar stretchers also represent a sensible balance between safety and initial cost.
The safest option for beginners of any age is a full machine like the ProForce Stretchmaster. The backrest, adjustable parts and precise wheel operation provide security, comfort and control while you build confidence in your abilities.
If you don't have room for another piece of training equipment, go with a pulley stretcher. This is the most economical option in terms of space and ease of use. Effective solo operation requires more balance, focus, and training than bar stretchers or machines.
Stretching with a partner builds trust, confidence, and respect. However, partnering up isn't always practical for your students. You need permanent stretching equipment. Depending on the size of your facilities and financial situation, choose either pulleys or machines. Keep in mind that it takes less time to teach students how to safely use machines.
Most competitors depend on facilities at their clubs or gyms for major equipment. It might be counterintuitive, but that basically means that they don't need a full-service machine at home. All they need is a bar stretcher to pack with them when traveling for contests.
There's an exception to this rule: athletes who practice styles relying heavily on lower-body flexibility. Definitely consider investing in a comfortable, permanent leg stretcher machine like the ProForce Stretchmaster if you're dedicated to reaching the professional level in one of the following martial arts/combat sports:
- Lethwei, muay thai, or pradal serey
- Yaw yan or sikaran
- Mixed martial arts
- Kyuktooki or taekkyeon
- Northern Shaolin kung fu
The Failsafe Option
If you're still unsure which type you need, purchase a bar stretcher like the Flex-A-Tron Steel Leg Stretcher. Even if you upgrade your home or professional facilities in the future, you can still use a bar stretcher while traveling.