Improving Your Control in Martial Arts Training pt. 1: Spine

by Carmelo De Leon, DPT

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Welcome to Martial Arts week! The movements in martial arts that involve striking and grappling are many and quite varied. So rather than create an exhaustive list of how-to exercises to improve [insert strike or grappling movement], we will focus on improving a foundational skill that's important for all movements: control.


The first part of this series will focus on the spine. To protect the very important spinal cord, there are 33 vertebrae that make up the spinal column. These bones provide attachment sites for muscles that connect to the neck, shoulders, hips and everywhere in between. In short, a lot of muscles connect to the spine. In between the vertebrae are discs that help with shock absorption and mobility, and nerves that shoot out to anywhere and everywhere in your body. So maintaining the health of the spine is extremely beneficial, to say the least.


Keeping the back healthy for a combat athlete is no easy task because not only do you have to worry about your own movements, but you also have an opponent that is quite literally working against you. Also, unlike other sports, martial arts requires the back to move in a much wider range than what would be considered optimal. Sometimes, you’ll have to go into back hyperextension to get out of being mounted. Other times, your spine has to tolerate significant amounts of flexion while being stacked. Many of these movements can increase your risk of back injury. Fortunately, you can greatly decrease that risk if you are in control of those positions. The following exercises will help you develop control when flexing, extending and rotating the spine.


Bear Crawl (3 sets x 20 feet)

  • Position: On your hands and feet with knees off the ground.

  • Movement: Move one arm and the opposite leg forward while maintaining a neutral spine and stabilizing with the other arm and leg. Alternate the movement to progress forward and keep your spine neutral throughout the exercise.


Cat-Cow (3 sets x 10 reps)

  • Position: On your hands and knees with your spine in a neutral position.

  • Movement: Draw your stomach and chest towards the ground, then arch your back towards the ceiling.


Trunk Rotation in Quadruped (3 sets x 10 reps each side)

  • Position: On your hands and knees with 1 hand behind your head and elbow facing towards the ground.

  • Movement: Slowly rotate your head and elbow upwards towards the ceiling, then return to the starting position.


Please feel free to reach out with questions and stay tuned for more on improving your control in martial arts training.


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