Staying in Balance

In Taekwon-Do we’re very good at having strong calves, quadruceps, abdomens, chests and triceps. It’s important to also look after our other areas so that we can be balanced and avoid injury.

Working our way uphill let’s start with the lower legs. We are working our calf muscles continuously in stances, sparring, running, jumping and other exercises. We should stretch both the short and long calf muscles often. Very little attention is given to the tibialis anterior (???). These muscles help do the opposite of what the calf muscles do. Where the calf muscles lift the body by pulling the foot downwards, the muscles to the front of the shin lift the foot up. We use them to form the apkumchi / ball of the foot shape for turning kick. I’ve found that by standing with my legs straight and rocking back on my heels and pulling the balls of the feet up and off the floor I can work out my tibialis anterior. I do this while teaching as it’s very quick and simple. This exercise helps me with shin splints (pain in the shin area), particularly from twimyo yop chagi / flying side kick.

Like our calves our quads get a lot of work. We use them in just about everything we do, but especially in stances and running and jumping movements. Our hamstrings however get very little strengthening from these movements, and we stretch them often. So we frequently end up with strong and short quads, long and weak hamstrings. This is a good predictor of injury. To counteract this you should stretch your quads and strengthen your hamstrings.

Moving uphill again we come to the lower torso. Our instructors know loads of evil ab exercises, and we tend to include these in most workouts. The lower back is usually not given the same strength work, although sometimes it is stretched. So as with the legs we can have short and strong stomach muscles without a strong lower back to balance them. If you have aches or tightness or a lack of mobility in your hips and back this could be the cause. I include lower back strength work in each workout that I lead, and stretch my abdomen about once a week.

Once again the same situation exists in our upper bodies. Push ups and punching give plenty of exercise to the chest, anterior deltoids and the triceps. Our upper back and shoulders, and our biceps muscles only rarely get the same demands so they’re weaker by comparison. A good strong back make patterns powerful and beautiful. Pull ups, rows and bicep curls are good strength exercises, and there are plenty of good chest and triceps stretches.

A final point about balance is the desirability of being ambidextrous in your training, both technique-wise and in terms of strength and flexibility. Taekwon-Do allows you to use both sides in sparring and most movements are practiced on both sides in patterns – unlike other martial arts and sports where the entire wear and tear is expected to be borne one-sidedly. And of course, “Excuse me Mr Bad Guy, could you stand over here please? I’m right handed”.

Brendan Doogan, 5th Dan

Dragon’s Spirit, Papatoetoe