It’s important to keep your eyes on a partner or opponent as you duck under a strike (see RTN 2 for more on ducking). If you bend too far forward at the waist and round the back, eye contact is lost, peripheral vision is diminished and the head is at greater exposure to being kneed from below or struck from above.  A rounded back also inhibits the gluteal muscles, which are vital for driving forwards or stabilizing against pressure from the front.  Keeping the eyes up means that the back will be closer to 45 degrees, and slightly extended as opposed to rounded.

If you or a student has a hard time keeping the eyes on the other person while ducking, this is a sign of weakness/imbalance in the muscles of the neck and upper and lower back. If you notice that someone starts to bend at the waist and round the back after a few reps of a ducking exercise, have him slow down the pace and decrease reps so that he can maintain eye contact and keep the back more upright, and begin him on a program to increase the strength of the neck and back. Asking training partners to tap the back of the head when it is exposed can provide a good physical cue that the eyes are dropping. Several exercises can help to improve strength and performance in these areas:

Neck

  • Isometric neck strengthening and stabilization exercises. Standing or sitting with good posture, press your palm into your head with moderate pressure and keep the position of your head from changing. Do this against the forehead, temples, rear of the skull, under the chin and at angles.  Hold for 20-30 seconds, 1-2 sets each direction. Incorporate 3-5 days per week. Use a mirror to ensure that you are not excessively protruding or retracting the chin throughout.

Upper and Lower Back

  • Floor Cobras. Start with 3 sets of 3 repetitions 3-5 days per week.
  • Ball Cobras. As the Floor Cobras can be done with stability and control, begin incorporating 3 sets of 3 repetitions 3 days per week.
  • Back Extensions. Depending on how easy these are, incorporate 3 sets of 5-15, 3 days per week. Don’t swing- stop for a second at the top and at the bottom.
  • Pull ups. Grip an overhead bar at shoulder width or slightly wider. Contract glutes and abs, squeeze the shoulder blades together, and pull your chin to the bar. Avoid  jack knifing or bouncing to achieve the pull. If these are difficult or impossible for you, try squeezing the shoulder blades together so that your feet are lifted from the floor and hold for 20-30 seconds, or as long as you can maintain good form. As this improves, use a bench or jump up to get to chin height and hang in the top position for as long as good form can be maintained- shoot for 20 seconds. Lower yourself with as much control as possible, repeat. Start with low reps per set, increase as this improves, begin adding in full pull ups once you are capable. Some gyms have assisted pull up machines which can be helpful as well. Incorporate 3 days per week.
  • And as always, stretch the hip flexors before conditioning and class time. If these muscles are tight and dominant, they will encourage excessive forward lean at the waist.

*As with everything else described on this blog, these suggestions assume that you are in good shape and do not have any back problems that would make these exercises unsafe. If you’re not sure, consult your doctor and enlist the services of a  qualified fitness professional.

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