I’ve had this post in my head for a long time now and it has been a part of my wushu classes for ages.
If you havent read Mark Morans bloggpost about the 5 Basic Wushu Techniques That Have the Greatest Impact on Your Wushu Skill Development start there.
In my opinion, ZhenTiTui is one of the most important wushu foundations, if not _the_ most important. In this post i’m going to go through the correct technique, some cues how to think when you perform the move and what muscles that are engaged when performing the move. I’m going to finish of with some complementary exercises to help you perform a perfect ZhengTiTui.
The name – ZhengTiTui (正踢腿)
Often the chinese name reveals a lot about the technique, and in my personal view, the English name: ”Forward stretch kick” is slightly misleading. There is no ”stretch” in the Chinese name. I don’t believe this to be a stretch kick. There is a lot of benefits from this technique, core strength, teaching your mind to activate the right muscles and totally relax the antagonists, to mention a few, but it’s not a stretch per se.
If this isn’t a stretch, why do we spend training time walking around kicking our foreheads? ZhengTiTui is doing two things for us, it’s mobility training and activates the right muscles for wushu practise.
One big factor to mobility is to be able to relax the antagonist of the active muscles for a specific technique. This is usually nothing you have to think of when you move, the body takes care of that for you with something called reciprocal inhibition.
When a muscle is activated there is a signal sent to the spinal cord to relax the antagonist
So we want to be mobile and powerful, so can we train this reciprocal inhibition? Yes we can. Research has found that PNF stretching rapidly increases mobility by increasing the reciprocal inhibition.
ZhengTiTui isn’t PNF stretching but you put strain on a muscle in an extreme position (The hamstring), the same mechanics that makes PNF effective is used and ZhengTiTui is rapidly increasing your mobility.
For me this is like a Zen moment, a traditional training tool has gone full circle. From ancient time through modern science right back into the training hall.
The right muscles? That should be, what I think, the most important muscle in the body: iliopsoas, the great hip flexor.
The technique itself seems pretty straight forward. Straight body, arms straight out at your side. Take a step and kick your straight leg as high as possible. Preferable toes touching forehead.
1) Stand with feet together. Push the ball of your foot into the ground (the whole ball not just the big toe part, but all away to your pinky), spreading your toes.
2) Straighten and activate your legs by contracting the front of you thigh and lifting the knee cap slightly.
3) Connect lover and upper body by pulling in the lower abdomen slightly. This should flatten the arc in the lower back a bit and may rotate the pelvis slightly forward.
4) Pull the lower ribs in and flatten the stomach.
5) Activate the rhomboids by pulling your scapula together.
6) Rotate your shoulder backwards. (Note your lower ribs when doing this so they don’t stick out again…)
7) Elongate your neck and pull in your chin. (This may be done by lifting the BaiHui)
8) Your arms are stretched out to your side (Shoulder rotated backwards) and the bend of your arm is pointing upwards.
9) Your fingers are together in a wushu palm and pointing upwards. The base of the thumb is slightly rotated downwards.
10) Take a step forward, keeping your body in a straight position.
11) Kick with the other foot as hard as you can. The leg does a swinging motion around your hip but this is accomplished by lifting your thigh not swinging your foot. The foot of the kicking leg should be flexed through the whole kick.
If you imagine to swing with your leg, its easy to engage wrong muscles and you will get a swing around your lower abdomen instead of the hip joint.
12) While kicking push the heel of the standing leg into the ground and contract the thigh to keep the leg as straight as possible.
13) When the kick passes the hip, pull the kicking leg buttocks slightly back.
14) Push the head upwards and keep the chin in and try to, without leaning forward, touch the forehead to the toes.
By standing up straight you are using a lot of muscles, I’m not going to cover them here but briefly go through the muscles i think is most important and interesting to the technique.
1) Pushing the ball of your foot into the ground activates your calves (gastrocnemius) and makes your foot arch. This in turn will get your foot touch the ground in a better way. By spreading your toes you also engage the soles, stabilizing the ankle. (The foot/ground connection is an entire different blog post)
2) Activating the quadriceps straighten the leg
3) This is probably the most hard part but also the most important. Here your are telling your body to activate the internal hip flexors, iliopsoas. While doing the kick, the iliopsoas is the muscle that are suppose to do a big part.
4) Activating the External Obliques to stabilise the abdomen and will help pull the rib cage down into a neutral position
5) Activate the rhomboids to fixate the scapula though help stabilise the shoulders
6) Rotating the shoulders is done by the infraspinatus and teres minor but also the Latissimus dorsi
7) I’m leaving this out, there is a lot going on when you elongate your neck
8) Same as 6, but also triceps
9) Pronator teres
10) Stepping involves a lot of muscles
11) Iliopsoas is the major hip flexor… use it
12) Quadriceps among others
13) Erector spinae but also the quadratus lumborum. The quadratus lumborum is a muscle attached very close to where the iliopsoas is attached to the spine and by stabilising the spine, you help the iliopsoas to flex the hip.
So you are supposed stand straight, so what about the gluteus maximus? It’s a big hip erector, why not use it? The glutes actually rotates the leg externally. When you kick and stand on one leg, the standing foot is the fixed point, the glutes rotate the hip on the kicking leg forward. This is opposite to what you want if you want to use the iliopsoas instead of the abdominal muscles.
Don’t kick above your head. I know, it’s really hard to get your toes to touch your forehead.. and in the meanwhile, why not just let your leg go and kick above your head? As i wrote in the beginning of this post… this is not mainly a stretch but a strength, motor skill and nerve development exercise. Use it as that and do stretching some other time.
The muscles you want to elongate is the antagonists to the iliopsoas: butocks (Gluteus Maximus, Medius och Minimus), hamstring (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus).