Forward Stretch / Zheng Ya Tui
Place one foot on a wall or ledge or somewhere higher up and rest one heel against it. The standing foot should point forwards towards the surface, while the stretching foot should be flexed and pointing back towards the head. Though your weight is on the standing leg, you should be leaning slightly towards the stretching leg. Both legs must be straight.
To stretch, lean back and forth slowly with your back straight towards the stretching leg. This simulates a front kick. For beginners, this must be done very gently. The first milestone is to raise your foot above your head. As you progress, try touching your forehead to your leg, preferably the shin. You should feel the stretching mainly in your hamstrings, the tibialis posterior, and the gastrocnemius (the muscles behind your shins).
As you advance, take note that your hip must not be turned outward and that your whole body should face the wall. To understand this posture, aim to touch your toe to your forehead, and then your nose, and finally your chin. At this stage, if your leg is extended far over your head, then your hip is not facing completely forward. Adjust your leg and this will marginally minimise the height of your stretching leg.
Side Stretch / Ce Ya Tui
Place one foot on the wall or somewhere higher up at your side and rest one heel against the wall. The standing foot should point in the direction you are facing while the stretching foot should again be flexed upwards and pointing back towards your head. Though your weight is on the standing leg, you should be leaning slightly towards the stretching leg. Both legs must be straight.
Like the Forward Stretch, lean back and forth slowly with your back straight towards the stretching leg, but make sure your shoulders remain perpendicular to facing wall. Keep your leg behind your shoulders and arms as you do this. Again aim to raise your foot above your head as a starting point. This stretch mainly focuses on the inner thighs, but also again affects the tibialis and the gastrocnemius.
For advanced martial artists, place your inside arm on your stretching foot’s heel or sole and pull the toes upward toward your head. At the same time, reach with your opposite arm over your head to touch or hold your stretching foot.
Back Stretch / Hou Ya Tui
With your back to the wall and a sturdy chair in front of you, lean forward on the chair and extend one leg backward so that it rests comfortably on the wall or ledge. The standing foot should point in the direction you are facing while the stretching foot is pointed backward such that the top of the leg is in contact with the wall. While the standing leg is straight, the stretching leg can bend slightly depending on comfort.
To stretch, try raising your body up and down using your arms without moving your legs. For more advanced martial artists, try leaning backwards toward the wall. It is important to remember to keep the hips down, i.e. the hips should be parallel to the ground. To understand this posture, try looking over your left shoulder while stretching the right leg and vice-versa. You should feel the stretching in several places including your lower back, the quadriceps on the raised leg, and the hamstrings on the standing leg.
How Far Should I Go?
Ideally, each stretch on each leg should be done for approximately 3-5 minutes, though they should all be done for at least 1 minute each. Essentially, you should only feel that you are stretching and have no pain. For beginners, it is normal to feel sore after stretching, as this denotes your body is stiff. Advanced trainees may not feel this soreness but should not push themselves to over-stretch. Like most things, flexibility follows the rule of diminishing returns, that highly flexible martial artists will take longer and more training to see improvement. As you become more comfortable stretching at a certain height, you should definitely try to go to the next level. Remember to warm up thoroughly before stretching.