Thursday, December 09, 2010 2:29 PM
Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar to you? A group of young athletes arrives for a practice or game, and after piling out of the minivan, run right on to the field or court without anything close to a warm-up. How about the well-meaning coach who has athletes go through a series of static stretches (holding muscles in the stretched position so they can relax and elongate), immediately prior to explosive activities like running, jumping and throwing. Last but not least, remember that most young athletes are going through growth spurts, while simultaneously subjecting their bodies to endless hours of repetitive motions with the vast majority hardly ever stretching!
Yes, the topic of flexibility and young athletes is a slippery slope, and one full of confusion and misinformation. It's no wonder why so many kids either don't know how to stretch properly, or fail to appreciate the importance that improved flexibility can have on their overall health and performance. In this first of a three-part installment on stretching, I want to address not only the types of stretches that young athletes should be doing, but perhaps more importantly, the most appropriate times for each.
The two major ways of improving flexibility that young athletes should focus on are static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching involves placing a muscle (or group of muscles) in a stretched position and holding for a period of time (usually at least 30 seconds). These stretches are likely the type most familiar to you. Because these stretches help your muscles relax and attempt to return to their resting length, static stretches are best done following strenuous physical activity. Spending a good 10-20 minutes on static stretching after workouts, practices and games will not only aid your recovery efforts, but if done on a regular basis, can even help correct chronic muscle shortening that might negatively impact things like posture. You can find a listing of static stretches for every major muscle group, complete with pictures and descriptions here.
One of the few times that static stretching is not advised is prior to exercise or sports participation. In addition to not guarding against injuries, the same relaxing effect that static stretching has on your muscles is actually counterproductive to generating the speed and power you need during sports participation (1, 2). So, how do you adequately prepare your body during the warm-up period without static stretching? Stay tuned for Part II to find out!
1. Gleim & McHugh (1997), 'Flexibility and its effects on sports injury and performance,' Sports Medicine, 24(5), pp. 289-299.
2. Knudson, D., K. Bennet, R. Corn, D. Leick, and C. Smith. 2000. Acute Effects of Stretching Are Not Evident in the Kinematics of the Vertical Jump. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport vol. 71, no. 1 (Supplement), p. A-30.