Many athletes enjoy their sport; however, they often forget to stretch. Stretching increases range of motion and flexibility by lengthening soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments. It promotes fluid movement during athletic performance, decreases soreness, and minimizes injury. Stretching or flexibility training should be based on the individual needs and physical demands of the athlete’s activities.
Dynamic stretching should be used as part of a warm up routine before any athletic event. An active warm up of swimming, jogging, or cycling for about 5-10 minutes at a low to moderate intensity should be followed by dynamic stretching.
After athletic performance, static stretching should be used as part of a cool down routine to help prevent injury. Using static stretching as a maintenance stretching program will also help reduce your risk of injury.
Dynamic stretching involves active tightening of muscles to move joints through their full range of motion. Functional and sport-specific movements help increase muscle temperature and decrease muscle stiffness.
This form of stretching improves speed, agility, and acceleration. Here are some examples of dynamic stretching:
Stand with your feet facing forward, as wide as your shoulders, and your arms by your side with a 90 degree bend in your elbows. Keep your feet in the same position and in a controlled manner, twist your torso from one side to the other. Be sure to move through your trunk and do not force the movement. This exercise helps keep your spine mobile, which is particularly beneficial for throwing and hitting athletes.
Stand with your arms on your waist; take a step forward and lunge, keeping your front knee in line with your hip and ankle and lowering your back knee toward the floor without touching. Do not allow your front knee to drive past your front toes while lunging. Push off the back leg and step forward with the opposite leg lunging in the same fashion. Engage your abdominal muscles throughout this exercise to avoid arching your back. This helps stretch the gluteus, hamstring, and hip flexor muscles and is beneficial for all athletes, particularly those playing in the field.
Stand on one leg and in a slow, controlled motion swing the other leg in front of you and behind you through the full range of motion. Make sure to engage your abdominal muscles to prevent your back from arching. This stretch helps prepare the hamstrings and hip flexors for running.
Static stretching requires you to move a muscle to the end of its range of motion and maintain it without pain for 20-45 seconds. Repeat this 2-3 times each. This is a very effective way to increase flexibility.
It must be noted that using static stretching post-event will help prevent injury; however, if static stretching is performed prior to an athletic competition, it may negatively impact performance. Static stretching may limit your body’s ability to react quickly. This may last up to two hours in activities such as vertical jumps, short sprints, balance, and reaction speeds.
Here are some examples of static stretching:
Posterior Capsule Stretch
Relax your shoulders, bring one arm across your body, and hold it with the other arm just above the elbow, pulling gently toward your body. This stretch is for the posterior shoulder and is particularly beneficial for all throwing athletes.
Place one leg on a low stool with your hips and feet facing forward. Lean forward from your hips, keeping your back flat and knee straight until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. This will help stretch your hamstrings.
Grab hold of one ankle with your hand from the same side. Tighten your stomach muscles to prevent your back from arching. Extend your thigh backwards, bend your knee, and bring your ankle upward toward your buttock. Make sure to keep your knee in line with your hip. You should feel this stretch in the front of your thigh. This stretch is beneficial for the quadriceps muscle.
Static and dynamic stretching can help improve your flexibility and mobility, which is important in all sports. You should combine these techniques during practice and recovery to promote optimal range of motion in sports performance. For more specific rehabilitation or performance activities, speak to a physical therapist for an individualized program based on your specific athletic needs.
The information provided is for general educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a recommendation of a specific plan or course of action. Exercise is not without risk, and this or any other exercise program may result in injury. As with any exercise program, if at any point during your workout you begin to have pain, feel faint, or experience significant physical discomfort of any kind, you should stop immediately and consult a physician. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.