Everyone wants to be bigger, stronger and faster—and more flexible. OK, being flexible may not be at the top of most people's list. Stretching is usually an afterthought, infrequently completed after a game or a workout. The reality is, to successfully perform at a high level we need to have full range of motion in our joints, which can be accomplished by stretching. The importance of flexibility training cannot be overlooked if you're serious about athletic performance.
Benefits of stretching
- Improves or maintains range of motion
- Reduces stiffness in your joints
- Possible reduction in muscle soreness after intense training
- Reduced risk of injury
- Improved mobility
- Improved performance
- Improved awesomeness (not guaranteed)
A stretching routine is a fundamental element of any training program, and it should be programmed just as is strength or cardiovascular training. Improvements in range of motion can enhance the ability to perform various movement skills, such as swinging a golf club or throwing a ball. The goal of an athlete's stretching routine should be to achieve the right level of flexibility combined with the required strength to allow him or her to better control athletic movements.
Sports are generally played through a limited range of motion. Repeating these movements over and over can lead to muscle tightness and injuries. Stretching can combat this problem. Common problems among athletes such as lower-back and knee pain are often the result of overuse and gradual tissue changes in the body. In simple terms, stretching can alleviate the inevitable tightness caused by repetitive use and keep the body's structure in line.
Regardless of your sport, developing an appropriate level of flexibility is an important goal of any training program. Although athletes need not be as flexible as gymnasts for most sports, we must strive for an optimum level to avoid inefficient movement. It is important to note that just as lack of flexibility can lead to injury, so can hyperflexibility. Being too flexible means there is not enough support around the joint, leaving you just as prone to injury as the inflexible version of yourself. Finding the required level of flexibility for your sport is important.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
Stretching can be broken down into two overall categories, static and dynamic.
Static stretching involves extending and holding your muscle in a challenging but comfortable position for a set period of time. Bending down and attempting to touch your to toes is an example of a static stretch.
Dynamic stretching involves movements that put the joint through a full range of motion. Dynamic stretching can warm up the joints and reduce muscle tension. Dynamic stretching is considered more "functional," since it possibly has more carryover to athletic movement. Arm circles is an example of a dynamic stretch.
Both static and dynamic stretching can play an important role in your strength and conditioning plan.
Like cardiovascular or strength training, intensity, duration and frequency must be considered for your stretching program.
- Start each session with a general warm-up to raise muscle temperature
- Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds
- Hold the stretch at the point of mild discomfort not pain
- Aim to complete your stretching routine 2-3 times per week
Stretching can be completed:
- Following a practice or game when your muscles are already warm to assist in cooling down, and to jump start the recovery process. As mentioned early, some evidence suggests that stretching after a workout can help reduce muscle soreness.
- As a stand-alone session. This may be required if you are making stretching a priority or if flexibility is lacking.
5-Minute Static Stretching routine:
The great thing about stretching is that it doesn't have to take long, and it can be done anywhere. The following routine focuses on common areas that tend to become issues for athletes. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and then move on to the next one. You can spare 5 minutes, right?
Standing Hamstring Stretch (hamstrings)
- Place your left leg on top of a plyo box or chair.
- Keep the leg straight, toes pointed straight up.
- Bend at the hips and reach for your left foot.
- Bend at the waist and keep your back straight throughout the stretch.
- Repeat on the other side.
Lunge with Side Stretch (hip flexors and obliques)
- Assume a lunge position with your forward knee aligned over your foot and your back leg extended behind you
- Bring your opposite arm over your head and lean to the side.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Lunge with Quad Stretch (hip flexors, quadriceps)
- Assume a lunge position with your forward knee aligned over your foot and your back leg extended behind you.
- Drop your back knee to the ground.
- Reach your arm back and grab your foot or ankle and pull forward to stretch.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Pigeon Pose (hips, glutes, lower back)
- Starting on the ground, cross one knee in front of you while keeping the opposite leg straight behind you.
- Place both hands on the ground in front of you and slowly lower your upper body as much as possible.
- Switch leg positions and repeat.
Straight Arms Behind the Back (chest, shoulders)
- Stand or sit with your back straight and shoulders pulled back.
- Reach behind you and clasp both hands together.
- Bring your hands up toward your head as far as possible.
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