Stretching with Southern Methodist Soccer, Michigan Wrestling and Alabama Softball

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By Lindsey Lelak

According to Jeff Mattis, assistant athletic trainer for men's soccer at Southern Methodist University, lower body flexibility is crucial in soccer. "It's extremely important," he says, "because you need a large range of motion to control the ball. Since you can't use your hands, your legs must be able to reach or go above waist-level. Flexibility also makes you a stronger kicker and aids your recovery from muscle fatigue."

SMU's team, which reached the Final Four of the 2005 NCAA College Cup, implemented active and dynamic stretching routines before every game. "We do a lot of groin stretching, because a lot of soccer movements—side-to-side shuffling, controlling a received pass, decelerating—involve the groin muscles," Mattis says. "We take those muscles through an active stretch and teach them to decelerate. These things help players avoid injury."

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By Lindsey Lelak

According to Jeff Mattis, assistant athletic trainer for men's soccer at Southern Methodist University, lower body flexibility is crucial in soccer. "It's extremely important," he says, "because you need a large range of motion to control the ball. Since you can't use your hands, your legs must be able to reach or go above waist-level. Flexibility also makes you a stronger kicker and aids your recovery from muscle fatigue."

SMU's team, which reached the Final Four of the 2005 NCAA College Cup, implemented active and dynamic stretching routines before every game. "We do a lot of groin stretching, because a lot of soccer movements—side-to-side shuffling, controlling a received pass, decelerating—involve the groin muscles," Mattis says. "We take those muscles through an active stretch and teach them to decelerate. These things help players avoid injury."

Tight calves are one cause of shin splints, another common soccer injury. Running a lot in soccer shoes, which provide very little foot support, can cause tight calves, according to Mattis. "So it's very important to keep your calves stretched out," he says.

Groin stretch

• Lie flat on back with legs flat on floor
• Have partner walk one leg out to 90-degree angle. Keep leg straight
• Hold for 10 to 15 seconds
• Perform 3 reps each leg

Coaching point: "Keep your torso in a straight line and make sure your opposite leg is stabilized so you don't just rotate your hip."
Variation: Once your leg is at a 90-degree angle, push against your partner's hand while he resists.

Calf stretch

• Stand on slantboard with toes pushed upward into dorsiflexed position, or stand on a box with heels pulled down
• Hold for 20 to 30 seconds
• Perform 3 reps

1. Warming up before stretching is necessary. "You must be warmed up to stretch," Mattis says. "We start off with a jog, go into some dynamic stretching and plyometrics, and then stretch. We make sure we're very warm and that blood is flowing to the muscles. That's the best way to heat up a muscle and increase its extensibility."

2. Ice is always nice after a tough workout and a thorough stretch. "It helps prevent soreness, cools off the muscles and decreases inflammation," says Cannell.

3. Listen to your body. Cannell says: "Ignoring pain—thinking it's going to go away on its own—is the worst thing you can possibly do. When something hurts, there's a reason, and you need to recover before you go out and do more damage." If you're always feeling pain, and it starts to limit your activity, Schlotfeldt's advice is to call your doc.

Wrestlers most commonly experience soreness in their shoulder, trapezius and hamstring muscles, according to Rich Schlotfeldt, assistant athletic trainer for the number-one-ranked University of Minnesota wrestling team. Schlotfeldt blames chest tightness for the shoulder pain. "Athletes often focus on strengthening the interior part of their chests and don't work their backs," he says. "That creates a rolled-forward shoulder appearance." In the long term, a wrestler may experience rotator cuff or bicep tendonitis and impingement.

A wrestler's stance on the mat can cause both trap and hamstring pain. "When he stands with his shoulders hunched over, chin jutted forward and cervical vertebrae stacked on top of each other, sore traps can result," Schlotfeldt says. "Standing bent over with your hamstrings in a short position, then unexpectedly sprawling back to avoid your opponent's shot, also stresses the hamstrings."

Shoulder stretch

• Face corner of room
• Bend arms in 90-degree angle and place palms and forearms on walls
• Drop chest toward corner
• Hold 15 to 20 seconds

Trapezius stretch

• Sit on chair or box
• Hold seat of chair/box with one hand while leaning head to opposite side
• Hold 15 to 20 seconds
• Repeat with other side

Hamstring stretch

• Lie flat on your back with legs straight
• Raise one leg and have partner push it backwards until you feel slight tension
• Push leg against partner's hand while he resists. Keep both legs straight throughout stretch
• Hold 10 seconds
• Perform 5 reps for each leg

In contrast to soccer players' lower body aches, softball players mostly experience upper body pains, according to Molly Cannell, graduate assistant athletic trainer for the University of Alabama softball team. Cannell's girls experience a lot of shoulder soreness from the repetitive throwing motion. "In the shoulder complex, all the muscles work together. So when one muscle is weak or tight, the others are stressed from compensating for it," she explains. "Every time you practice, every time you pitch, every time you throw from centerfield to home, your biomechanics, muscles, connective tissues and bones begin experiencing problems."

Cannell, whose team made its third World Series appearance in 2005, says softball players should stretch their shoulders before every practice. Otherwise, they run the risk of chronic injuries, including tendonitis (swelling or inflammation of the tendon) and impingement (a swollen rotator cuff that is trapped or pinched under the outer end of the shoulder blade).

Internal/external shoulder rotation

• Bend elbows at 90-degree angle and face palms forward
• Rotate hands internally (forward and down) as far as possible
• Rotate hands externally (up and back like both arms are throwing a baseball) as far as possible
• Hold each position for 15 seconds
• Perform 2 reps each

Shoulder flexion/extension

• Start with arms straight at your sides, then raise them toward ceiling for flexion
• Lower arms to sides; face palms backward and push behind you for extension
• Hold each position for 15 seconds
• Perform 2 reps each


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock