We are comfortably into spring now and I know you’ve learnt a lot already from your coaches (and hopefully from me too). Today I am going to tell you a little bit about stretching. I will explain what stretching is and why it is important; when to stretch and how long for and also the different kinds of stretches and the pros and cons of each.
During the cool-down of the first session I coached with the U14 girls (at the end of March) I asked them to stretch however they wanted, however they were used to. There were three reasons for this. Firstly, I didn’t want our ice breaker session to be a complete shock to the system or a huge change from routine. Secondly, I wanted to discover what the girls thought an ideal stretch routine was and what they knew about stretching already and lastly, I wanted to show them that I not only trust them to do the right thing, I expect it. I remember a couple of voices saying “Let’s do what Coach Izabella showed us”. For the most part the stretching was good; however knowing a few stretches is only half the battle. Technique is critically important and I would hope that if you are stretching wrong your coach would correct it.
What is Stretching?
Muscles that are warmed up before being put under a sudden stress are more likely to be able to handle the stress. Mild warm-up exercises before vigorous exertion is always recommended. Stretching before exercise may help to decrease injury to your muscles, ligaments and tendons. Although there is disagreement as to whether stretching before exercising is preferable to stretching after exercise, the overall benefits of flexibility are not disputed. Stretching can help keep the body limber by releasing muscle tension and tightness. A tight muscle is not able to function like it should. Stretching with poor technique can make a stretch less effective, and it can even cause injury, especially to vulnerable body parts like the lower back and knee.
Some benefits to proper stretching are:
• Improve flexibility (increases your range of motion)
• Assists in correct posture by lengthening tight muscles that pull areas of the body away from their intended position
• Potential to decrease injury by preparing muscles for work before activity
• Increases blood and nutrient supply to muscles, thereby possibly reducing muscle soreness
Types of Stretches
Probably the most popular and commonly used type of stretching; static stretching (aka developmental stretching) is great for increasing flexibility. As the name suggests, you are static whilst holding a stretch in order to lengthen the muscle. It is good to do this during your cool-down after practice or a game, hold each stretch for around 10-15 seconds. It’s important not to feel a lot of pain when stretching, this is a sign that you are damaging the tissue and causing injury. Static stretching should also be a part of your daily life, a good stretch routine will help you stay flexible and healthy… even Yoga is valid.
You’ll often see soccer players with cramp being helped by a teammate by lifting their leg towards their chest. Passive stretching is when somebody manipulates your body and stretches your muscles. It is a fairly common practice and something that I’ve incorporated into fitness sessions before but they are too similar to static stretches in the sense that you can easily get injured.
Ballistic stretches are without a doubt the worst for you, the bouncing motion forces a limb into an extended range of motion when the muscles haven’t relaxed enough to be able to achieve the desired task. Do not confuse ballistic stretches with plyometric training.
In my opinion, dynamic stretches are the only stretches you should be considering for a warm-up. There has been a large influx of research in the last decade into whether dynamic stretching is more beneficial than static stretching, and with varied results. The one agreed upon conclusion is that stretching is a necessity, and when done right it will boost performance and reduce risk of injury. Dynamic stretches are those movements you perform such as ‘opening the gate’ or ‘side lunges’. By performing movements you are likely to encounter during the course of exercise, you are preparing your body for those exact situations.
Just to make my recommendations clear, I’d like you to take a look at the table below:
|When to Stretch||Type of Stretch||Duration of Stretch|
|Cool-down||Static||10 – 15 seconds|
|Muscle tightness||Static or Passive||7 – 10 seconds|
I hope you found this article interesting, feel free to let me know what you thought of it or if you have any questions. I will also be taking requests for article topics this week, I’d like to know if there is anything I haven’t covered enough or you’d like my advice on. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org