Stretching is a topic that comes up both in my office and at home with my kids. One of my children, a gymnast, is incredibly flexible, and stretching is a very regular part of her workout routine. Another one of my children, a soccer player, struggles with tight muscles and related soreness. Not much stretching happens before or after her practice unless something is already sore.
Prevent injuries and avoid soreness
Every sport has a different approach and places different levels of importance on stretching. In my office, when an athlete comes in for an injury or pain related to sports, I find we often discuss flexibility and stretching as it is often related to what is going on with them. The link between flexibility and injuries isn’t always a direct one, but we know that tight muscles can often lead to pain and likely contribute to some acute injuries as well.
These discussions in the office often lead to a great question, what is the best way for an athlete to stretch? Stretching should be a part of every practice or game in varying degrees. Obviously, certain sports like dance and gymnastics will require more extensive and time-consuming stretches, but all athletes should have some sort of routine. Especially in the teenage years, while athletes are growing, frequent stretching and developing a stretching routine can help keep them flexible.
Below is a general outline for when to do certain stretches:
- Start with something light to get muscles a little bit warm—like light jogging around the field or court.
- Develop a routine of dynamic stretching—I like to think of dynamic stretching as “moving” stretches. Examples of dynamic stretches are walking lunges, walking and bringing the knees to the chest, and side shuffling. This will loosen up the joints and the muscles and get them ready for the sports activity. This should take about 5-10 minutes.
- Save static stretches for after a sport when the muscles are warm—Static stretches are stretches you hold. These are what we think of as more “traditional” stretching. These are more beneficial when your muscles are already warm. Keys to effective static stretching are holding each stretch for 30-60 seconds. Don’t bounce when you are holding the stretch! Make sure to do each side a few times.
If they have a history of a specific injury, they may want to spend extra time on that muscle group. Or if their sport puts more specific demands on certain muscles (i.e., hockey goalies and groin muscles), this can also be a focus.
Your young athlete may have to arrive a bit early and leave a bit later from a practice or a game, but this will be time well spent in terms of preventing injuries and possibly improving muscle soreness as well.