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by Carmen Grange

importance of stretching in sportsStretching is often overlooked by athletes even as coaches and other health professionals continue to preach its importance in everyday life and in the role they play in sporting growth.  But you must ask yourself a few questions: what kind of stretch is right for you, when should you stretch, and are there some forms of stretching that are better than others?

 

Stretching : Is It Really That Important?

No matter what sport you participate in, you should always warm-up, and warming up can mean different things for different athletes.  I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I’ve always been taught that a static stretch was a must to avoid injury and to loosen up the muscles no matter what sport you are participating in; however, research tells us differently.  Of course, no matter whether you are playing football, lifting weights, or just going for a run, you should always warm-up.  Warming-up has been shown to increase core temperature and blood circulation in the muscles.  What does that mean for you?  Well, it means that your muscles will contract and relax more quickly, you will be able to produce more force, and there will be more oxygen delivery to your muscles which ultimately means that you will do more work.  

 

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Stretching : Correcting Grade School Memories

Warming-up may be accomplished in a few different ways: one of which is stretching, and there are two main types of stretches. Static and dynamic.  Static stretching is the type of stretching accomplished by not moving.  It is a slow and constant movement that emphasizes the relaxation and elongation of the muscle and is most beneficial with a hold of 30 seconds per stretch.  These are the stretches you probably learned as a kid in school, that were supposed to reduce your risk of injury and enhance your performance.  Sadly, much research does not support those ideas.  Contrarily, static stretching prior to activity has been shown to decrease force, strength, and power production, running speed, and reaction time.  However, static stretching may be beneficial to sports that require a larger range of motion (i.e. ballet dance).  Contrarily, dynamic stretching has been shown to increase performance.  Dynamic stretches are those, which elicit sports-specific movements.  Dynamic warm-ups can range from light jogging to sprint drills.  In all warm-ups, however, the sport should be taken into account.  Prior to engaging in the sport, actions performed in that activity should be done, but with much less intensity in order to warm-up the muscles by increasing core temperature, oxygen delivery, and blood circulation.  For example: (a) basketball = free throw shots, (b) track = light jogging, and (c) weight training = light weight lifting.  In all of these cases, the warm-up should gradually build to a greater intensity rather than simply take off with the best you’ve got without waking up your muscles.  

 

Stretching : The Wrap Up

While static stretching in the warm-up has been shown to decrease performance, that does not mean that it is totally non-credible.  Static stretching, along with dynamic stretching, has been shown to increase flexibility around the knees, hip, shoulders, ankle, and trunk joints.  The benefits of static stretching for increased range of movement and flexibility are the greatest immediately following the stretch.  Athletes should also stretch following their engagement in the sport, whether that be practices or competitions.  It facilitates a range of motion improvement as the muscles are already warmed up from doing work, their elasticity should be at its greatest point.  Cool-down stretches should be done within 10 minutes of the sports participation to increase the range of motion and to decrease muscle soreness.

 

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