All Athletes Can Benefit from Performance Flexibility
During the creation of this article, I observed a local high school baseball team, the pitchers in particular. My findings were right on target; these boys only spend 15 minutes during a warm up session before starting to throw the ball around. This is only one of thousands of programs around the country that take a lackadaisical approach to stretching. Coaches must take the necessary time to coach their players into better flexibility programs. The old saying of “go and get loose” must stop! Flexibility must be addressed as if it were another workout within the training session. A good flexibility program will help prevent injuries and increase performance. Many coaches put their players through a quick process because most of them must deal with time restrictions while utilizing facilities.
The administration has to take control of this issue in order to prevent injuries. A coach must dedicate the necessary time to utilize a proper flexibility program. Many coaches disregard stretching for kids because their muscles are more elastic. However, doctors are documenting and treating a greater amount of injuries in children’s sports today.
There are seven types of stretching techniques utilized within a flexibility program:
- Ballistic Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching
- Active Stretching
- Passive (Relaxed) Stretching
- Static Stretching
- Isometric Stretching
- PNF Stretching
Each of these stretches serve a specific purpose, but we are going to concentrate on “static stretching” because it is the stretching technique utilized most. There are several key elements to stretching that need to be addressed when introducing a flexibility program.
Key Elements to Stretching:
- To improve your athlete’s flexibility, focus on major the major muscle groups in the calf, thigh, hip, lower back, neck, and shoulder.
- Warm up first. Stretching muscles when they’re cold increases the risk of pulled muscles. Low intensity jog for approximate 3 to 4 minutes.
- Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. It takes time to lengthen tissues safely. Hold your stretches for at least 30 seconds - up to 60 seconds for a really tight muscle or problem area. That can seem like a long time, so wear a watch or keep an eye on the clock to make sure you are holding your stretches long enough.
- Don’t bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears (micro tears) in the muscle, which leave scar tissue as the muscle heals. The scar tissue tightens the muscle even further, making you less flexible and more prone to pain.
- Focus on a pain-free range of motion stretch. If you feel pain as you stretch, you’ve gone too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
- Relax and breathe freely. Don’t hold your breath while you’re stretching.
- Stretch both sides. Make sure your joint range of motion is as equal as possible on either side of the body.
- Stretch before and after activity. Light stretching after your warm-up followed by a more thorough stretching regimen after your activity is your best bet.
- In addition to stretching major muscle groups, stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use during games. This stretching program involves the main muscles and muscle groups. Specific pitcher stretches will isolate the shoulder region and increase ROM at the rotator cuff area. These stretches can be performed in approximately 20 minutes.
Benefits of Stretching
- It creates increased flexibility and better range of motion of your joints. Flexible muscles can improve your daily performance and will allow you to perform at high levels, improve mechanics, etc.
- It improves circulation. Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. Blood flowing to your muscles brings nourishment and gets rid of waste byproducts in the muscle tissue. Improved circulation can help shorten your recovery time if you’ve had any muscle injuries.
- It enhances your posture. Frequent stretching can help keep your muscles from getting tight, allowing you to maintain proper posture and better body stability and function. Good posture can also minimize discomfort and keep aches and pains at a minimum.
- It provides stress relief. Stretching relaxes tight, tense muscles.
- It enhances coordination. Maintaining the full range of motion through your joints keeps you in better balance. Coordination and balance will help keep you mobile and less prone to injury from falls, especially as you get older.
McFarland, Joe. Coaching Pitchers (2000) 2nd edition.
Anderson, Bob and Anderson J. Stretching (1980), 2nd edition.
Foran, Bill. High Performance Sports Conditioning (2001).
Stretching: Focus on Flexibility From Mayo Clinic (2007). http://cnn.com