The Basics of Stretching
The rules around stretching for sport have changed so many times in the medical world, that no wonder sportspeople and coaches sometimes get a little confused about the right way to stretch.
Consider stretching… Why do we stretch? Who should stretch? What sort of stretching? When do we stretch? Is stretching good or bad for you?
We stretch for a few reasons:
- To reduce tightness in muscles from spasm or contraction
- Because that tightness can decrease our joint range of movement and lead to muscle imbalances and joint injuries
- Because passive tightness can occur just from bad posture, genetics, and very likely in our kids from computer game-itis.
Our soccer kids are growing, we can tell by how much we spend on their sports gear and new clothes. With kids, our long bones grow first and then our muscles try to catch up. Add some solid training to that mix, and don’t forget to add up all the sports and playtime, and those muscles are becoming tighter and shorter while the bones are growing longer.
Did you know that the biggest cause of ankle sprains is tight calf muscles? And check the length of your kids’ hamstrings during a grow spurt, that soccer kick will not be as high at that time, forcing them to bend from the hip or back, and ouch… there’s a back injury that might have been prevented.
There are different types of stretching:
- Ballistic takes the muscle beyond the normal joint range of movement and has been shown cause a few more injuries unless quite specific
- Static can be helpful in specific cases but only once well warmed up
- Dynamic can be really helpful in increasing kick height and strength, and for preventing injuries
How often? Well, there’s not much evidence that just stretching at sport helps much at all. But coaches, you are great teachers of stretching, just make sure that you give the kids daily homework.
Chronic stretching is supported by evidence to increase flexibility. Dynamic stretching is also beneficial as part of a warm up, whereas static stretching is better at the end of a workout, and in fact has been shown to be detrimental, making strength poorer immediately after.
Who would think stretching was so complex? The main thing is to look at the individual child… a check up at the Physio is a good idea if you notice reduced flexibility, post-training soreness.
In my experience kids rarely complain of pain, but a loss of interest in the game sometimes suggests that it’s getting hard, and it’s wonderful to see renewed enthusiasm with just the right exercise!