Stretching is an integral part of sports practices and competitions, and as the fall sports season continues and winter sports begin, it is essential for coaches and athletes to develop and practice a good stretching program. Most everyone has taken part in the two minutes of “stretching” that most athletes do prior to practice or competition. This type of “stretching” usually does little or nothing to prepare an athlete for participation in a sport. The type of “stretching” that most athletes do is not long enough and does not provide the essential components of stretching needed to ensure adequate results. According to researchers, a good stretching program provides an athlete’s body with:
Reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles and tendons
Increased range of motion in the joints
Enhanced development of body awareness
Increased production of chemicals that lubricate connective tissues
Increased mental and physical relaxation
Reduced muscular soreness
Enhanced performance in sports
In order to achieve these proven results, athletes and coaches must develop and practice a good stretching program specifically designed for the sport and the individual. Stretching should be something that is done on every day that an athlete has practice or competition. It should be considered an essential part of the athlete’s development and not something that is done if time permits. There are several key factors that should be in every good stretching program:
Warm up the body and large muscle groups with a light aerobic activity. This should only involve five to 10 minutes of light activity, such as jogging or walking. Fun activities also can work, such as a game of tag. The muscles should be warm enough for the skin to feel moist prior to stretching.
Do stretches for your specific sport and needs and hold stretches for at least 20 to 30 seconds. Tension is OK when stretching, but do not stretch to the point of pain. Use static stretches that are gentle and slow and do not bounce when stretching, but reach a stretching point and hold the pose. Make sure to breath and relax while stretching. Never make stretching competitive, but instead make it an individual activity specific for your needs. Stretch both sides of the body and do each stretch three to five times.
Cool down after you exercise or play a sport. Stretching after exercise can provide several benefits to an athlete and should follow the guidelines mentioned above.
Learning and using good stretching techniques is a vital part of any sporting activity and should be considered to be as important as learning the skills and rules of the game. Stretching should not be considered as “play time” or something to fill time before practice or competition begins. Stretching is an essential part of any physical activity and is important in order to avoid injuries while playing sports.
Beth Emeterio is a certified athletic trainer with Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation. Total Rehabilitation offers certified athletic trainers assigned to area middle and high schools, free injury assessments for student athletes, goal-oriented rehabilitation programs, home and away athletic event coverage, injury-prevention conditioning programs, and personalized rehabilitation plans including physical and aquatic therapies