Stretching Tips for Coaches and Young Athletes
A collegue of mine recently told me about a coach who was asking him questions about the best ways to have his team stretch. My collegue thought this would be a good topic for my blog, and I could not agree more! Youth and high school coaches are individuals that have the most contact and in some cases the most influence over young athletes. They need to have this information to aid them in keeping athletes healthy and in preventing injuries.
I have on many occasions been surprised to find out from young athletes that I've worked with that their coaches don't have them stretch or warm-up adequately as a part of the normal practice or game routine. Let's answer some of the most common questions regarding stretching.
When is the best time to stretch? Always warm-up before stretching! Do 5-10 minutes of light aerobic exercise to get the muscles warmed up and get a light sweat started first. Muscles are elastic tissue that will be more responsive to stretching after being warmed up. You are more likely to cause injury stretching a cold muscle. After the warm-up, stretch before and after your exercise or activity, whether it's running, lifting weights, practicing or playing a game. In particular, dynamic stretching can be useful before activity (arm circles, walking lunges, deep squats) not only because it will reduce muscle tightness but also because this excites the muscle a bit, getting it ready for more vigorous activity. Lastly, regular daily stretching has been found to be more beneficial than occasional stretching.
How long should I hold my stretches? After 10 seconds of stretching, the nervous system will sense the change in muscle tension and begin to relax. Only then can the true stretch begin. I recommend to my patients that they hold their stretches for a minimum of 30 seconds but up to one minute. This stretch should be mild in intensity such that 30 seconds is easily tolerated. If the 30 seconds is agonizing and very painful, your stretch is overly aggressive and too intense.
Why should I stretch? First, stretching does help to prevent injury and keeps the muscle from becoming chronically tight. A muscle can become chronically tight if it is regularly asked to perform the same action repeatedly without being stretched. If you play a certain sport often, it is likely that you have muscles prone to becoming tight from that repeated action. Secondly, stretching improves your body's potential for performance and function. An athlete that is flexible will likely have better range on the field or court than one that is not.
Those are some basics. Let me know if you have any specific follow-up questions and I'll get them answered.
Posted 3:13 PM