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The importance of flexibility as a factor in preventing athletic injuries, and improving performance cannot be overemphasized. It is a fact that the flexibility of the athlete plays a vital factor in the reduction of leg injuries, the increase of the player’s own body control and the improvement of performance due to the increase of mobility and coordination. Such injuries as a pulled hamstring, a pulled groin, or a sprained ankle are much less likely to occur when the athlete has adequate flexibility. In fact, many professional teams now employ a full time flexibility coach to help assure full performance and to reduce flexibility related injuries.
There is a vast difference between a muscle being "stretched" and a "limber" muscle. Once a muscle has been truly "stretched" it will tend to remain so over a great period of time. It is like folding a piece of paper, once the fold has been made the paper will always have a crease in it. So once a muscle has been stretched it will always have the tendency to remain so. A muscle that has only been limbered up is one that will quickly snap back to its shorten state, and thereby increase the chances of a flexibility related injury.
The proper method for performing a stretching program is to take your time and allow the muscles to gradually lengthen as
you bend, not bounce or jerk in your movements. It is virtually impossible to loosen up and truly stretch a muscle in 10 seconds (a condition you often see athletes trying to perform as the coach calls them off the bench into the game).
If the athlete goes into the game cold, or not fully limber or stretched, then he is going to have to use a few minutes of the actual game time to get loose enough for his top performance. This could mean giving up a first down or missing a block, a tackle, blowing a shot, etc. So the athlete should strive to stay stretched on the side lines by doing a few simple stretches while he is sitting on the bench, standing on the sidelines or even waiting between plays.
To get the fullest stretch, the muscle must be warm. Therefore, if the athlete is stretching in the winter, he should wear long pants or a sweat suit while stretching. If it is warm in the summer, shorts are appropriate. Care should be taken to make sure that the muscles do not become cold and stiff during the game or practice session. So the athlete should always be trying to stay loose.
In all of these stretches where you are trying to make a maximum effort or bend, try to hold the point of full extension between 5 and 15 seconds.
Rotary Arm Swing:
Exercises: always start with the upper body and proceed down.
1. Rotary Arm Swing: Make large circles with the arms so that they completely surround the head and cause a 360 degree rotation of the shoulder joint. This should be performed forward and backward-circling.
Make the largest circles you can in each direction. Do at least 8 circles forward and backwards. This stretches the deltoids (the top of the shoulders), the pectoralis major (the chest), the trapezius (the shoulders), and the latissimus dorsi (the lats).
Arm Thrusts- up and back:
2. Arm Crosses: Vigorously cross the arms in front of the body around shoulder height, the crossing should be both forward and backwards. Be sure to throw the arms across the chest as vigorously as possible to assure the maximum stretch.
Perform at least 8 crosses. This stretches the pectoralis major (chest muscles) and the triceps (back of the arms).
3. Arm Thrusts - up and back: Throw the arms up and back over the tops of the shoulders as vigorously as possible.
Perform 8 thrusts up and back. This stretches the external obliques (sides of the stomach and the pectoralis major (chest).
Arm Thrust- across:
4. Arm Thrust - across: Throw the arms across the body as if one was elbowing an individual directly behind and punching someone in front. This should be done with enough force so that the breath is exchanged on each turn. An excellent exercise for
limbering the back and spine, as well as the shoulders and neck.
Do at least 8 thrusts to each side. This exercise keeps the spine limber and stretches the abdominal muscles.
Neck Rotation -4 way:
5. Neck Rotation - 4 way. Rotate the neck in large smooth circles clockwise, counter-clockwise, forward then backwards. This is to be followed immediately by shoulder shrugging forward and backwards.
Do this at least 8 times in each direction. This exercise keeps the top of the spine limber, relaxes the nerves and keeps the neck flexible.
Preparation for Lower Body Stretching:
6. Preparation for Lower Body Stretching: Lean the upper torso over gently and let the leg muscles become used to the weight of the body for around 30 seconds. In all of these stretching exercises smoothness should be emphasized and as much as possible bouncing or jerking to achieve a position should be avoided.
Note: as you get older or if it is very cold, the importance of this preliminary stretch becomes obvious. You must let the large leg muscles get a little loosened before you try to stretch them. (Note; you can do this exercise sitting down in the V-stretch form.) I suggest that you do this around 30 seconds in season; and if you have not stretched for a while, do it 2-5 minutes preferrably on the floor. Just relax and let the body weight gradually stretch the muscles.
Stiff Legged Swings:
7. Stiff Legged Swings: Alternating legs after around 10 swings and as powerfully as possible, swing the stiff leg straight up and into the chest. As much effort as possible should be used to keep the other leg’s foot firmly on the ground.
This stretches the hamstring and groin muscles of the leg.
Stiff Legged Circles:
8. Stiff Legged Circles: Swing the stiff leg up to the chest as before, but this time make a large circle towards the outside at the top of the arch.
This provides a greater stretch for the inner leg muscles. Perform 10 times with each leg.
Bent Torso Pulls:
9. Bent Torso Pulls: Lean over as far as possible and try to pull the upper body down to the leg until the chest touches the leg. The feet should be about 3 feet wide and one should alternate legs. Turn the waist into the direction of the leg to which you are stretching and try to touch the chest on the
thigh. You can pull your body down with your arms. by grabbing the leg.
Do 8 times to each leg, holding for 5-15 seconds on the fullest extension. This stretches the calves, the hamstrings, and the groin muscles of the legs. It also supplies back and spine flexibility.
Accentuated Elbow Stretch:
10. Accentuated Elbow Stretch: with the legs very wide try to touch the elbows to the ground. The legs should be about 4 feet wide or the same distance that was used on the bent torso pulls. Try not to bounce but
stretch yourself gradually down until you reach the floor. Hold the position for 5-15 seconds.
This gives the fullest stretch for the back, the thighs, and the calves.
11. Groin Stretch: Squat down as far as possible until one feels the tension in the groin area. Now gently rock from side to side, then drop to the floor with the arms held straight out. This not only stretches the groin but strengthens it as well.
Squat as far down as possible, push out on
the knees, and down with the hips.
This exercise can greatly strengthen the groin when the hands are out front during the stretch. Do about 8 times to each side, trying to get behind to touch the floor.
1. V-Stretch. Spread the legs as far apart as possible then turn the upper torso into the direction of the leg to which you will stretch. Try to pull the chest down to the
leg by using the arms to pull the body down. Hold the stretch for 5-15 seconds.
Do 8 stretches to each leg.
2. W-Stretch: Keep the legs spread as wide as possible and throw the arms out and try to touch the toes. At the same time try to touch the floor with your head.
This is a very difficult stretch and requires a lot of back flexibility, groin and hamstring flexibility, and so serves as a
good test to see if the student is truly stretched.
Do not bounce down to the ground. Let the body weight slowly stretch you down to the ground. Hold this position for 5-15 seconds. Do this stretch 8 times.
Straight Legged Stretch:
Straight Legged Stretch: Place the feet and legs together. With the toes pointed, grasp the calves and try to gradually pull the chest down onto the legs until the body rests on top of the legs. (Many athletes cheat on this exercise and only bend the back and touch the face to the legs. This does not provide a full stretch.) Hold yourself down for 5-25 seconds, even though you may feel a great deal of discomfort. (This simply means the stretch is working.)
Do this 8 times.
Seated Groin Stretch:Seated Groin Stretch: 2 parts.
1. Put the soles of the feet together and gently rock the knees trying to get them to touch the ground on the sides. You can push down with the elbows on the tops of the thighs to help the stretch.
2. Try to bend over and touch the head to the toes. Do not bounce, but rather pull the body down to the toes. Hold for 5-15 seconds.
Do these exercises 8 times.
Back Stretching: Roll up on the shoulders supporting the body with the arms on the ground. Now relax and try to touch the knees to the ground by the sides of the head.
Hold this position for 5-15 seconds. You only have to do this once, and it is very good for keeping the spine limber.
Two Men Stretches:
Standing to the Front: One partner grasps the hand of the man stretching and holds onto the leg to be stretched. Now he tries to lift the leg as far up as possible, until the man stretching asks him to stop.
Do this very gradually and easily, 8 times with each leg.
Stand to the Side: This time the partner stands to the side and using a supporting hand lock for balance he lifts the leg as far up to the side as possible.
Do this slowly and easily, 8 times with each leg.
Sitting: to the Front. The partner sits in between the legs of the man to be stretched and using his own legs for leverage, pushes the legs of the stretcher as wide apart as possible. Then interlocking the grips, he leans backwards and stretches the partner down to the ground as far as possible. Important: do this slowly and only stretch the partner as far as he can go without causing too much discomfort. You should do this 8 times and on the 8th stretch hold the partner down for 5-15 seconds.
This is a very good stretching method for athletes who have trouble stretching themselves, or seem to be reluctant to do full stretching when exercising.
Straight Legged Double:
Straight Legged Double: Assume the straight legged stretching stance. Now the other partner stands directly behind and pushes him down till his body touches his legs.
The partner should push slowly and only as far as the stretcher can tolerate without too much discomfort.
Do this stretch 8 times and on the last stretch hold the partner down for 5-15 seconds.
Groin Stretch: Assume the groin stretching position. The partner kneels in front and pushes down on the knees trying to get them to touch the ground.
Ankle Rotation: Grab the ankle and alternately rotate it forward and backwards. Do this rotation at least 8 times in each direction.
Note: It is very important in preventing ankle injuries that the ankle be as flexible as possible and this is a great exercise to increase ankle mobility.
Wrist Shaking:Wrist Shaking: Shake the wrist vigorously around in circles, and up and down. This helps the wrist to stay flexible and improves coordination.
Questions And Answers About Stretching:
Q.How long should I take each day on my stretches?
A. Until you are truly stretched you should take around 15 minutes each day to do the full range of stretches found in this program. Remember to take your time and do the stretches slowly and easily so you can get the muscles truly stretched. A good rule to remember to test if you are truly flexible is to be able to touch the face to the ground in the V-stretch, your head to your knees in the sitting straight legged stretch, and the head to the toes in the seated groin stretch. After you have achieved these degrees of flexibility then your program may be shortened to 5-7 minutes.
Q.How often should I stretch?
A. You should stretch every day until you have truly become flexible and thereafter you can stretch 3 days a week. But if you are practicing every day, you should stretch every day to assure maximum performance and prevent injuries.
Q. What should I wear when stretching?
A. The warmer the clothes the better, for the muscles always stretch better when they are warm. In the winter you should wear a sweat suit or warm ups and try to keep the legs and body as warm as possible during practice to keep the maximum
Q.How long should I hold each position?
A. Hold each position at its maximum stretching point for 5-15 seconds, breathing very slowly on each stretch and easily when fully stretched. As you become more flexible you will be able to relax more and not experience the pain that is often associated with your early stretching program. Therefore you can hold your stretches longer with more comfort and get better results.
Q.Is any equipment helpful in stretching?
A. The ballet bar, or stretching bar (a bar several feet long about 3-4 feet off the ground) can be very useful in improving your flexibility. You can put your leg on this bar and use your body weight to help your stretches and thereby get the same results as you can achieve with the two man stretches.
Q.How do I keep warm or stretched during the game or a long practice?
A. When you are on the sidelines, do some simple stretches, such as the arm circles, bend over and grab the legs, touch the elbows to the ground or sit on the ground in the V-stretch, or the seated groin stretch, while watching the game. If you find yourself suddenly going into the game, do some quick stiff legged swings and hand touches to the ground.