By Brian Grasso
Flexibility is a very misunderstood concept.
For starters, flexibility and stretching have long been considered to be the same thing, when in fact, they’re not.
Performing basic static stretches (like a standard hamstring or calf stretch) can certainly increase the resting length and decrease the tone of a given muscle, but that may have little to no effect on the actual flexibility that a young athlete has.
Flexibility more precisely, refers to the range of motion (ROM) that a given joint can exhibit (as influenced by the muscles surrounding it).
This range of motion, as the term infers, involves movement.
Holding a static hamstring stretch for a certain period of time has no real impact on how well that muscle moves or to what degree it allows the joints that it effects to move.
So why then, do so many youth sport practices start with stretching?
As parents and coaches, you have been exposed to the ‘pre-practice stretching habits’ for years and therefore have always assumed them to be right.
Your coaches did that with you.
Their coaches did it with them.
Of course you need to stretch, you may be saying… you have to prepare the body for the work it’s about to do.
Well… Yes! But let’s look at it from a different perspective for a second.
When you were young, you likely went outside to play with your friends every day in the summer – just like I did.
You walked out the front door.
Headed around back to grab your bike.
Hopped aboard and headed straight for the park.
When you got there, the football/soccer/baseball/basketball game had already started, so you jumped right in…
…And you played.
In my case (and maybe yours to) for hours!
But wait a second.
How is that possible?
You did’t stretch before you started… how did you not fall into a million little pieces, turn to stone, melt or experience any of the other doomsday predictions we feel are going to happen to our kids if they don’t stretch before the big game or tonight’s practice.
The reality is that stretching likely isn’t necessary before activity.
I say likely because that often can depend on your age, current fitness level or pre-existing injuries.
But with young athletes, it’s almost always the case.
Flexibility however, IS important.
Flexibility remember, is the range of motion a joint has as influenced by the muscles surrounding it.
And believe it or not, flexibility is most enhanced by…
… Are you ready for it?
The stronger a muscle is through a wide range of movements, the greater the range of motion is at the joints that muscle interacts with.
I know… strength training limits flexibility.
More dogma… period!
Try this exercise as a great flexibility enhancer for young athletes before your next practice or game.
It will increase the strength of many of the key muscles in the leg and add to the flexibility of your young athletes:
Leg Raises (4-Quarter) –
- Lie on your back
- Raise one leg straight up in the air, while keeping the other one straight against the ground
- Slowly lower your leg towards the side, keeping the knee straight the whole time, until you almost reach the ground
- Hold for a couple of seconds (but not too many!)
- Raise the leg back up again
- Lower again, this time the other way (across your body)
- Allow your hips to roll with you and hold the leg above the ground for a couple of seconds
- Raise the leg back up again
- Lower to the original starting position and repeat with the other leg
- Go back and forth between legs for a total of 5 – 8 reps leg.
Tremendous developmental flexibility and strength enhancer that will have your young athlete primed for the game!