Sporting injuries are one of the leading causes for children to seek health care in Australia, with 50% of these injuries being preventable.
An integral component of assisting the body to function at its optimum level and reduce the risk of injury is by ensuring our joints have full range of motion and this is achieved through an appropriate stretching regime that is incorporated in both the warm up and warm down of any sporting endeavour. Understanding why stretching is important, the different types (dynamics vs static), when to apply them as well as well as knowing what muscle groups to stretch will help any athlete reduce the risk of injury whilst also improving performance and function of their bodies.
Why is it important
The benefits to stretching are numerous and can be fun and easy. Stretching not only improves flexibility and allows the body to move more freely, but it also helps in the following:
- increase joint range of motion,
- improves muscle strength and coordination
- improves blood flow to the body
- increases physical performance
- decrease stiffness and soreness through eliminating wastes and toxins (lactic acid)
- Increase balance and spatial awareness.
Warm up vs Warm down - what’s the difference
It is important to understand how to stretch to ensure that the appropriate result. Like there is a difference between building muscle strength vs building muscle endurance, there is a different way to stretch a muscle to aid in warming up in preparation for activity to when we are wanting to help cool down and decrease chances or injury or soreness post activity.
When we are wanting to warm up, we want to perform Dynamic Stretches’ which includes movement-based activities such as body weight lunges, squats and trunk rotations, combined with a series of activities (jogging, sprints and agility drills specific for intended activity) that slowly increase with intensity that aid in preparing the body for action.
On the other hand, when we are cooling down, our aim is to release the tension that has been acquired, improve our flexibility and allow the muscle to relax and less susceptible to strains (pulled muscle). This requires elongating the muscle and holding for a period of time (10-30secs) both sides. It is also important to remember that whilst stretching, focus on your breathing as it helps bring your heart rate down and improves oxygen levels which will also help the muscles relax. Breathing in for a count of 4secs, holding for 2secs and then breathing out for 6secs is a great post exercise breathing activity to help the body relax and unwind.
Did you know that there are over 600+ muscles in the human body. You’re probably thinking that’s a lot of stretching time required. Thankfully, when it comes to applying appropriate stretches, focussing in on ALL the major muscle groups, regardless of whether you use your upper or lower body predominately is what’s important. These major muscle groups include; hip flexors, quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, shoulders, chest and neck.
When is stretching not appropriate?
As mentioned, the benefits to stretching play an important part in not only helping the body function appropriately but also aid in injury prevention. However there are instances where stretching is not appropriate and being able to identify these are equally as important as stretching itself. It is important to remember stretching should never cause pain, if you feel a sharp pain when stretching, stop immediately and seek appropriate medical intervention (chiropractor, physiotherapist, sports medicine official).
Hyper mobility (increased movement) of the joints, recent fractures and a sudden onset of inflammation and swelling (acute injury) are all other indicators where stretching is inappropriate. If you are in doubt, speak with your primary healthcare physician for further information.
Learn more at our Workshop!
To learn more about injury prevention and supporting your teenagers to function optimally in sport, come along to our Optimal Performance Workshop! Here we will be teaching your teens how to care for their body, identify any weaknesses and support them nutritionally too. Click here for more details...