There are literally hundreds of stretching drills, but I bet that you know more static stretches than any other form of stretching. At this point in time, raise your heel to your buttocks, place your hand on your laces and then pull upwards and towards your spine. You have performed this static stretch a million times, but research deems it an incorrect way to warm up and could cause you an injury.
You head down to the sports field, you are eager to go and play. Now your coach, depending on his mood, sends you running around the field like a model train on a track. It seems cool for the first two laps. Then suddenly this mundane routine becomes innocuous to any performance gain in the short space you have available for practice time. Your coach tells you to form a circle while he conducts a carefully orchestrated routine, a masterpiece of static drills handed down by his coach and his coach before him. Like alcoholism in the family and the greater risk of the second and third generation child following in the same footsteps, the epidemic of hampering athlete’s performance continues. Now don’t get me wrong, not all coaches follow in their predecessor’s footsteps, some coaches actually spend time learning new methodologies and break away from this epidemic that has been plaguing sport for years.
Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports by Willey and Sons (2012) supports the above. Instead of adding to the already long research on static stretching, Willey and Sons decided to conduct meta-analysis research on evidence collected regarding static stretching over a 44 year period from 1966 to 2010. Their goal was to derive a robust estimate on what pre-exercise static stretching (SS) had on strength, power, and explosive muscular performance. Their astonishing findings were that the combined total research from 104 case studies over 44 years concluded that static stretching before a practise or game had a negative effect on an athlete’s strength, power and muscle performance.
Have you ever wondered why your team appears flat at the start of the game and only after 15 minutes does it seem as though they have shifted into a higher gear? You have guessed right, static stretching is to blame. There are two types of stretching that you need to include in your pre game warm up. Dynamic stretching and resistance stretching
Dynamic stretching is performing an array of drills which elicit movement. Start from a small range of motion (ROM) and progressively increase the ROM as the core muscles warm up. The goal here is not to start big but to start with smaller movements such as skipping, hopping, jumping, lunges and turning, which are all part of the magic in preparing an athlete correctly.
Resistance stretching, or professionally known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). This involves shortening of the opposite muscle to the actual muscle that you want stretched. This is followed by an isometric contraction of the same target muscle. Stand up, straighten your leg out and place your heel on the edge of a chair. Then gently apply a downward force. Now for 10 seconds squeeze and contract all the muscles in your buttocks and hamstring. Hold that contraction tight and then release. Now bend the opposite leg and reach further down with more tension and stretch on the hamstring and repeat the process 3 times. Once completed walk around and feel the amazement of freedom of movement in your hamstring. Now notice how tight and awkward the other legs feels. If you are looking for great performance gains in flexibility, PNF stretching is a must.
It is not all doom and gloom for static stretching. Research has proven over a 44 year period that static stretching prior to your game is not going to give you a great sporting performance. Where static stretching becomes your best friend is post game. Post-game your muscles are fiery hot, and your ROM is greater. Since you are not about to go back on the field and strength, power and muscular performance are not necessary, static stretching can now help you to reach a superior ROM than your body is used to. By stretching in a controlled manner slightly past your normal ROM, it will help create more flexibility in the muscles. Flexibility doesn’t come about with static stretching prior to your practice or game, but rather post-game and post-practice flexibility training.
Coaches, your beautiful array of static drills has its place, just not at the beginning of a session. Leave your routine for the end of practise where it will serve a more valuable purpose. Strive to look for new and exciting dynamic movement routines. Be creative and safe, but remember the basic principle we learnt a long time ago. You must first learn to sit, then to crawl, followed by walking. Then make sure all the doors are locked if you have a daughter because she will eventually learn to run. In your warm up progression is no different, start with smaller movements and then work your way towards more complex and explosive ones.