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Stretch To Improve Your Game

Neymar Stretches with TeammatesMost coaches now realize the importance of pre-game stretching over no stretching at all. However, it seems that most coaches are still stuck 25 years in the past when it comes to what stretching program their players do.

What is “static stretching”?
Indeed, when most people think of “stretching” they think of static stretching. Static stretching occurs when you leverage the muscles and tendons into positions where they are “stretching” for an elongated period of time. When we reach up toward the sky in the morning, as we get out of bed, that is static stretching. Bending over to touch your toes in order to stretch your back and legs is static stretching. Sitting “toe touches” are static stretches.

What is “dynamic stretching”?
Dynamic stretching involves movements where that movement’s momentum causes the muscles and tendons to reach their full range of motion. Often these movements are sport or action specific. Side bends, “windmills”, and high steps are examples of dynamic stretches.

Static vs. dynamic stretching
Several recent studies have found that static stretching can actually decrease performance in athletes when performed before competition – particular for sports involving large amounts of aerobic exercise, like soccer. What’s more, contrary to popular belief, studies have also found that static stretching does little to prevent injuries. On the other hand, dynamic stretching has been shown to increase performance and decrease injuries in athletes. This fits since dynamic stretching makes use of the actual movements used in performance, but in a controlled form – thus allowing the muscles to “stretch” in the way they will be later used. What’s more, by incorporating movement rather than “holding positions”, dynamic stretching warms the core and incorporates the nervous system, thereby serving as a more effective warm-up.

So what to make of static stretching?
There are some benefits to static stretching. In particular, static stretching does increase flexibility. Flexibility is useful as a lower-level physical skill, and can be particularly helpful for goal keepers. What’s more, the benefits of static stretching for anaerobic exercise are still considered valid. Therefore, static stretching might still be utilized before weight training or after athletic training.

Dynamic stretches you can use
Given these facts, it is hard to understand why so few coaches coaches utilize dynamic stretching in their warm-ups. I can only guess that most coaches are simply not familiar with exercises they can incorporate into their warm-ups.

Try these 3 exercises at your next soccer practice:

Walking Lunge

  • This is not only a great form of dynamic stretching, but it is also a good strength building exercise.

Trunk Twists

  • I usually allow my players to swing their arms more freely as this also provides a dynamic warm-up for the shoulders. However, it is important to stress that the rotational force should come from obliques and chest, not the arms.
  • More advanced players should progress to step forward while twisting

High Knee
At a medium pace, players raise their knee toward their chest then lower. Switch leg and repeat.

  • More advanced players should do this while stepping forward between each rep
  • For a further progression, players should “skip” off the leg opposite of the one they are raising while they bring their knee up.
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