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Stretch It Out: Stretches for Every Athlete

Friday, March 25, 2016 8:46 AM

Every athlete knows that rest days are just as important to your training schedule as any other day. But do you know what else can be just as important for your training? Stretching.

Athletic Stretches

While you might not think to include stretching as part of your exercise routine, it can help relieve muscle stiffness and soreness. It is best to be symmetric with your stretching giving each side equal stretching time.

There are two types of stretching: static and dynamic. Dynamic stretching is an active muscular effort used to stretch and the end position is not held. Dynamic stretching enhances performance by increasing power, acceleration and agility, improving flexibility and increasing your range of motion. Static stretching is a stretch performed with a prolonged hold to increase the muscle length of a specific muscle. Static stretching maximizes flexibility and can be used for specific muscle injuries. 

While you are performing static stretching, make sure to follow these simple rules: 

  • Stretch on warm muscles, ideally after a workout.
  • Stretch in smooth movements and do not bounce.
  • Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds continuously.
  • Take it easy. If it hurts, you have pushed too far.
  • Breathe while you stretch.
  • Make stretching a habit.

It is a good idea to focus on the major muscle groups while stretching after a workout. Rebecca Sanders, DPT, STC, Physical Therapist in Sports Medicine at NorthShore, recommends the following static stretches post workout for athletes of all levels – pro or beginner:

  • Standing Hamstring Stretch. You can use a step for this or utilize the floor. Stand with one foot on a step, or forward on the ground. Push your butt back with a straight back until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Remember to keep your back from rounding. A common misconception of this stretch is to reach forward; that is unnecessary. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch. Start by kneeling on one knee with the other knee bent and your foot flat on the ground in front of you. Tighten your abdominals and glutes to gently tilt your pelvis back, as if you are tucking a tail between your legs. Stop when you feel a stretch in the front of your hip or thigh. Remember to not lean forward excessively. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Calf Stretch. Stand facing a wall, with your hands on the wall, and your feet just under your hips. Step back with one foot, creating a straight line from your foot to your knee, through the hip. Lean your body forward toward the wall – keeping a straight line – to feel a stretch in your calf. It is important to try to keep your foot flat during this stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Pectoral Stretch. Stand facing the wall, place one hand flat on a wall and rotate your body away from the hand on the wall. Rotate until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest, stop and hold this position for 30 seconds. Remember to keep your arm straight and your shoulder back as you stretch. After your 30 seconds repeat on the other side.

How often do you stretch? What benefits have you seen from regular stretching?