soccer training skills

Stretching for flexibility and strength


Stretching for soccer


Stretching is overwhelmingly recommended - even prescribed - by sports medicine professionals and is widely practised by athletes in almost every sport. It seems to be one of those commonsense things to do. But there are as many unanswered questions about stretching, as there are scientific facts to support it.

Routines should also be designed to achieve one of four things:

1. maintain or improve range of motion
2. be free of pain
3. recover from injuries that restrict flexibility or
4. achieve sport-specific goals

If injuries are prevented along the way, consider it a bonus.

Does stretching reduce injuries?

New evidence, suggests that stretching immediately before exercise does not prevent overuse or acute injuries.

Continuous stretching during the day and conducted over a period of time may promote muscle growth that, in turn, could reduce the risk of injury.

Perhaps as significant as the injury prevention information are the data that point toward stretching as a means of increasing muscle size and strength.

Does stretching affect flexibility?

Yes. There is conclusive evidence regarding stretching and flexibility.

Loss of flexibility can be prevented and at least partially restored by stretching. However, that evidence is more compelling for a long-term stretching program than for shorter periods of time.

Stretching to increase flexibility minutes prior to an event may be possible, but a stretching program over a period of months can lead to a sustained increase in range of motion.

Can stretching improve performance?

Yes, if the stretches are designed to be sport-specific.

One study showed that an increase in the temperature of the vastus-lateralis (a muscle in the upper leg) achieved by stretching resulted in an increase in vertical jump and an increase in maximal cycling power. However, the study did not investigate whether or not the increase in temperature could have been achieved by other warm-up methods.

Another study showed that a 10-week static stretching program resulted in improved performance in tests involving speed, strength, power, or muscle endurance.

Additional research has shown benefits in throwing a baseball and serving a tennis ball following a stretching program that improved shoulder flexibility.

What is the difference between static and dynamic stretching?

Static stretching requires that the muscle be stretched to a point of resistance and held for a period of time.

Dynamic or ballistic stretching involves repetitive bouncing, rebounding or rhythmic motions and is generally thought to be more dangerous and less effective than static stretching.

What is PNF stretching?

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) uses alternating contraction and relaxation movements that are supervised and controlled by a trainer or therapist. PNF is an alternative strategy for increasing range of motion.

How long should a stretch be held?

One 15-30-second stretch per muscle group is sufficient for most people, but some exercisers require longer stretches as well as more repetitions.

How many times should the same stretch be performed during one session?

As mentioned earlier, some research suggests that one stretch per muscle group is sufficient during a session.

However, many professionals recommend two or three repetitions for each 10-second stretch, or one repetition of 30 seconds.

The rationale for multiple stretches is that connective tissue responds better to low-force, long-duration stretching than higher-force, short-duration stretches.

Should stretches be held for the same length of time for each muscle group?

No, because the stretching properties vary from muscle group to muscle group, the optimal duration of a stretch and the frequency of stretching may also vary from person to person.

Each athlete must determine the length of the hold that is most effective for them.

Why do some exercise scientists recommend stretching after a workout?

When the temperature of muscles is higher than normal, stiffness decreases and extensibility increases. Athletes who want to maintain or enhance their flexibility can partially achieve this goal by stretching. When their body temperature has been elevated, it makes it safer and more productive to stretch, than when at a normal level.

Stretching for five minutes after exercise prevents muscles from tightening too quickly. Athletes go through an abbreviated version of the stretches performed before an activity.

Does the application of ice or heat have an effect on stretching?

Warming up a muscle before stretch or using ice during static and ballistic stretches can increase the range of motion, but neither will prevent an injury.

Exposure to increased or decreased temperature before or during PNF stretches has no effect. The mechanism by which ice and heat affect stretching is not clear, but both may have a pain-relieving effect that allows greater range of motion.

A regime of "hot" and colds" has proven beneficial for athletes in tournaments, especially during the first day of tournaments. This is the alternate submersing of entire legs in hot tub and ice tubs at 30 second intervals. This aids in the removal of lactic acid through the expansion and contraction of the thighs specifically but the legs generally.

Does it help to warm up first, and then do stretching exercises?

Generally, those who use an active warm-up prior to stretching get greater range of motion than those who only stretch. But any benefits in terms of injury prevention are more likely to come from warming up, not because of stretching.

If range of motion is the goal, stretches are helpful. If injury prevention is the goal, athletes should drop the stretching before exercise and increase the amount of time warming up. But the 'warming up' concept presents even more confusion because there is no universal definition of the term.

In summary...

... there appear to be more benefits from stretching than disadvantages, but the picture is not as clear as most athletes would like.
The research suggests that stretching programs should be individualized according to the athlete's physical make-up and level of conditioning.

Stretching for Success - adapted from an article by Bruce Brownlee

Would you like to improve your game, earn more playing time, and have fewer injuries?
If so, then make sure that you take time every day to work on improving your flexibility. You can increase your flexibility through static stretching and dynamic stretching (stretching with gentle movement).

Before each match, take time to stretch all your key muscle groups carefully before play. After each match and training session, stretch muscles and move your joints to increase flexibility and range of motion. Include a proprioception exercise in each of your after-play stretching.

Over time, you will improve your flexibility and soccer speed, reduce injuries, and you will have better results in the first half of each match.

Why is Stretching Important?

At U11, injuries related to poor flexibility are not a major problem. However, increasing strength, flexibility, and proprioception up through U14 will help reduce your risk of injury starting at about U14.
Common injuries in girls, which may come as a surprise to your coach, include MCL, ACL, tendonitis and inflammation behind the knee cap, pulled quads, and ankle ligament damage.

The number and severity of ligament, tendon, and muscle problems you may personally encounter from U14 to U16 can come as a great surprise.
These seem to occur during this time because of growth and muscle mass changes.
Getting into serious stretching and regular proprioception training earlier might help reduce the number of injuries that you might have to endure in your soccer career, and allow you to play healthy in more games.

What's Best, Static or Dynamic Stretching?
What's the difference? When you bend over to touch two hands to your socks, and hold this position without bouncing, you are doing static stretching.

If you swing your leg gently and smoothly in a realistic swinging and kicking motion with a slow and easy follow through, you are accomplishing dynamic stretching (stretching with movement).

Both static stretching and dynamic stretching can be helpful. >As you stretch out, complete your warm up and static stretching before going into easy stretching with gentle and natural motion.
Stretching with motion should not be violent or jerky.

Can Stretching Be Fun?

Yes! But you need variety and focus.
When you are working by yourself, vary your warm-up and stretching routine to make it interesting.

If you play for a competitive team, you may play 50 matches or more per year. This means 50 warm-ups, and 50 after-match stretching sessions, not to count all the stretching before and after training. How boring if each session is the same!

Vary the warm-up activity you use before stretching. Try tag games, ultimate Frisbee, keep away, and ball tag.
Use rhythmic activities like running patterns in groups.

Focus mentally on the stretching, and feel and think through each stretch, checking for tightness or soreness.
Make sure you know exactly how far you are extended or rotated, and make sure that you are performing the exercise correctly as instructed by your coach or ATC.

Take your time in stretching. Give a little extra time where you feel stiff or inflexible. Rushing through stretching does make it meaningless and boring, and doesn't help you gain flexibility.

Stretch Before Matches and Training to Reduce Injuries

Ask your coach or ATC (certified athletic trainer) to teach you how to stretch properly. Proper stretching requires warming up first, and requires much more than the little 8-second stretches that you see teams doing at matches.
Warm up before stretching by jogging or playing running games.
Allow at least 60 seconds for each static quad and hamstring stretch.

You will find that a vigorous warm-up and stretching routine, combined with touches on the ball and competitive exercises like 1 v 1 to goal, will increase your pulse rate, warm your core body temperature, and improve your first few touches on the ball in the game. If you are properly warmed up and stretched out, you will experience fewer match-related injuries, particularly muscle strains.

Stretch after Play to Increase Flexibility

After you have completed training or a match, take time to stretch out properly as part of your cool down. You will find that the additional stretching helps increase your flexibility.

If you are playing in a tournament and expect to play another match during the day, adding extra stretching time after the first match will help prevent you from being stiff, sore, and slow in the second match, and help prevent fatigue related muscle strains to quads and hamstrings.

Before your second match in a tournament, your coach should normally reduce the overall duration of the pre-match warm-up, but provide as much time for stretching as before the first match of the day. A little lower leg massage after the first match and before the second match will also provide fresher legs for you.

What to Stretch

Think bottom to top, feet to head. When you stretch, exercise stretches for

  • ankles
  • lower legs
  • hamstrings
  • quadriceps
  • hips, hip flexors, and gluteals
  • lower torso
  • upper back
  • shoulders
  • neck

Your coach or ATC should provide you with proper stretches and instruct you in how to use them most effectively.
Accomplish static stretching before moving on to gentle stretching with movement.

Finish with a Proprioception Exercise

Proprioception refers to your sense of joint position.
In several studies of adult male professional soccer players, proprioception training has been shown to reduce the incidence of ACL injuries.
Proprioception training is also routinely used with women and youth players to prevent injuries or as part of rehabilitation. Make it part of your daily training from U12 forward.

After you complete stretching after a practice or match, take two minutes each day to complete a simple proprioception exercise to help improve your chances of avoiding knee and ankle ligament injuries.

As a simple example of an exercise you can do on your own, try this:

  • Stand on flat and firm ground with one foot.
  • Lift the other foot so that your shoe laces are behind the knee of your standing leg.
  • Bend the knee of your standing leg slightly to a comfortable position that is easy to hold without any pain or discomfort.
  • Extend your arms to your sides, close your eyes, and count to 60 while balancing on one foot.

Each time you lose your balance, open your eyes and recover your balance.
Put your lifted foot down to recover if needed, then resume your starting position and close your eyes again until you reach 60.
Repeat this exercise with your other foot down.

As you balance, feel through your knee and ankle, and pay close attention to the position of your knee and ankle so that you can better balance. 

The latest stretching techniques used by professional athletes is "micro" stretching.
For additional links go to Stretching Links.