Stretching & Exercise: Improve Your Sports Performance With Stretching

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 9:47am

By Michele Silence, MA

All sports require the body to move fully and freely. Strength is important in powering movement; endurance is equally important in sustaining the effort; however, stretching will help improve performance. Given two athletes with the same ability, stretching can make the difference between one winning and the other losing.

Flexibility can enhance your performance of most sports

Take a runner, for example. The runner who can reach the furthest with their stride will cover a set distance quicker. When leg and groin muscles are stiff or inflexible, the ability of the legs to extend will be limited. But, when stretched adequately, flexible muscles allow for a much larger step and overall stride. Combine this with other training techniques and results are magnified.

The best muscles to stretch

Just what muscles do you need to stretch to help improve performance for your favorite sport? First, pay attention to which parts of your body are involved in the activity. The next time you’re playing, be aware of which areas need to reach and extend the most. Do your arms need to be more flexible as in baseball? Or maybe your legs need to be more flexible for activities such as hiking, running, and skiing. Perhaps your chosen sport uses the entire body, such as martial arts.

Make sure to use the proper form when stretching

Just as with all other forms of exercise, stretching must be done properly to reap the greatest rewards. If you aren’t sure about the proper form, ask a personal trainer or consult an expert in the field. If you need a reference manual, an excellent book is Stretching by Bob Anderson. Do not simply copy stretches you see others doing in the gym or on the playing field. Many stretches that were done routinely years ago have been shown to not only be dangerous but ineffective, like straight leg toe touches, twisting of the waist, “cherry pickers,” and knee sitting. Stretching is intended to enhance fitness, not contribute to future medical conditions.

Stretching tips and tricks

Work on stretching at the end of each of your workouts, when the muscles are warm and fully able to stretch. Hold each stretch anywhere from 10-30 seconds. Relax into the stretch as opposed to bouncing and exhale as you let go. Reach just to your limit. It should feel good. Over stretching can be counterproductive and damaging. If you can’t reach your toes, use a towel or stretching aid to help you get an effective stretch without straining. Importantly, you should avoid comparing your flexibility to that of others. Each person’s ability to stretch is different and even the same person has different levels of flexibility depending upon the joints involved.

Do your stretches faithfullylike dogs and cats do. At the end of six weeks you should see a noticeable improvement in flexibility. Your body will feel better, perform better, and you’ll be less likely to get hurt.