Athletes come in all shapes and sizes and so do injuries. As athletes we put our bodies on the line for our sport or activity. Whether you play football, soccer, frisbee, or simply lift weights you push your body to its absolute limits. The joy that comes with being active can be taken away in seconds due to injury. Injury can be prevented by proper stretching before and after exercise and by treating your body properly. If you have ever attended an athletic event you know that teams usually spend 45 minutes to an hour warming up before a game. What you don’t see is that even before a warmup, most athletes are doing static stretches to loosen their muscles. If you’ve never attended an event think of when you wake up. Your body has been fairly still overnight and one of the first things you do when you wake up is stretch. If you’re like me, you might add a loud “ugh” to your preparation to get out of bed. It’s the same concept in athletics.
I have learned the hard way that properly stretching is essential to preventing and overcoming injury. Just last year I would go to the gym, stretch for five minutes, and jump into my workout. After a few weeks of this routine I felt constant aches and pains all over my body, but I continued my routine. Instead of stretching more, I increased my protein and BCAA intake, I lifted faster trying to avoid feeling pain, and I barely rested. I could hear my body telling me to stop and to do something different, but I ignored it. Many people avoid stretching because they do not want to spend more time at the gym than they need to. I used to be the same way, even when it came to playing soccer. My coaches usually put us through a 1-minute warmup following by 10 minutes of stretching. As a goalkeeper I needed to stretch different parts of my body more than other players. When we were done with the warm-up, I would cross my arms for a few seconds and jump in goal. I did this up until 2 years ago and I started playing soccer when I was six. Over those years I have dislocated my shoulder multiple times, broken my wrist, sprained my ankles and destroyed my knee. It took surgery on my knee for me to take stretching seriously so do yourself a favor and stretch properly before being active.
While there are different stretches for different muscles, there are also different types of stretching for different activities. When something requires more flexibility than strength, I would recommend incorporating static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching is usually the types of stretching that automatically comes to mind. Static stretching could include touching your toes for 10 seconds or a butterfly stretch. These stretches can be used for flexibility, relaxation, alleviation, and range of motion. These types of stretches should be done daily and after any activity. Dynamic stretching on the other hand should be used more when an activity requires more strength and power. Dynamic stretching may be similar and mimic static stretching but the different movement of the muscle allows for strengthening and increased coordination. For example, instead of doing a static calf stretch one might walk on their toes for 20 steps. Both types of stretching are important for preventing injuries and overcoming them.
While there are more types of stretching, these are the two I incorporate most into my daily routine. Stretching can sometimes be a hassle and sometimes you’ll still get injured. Stretching may not be able to fix a current injury or heal all your aches, but I promise that stretching will make your athletic life much less painful.