Do you play any sports? All the way back to playing T-ball in elementary school, your coaches have probably started your practices with some stretching. Sports have become such a routine-based activity that practices and games almost always begin with team stretching, followed by warm-ups, and end with the actual event everyone came to see. We all do it, but why are stretching and flexibility training important in sports?
Flexibility can increase your performance, making you a better athlete. Professional athletes can consistently balance many different aspects of their bodies to stay at the top of their game. The best of the best will always have time dedicated to maintaining and improving the power of their body.
Balancing the time you spend on flexibility is equally important compared to other crucial athletic abilities such as strength and speed. In fact, flexibility can contribute to these abilities. So, how exactly can you increase your flexibility? The power of stretching!
At Stretch Zone, our skilled stretch practitioners can use their knowledge of the body to improve your flexibility so you can get closer to your maximum potential.
How to Increase Flexibility
The easiest way to increase your flexibility is through stretching, and the best way is to focus on one muscle at a time. Everyone is unique, and some people are just naturally more flexible than others. However, with enough training, you’ll be surprised by how much more flexible your body can be compared to its current state.
As long as you don’t try to rush the process, your body will slowly adapt, and you’ll be able to use this to your advantage on the field, court, or wherever else you’ll be exercising.
Types of Flexibility
There are three main types of flexibility: dynamic, static-active, and static-passive. To be successful in all three categories, your body will use various methods specific to the desired muscle group.
Another name for dynamic flexibility is kinetic flexibility. Dynamic flexibility is an example of your body going through a specific joint’s full range of motion. It is probably the most common technique for a wide variety of athletes across numerous sports. Furthermore, it’s an excellent method for increasing things such as:
- The temperature in your muscles
- Nervous system activity
- Range of motion
There are two sub-categories within static flexibility. The first is static-active, which is the use of specific muscles to stretch other muscles. This type of flexibility uses three types of muscles: agonists, synergists, and antagonists. The agonists create movement and are stabilized by the synergists to stretch the antagonists–a very useful method for preventing muscle cramps.
Static-passive flexibility is simply maintaining specific positions in a relaxed state with the help of an external force. These are often done with another person’s help to truly get the most out of a stretch. Along with increasing your range of motion, it will also decrease the chances of injury due to overstretching.
Does Flexibility Actually Help Athletic Performance?
All your life, you’ve probably heard about the advantages you’ll have in athletics due to consistent stretching and increasing your flexibility, but does it really make that much of a difference? The answer is yes.
Many strength and conditioning coaches in professional sports will tell you that if a player can increase their flexibility, they will see the effects through their speed, strength, and durability.
Have you ever been told that you’re an extremely slow runner? Do you find your body to generally not be very flexible? While everyone is different, it might be a safe bet to say there’s a correlation between the two.
Flexibility in your hips has a direct impact on your speed. Your stride will be shorter if you lack flexibility since you won’t utilize your body’s maximum range of motion.
Similarly, if you’re looking to increase your strength, flexibility opens up the opportunity to get the most out of your training. With a full range of motion, your muscles will be able to grow stronger with each movement compared to only getting a percentage of what they could otherwise accomplish.
What Assisted Stretching Can Do for You
Numerous professional athletes trust the science behind assisted stretching. They can feel a real sense of improvement in both their range of motion and flexibility. Even whole teams like the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL have decided to incorporate assisted stretching trainers into their programs.
Besides improving your flexibility, assisted stretching can also:
- Relieve tension and tightness
- Decrease stress
- Reduce chances of injury
Benefits of Flexibility in Sports
Increased flexibility can bring some great benefits to your athletic performance. Additionally, it can lead to some bonus advantages for athletes that aren’t directly tied to how fast you run, how far you throw, or how deep you can hit a ball. Some of these can include:
- Less pain and soreness
- Improved balance
- Lower chance of injuries
- Fewer muscle cramps
Analyzing Specific Sports
Every sport uses the body in a completely different way. There are even differences between throwing a baseball compared to a football or kicking a football compared to a soccer ball. Although different sports require us to prepare differently and vary our movements, all athletes can benefit from assisted stretching and an increase in flexibility.
To better understand how flexibility can uniquely help athletes in a diverse selection of sports, let’s break down how this ability is used.
Baseball has the most extended schedule in all of the professional sports at 162 games. Add on a month of spring training and a month of playoffs, and you’ll have many players who are pushing their bodies to their breaking point for eight months out of the year with barely any off days.
Due to these long seasons and consistent use of the same muscles, your odds of getting injured during the season are high. With consistent assisted stretching to increase flexibility, players can hopefully keep the potential of more serious injuries to a minimum.
Baseball players will mainly be focusing on movements that involve a lot of power and rotation. When a batter faces a pitcher in the box, they’re prepared to use numerous muscles to accomplish their goal of hitting the ball over the fence – or at least in a spot out of reach for the fielder.
The main muscle groups used are the forearms, legs, abdominals, and back. As the batter transitions through their swing, all of these muscles work together to smoothly and powerfully connect with the ball.
Hitting a baseball over the fence for a homerun takes a lot of strength, but another key factor is a full range of motion. Flexibility can be improved drastically through assisted stretching so batters can get the most out of their swing.
Targeted muscles and muscle groups should include:
- Legs and hips for running
- Neck for focusing on fly balls
- Spine for proper rotation while batting
- Elbows and shoulders for throwing and pitching
- Forearms, back, and abdominals for hitting
American football brings a lot of variety as many players have very specific roles. A quarterback is going to be using muscles that a linebacker or kicker won’t be using. However, no matter what position you play in football, stretching and flexibility are equally important for every team member.
A position player who can really take advantage of what assisted stretching offers is the kick returner. Since this player is tasked with running the ball as far down the field as possible, they get up and go with every ounce of speed they can muster. Every inch counts, so anything that can be done to improve their speed could result in some necessary extra yards–or even a thrilling touchdown.
Focusing on muscles such as the hamstrings and quadriceps can be crucial in your success as an athlete while also limiting the chance of injury. When you’re putting every ounce of effort into a run, you’ll want muscles with higher flexibility for the fullest range of motion.
Whether basketball players are going for the 3-point shot from beyond the arc or forcing their way through the defense for a slam dunk, jumping is an extremely important part of the sport. A good jump shot can assure that a defender won’t block the ball. Furthermore, forcing your way to the rim may be one of the most difficult things you can accomplish on the court.
Through static flexibility training, players can stretch leg muscles such as the hamstring by arranging them in certain positions and holding them in place. With some extra pressure applied by an experienced stretch practitioner, players should expect to see a difference in their ability to jump.
In a game of constant movement, focusing some time on flexibility through assisted stretching could be just the edge you need to take on your opponents.
Did you know that soccer players will travel around 7 miles per game on average? That’s a lot of running. Due to the repetitive nature of soccer, it also means that the same muscles will be used repeatedly for possibly a full 90-minutes.
This consistent high-energy performance can bring a high chance for injury, which is why keeping up with your flexibility through stretching is something you should definitely be putting effort into.
For goalies, flexibility can also mean the difference between a save and a goal. Depending on how the player is positioned, combined with the kick’s direction and force, goalies may need to contort their bodies into strange and unusual positions to stop the ball from getting by them.
Tennis and Volleyball
Similar to the potential movements a goalie would have to make to prevent the opposing team from scoring, tennis and volleyball players have to do the same for their defensive plays.
You’ll often see tennis players practically achieving nearly complete splits as they slide to a stop after swinging at a ball nearly out of their reach. Likewise, volleyball players will often fall into crazy positions as they dive for the ball.
Flexibility will allow these athletes to increase their athletic ability to make these plays in the first place and do so without a high chance of injury.
Factors that Can Affect Your Flexibility
Everyone is unique. That includes natural flexibility. Some people are just born more flexible than others. Though you may not be born with the gift of flexibility, if you maintain consistent stretching habits, you may be able to catch up to the others who were!
Multiple factors will contribute to how your muscles respond to movement. Some of these include:
As you age, your body will typically not be as flexible as when you were younger. However, you can slow down this process by regularly stretching. Staying consistent will relieve your body of built-up tension.
Women are typically more flexible than men, mainly due to their connective tissue structure. Another common theory is that the amount of estrogen may increase their range of motion.
The shape of your bones and how they connect can also have an impact on your flexibility. While there isn’t really anything you can do about your skeletal structure, your predicament doesn’t mean that you can’t be flexible.
Ready to Increase Your Flexibility?
At Stretch Zone, our mission is to increase your flexibility and range of motion through our proven assisted stretching methods. The best thing is that you won’t even have to move a muscle, because we do it all for you! With locations across the country, finding new ways to improve your athletic ability is easier than ever.
Our stretch practitioners are always eager and excited to help people on their journey to improving their bodies. If you’re an athlete and are looking to improve your flexibility, which can give you a boost both on and off the field, being consistent with assisted stretching can make all the difference. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.