Lower Body Stretching
One thing that has really dumbfounded me as a massage therapist is how little exposure some of my seriously athletic clients have to the kind of stretches they need to support the demands their sports routinely place on their bodies. As a massage therapist focusing on injury prevention and treatment, I was trained on the importance of stretching for performance enhancement, injury prevention and injury recovery. When I work with athletes or other injured clients, I always incorporate some kind of stretching into my work. Based on conversations with my clients, there are four things I think most people are missing from their lower body stretching routine:
1. Correct stretch sequencing - Did you know you can't get a good hamstring stretch if you don't stretch three other muscle groups beforehand? Go ahead, take a second now and try to stretch your hamstrings. Then, go through the easy wet weather stretch sequence I present you in the gallery link at the bottom of this page. By the end of your hamstring stretches, I bet you’ll notice a big improvement if you follow the recommendations included in this page and in the gallery (see comments at the bottom of each photo).
2. Rotating the leg on stretches - Did you know rotating your leg on stretches can increase your range of motion? Ultimately, improving the range of motion will lead to enhanced performance and, according to a recent report from Harvard University Medical School, reduced likelihood of injury. The gallery of stretches shows you my favorite places for rotating the legs while stretching - the calf and hamstring stretching. Admittedly, you can achieve improvements in rotation with glute stretching, adductor, quad and hip flexor stretching too but some of these are more challenging to show in photos or difficult to achieve if you're trying to stay off the wet ground.
3. Stretch repetitions - as in strength training, repetitions while stretching can be very productive. Each repetition can help an athlete gain up to 1 degree in range of motion. With five or 8 stretch reps - that's potentially 5-8 degrees increased range of motion! Remember: increasing range of motion can enhance your performance (think what longer strides will allow while running) and reduce injury risk.
4. Finally, in my massage work, I focus on holding stretches for 2 seconds only. Limiting a stretch to 2-second hold is recommended by Aaron Mattes, creator of the active isolated stretching method, as a way to prevent activation of the myotactic reflex. The myotactic reflex can actually prompt the muscle to contract, or shorten, in response to a stretch that is too abrupt or too long in duration which is, of course, counterproductive to the very thing you hope to achieve from your stretching! Aaron Mattes discovered that holding a stretch for just 2 seconds prevents activation of the myotactic reflex, meaning a shorter duration stretch prevents the muscle from tightening up in response to the stretch.
While a soccer player is in these pictures, these stretches are not specific to soccer players and are a quick, easy set for any athlete who demands a lot of his or her legs in athletic pursuits. So, whether you will be playing in a soccer tournament, playing hoops, skiing, running, riding a bike or kickboxing, these stretches can quickly cover the basics prior to your event and help you in your cool down post event. Click below for a quick, easy