Blog

Flexibility and Strength in Sports: The Correlation

Flexibility in sports and athletics is essential not only to prevent injury, but also to improve performance. When a muscle is tight or shortened, it can create an unnecessary weakness in the body, which in turn can limit an athlete’s performance and predispose them to injury.

Flexibility and injury prevention:

Poor flexibility can lead to poor posture and dysfunctions within the kinetic chain. Sports and other athletic activities that require quick explosive movements demand a more pliable muscle/tendon unit to store and release the high amounts of energy required to perform at an optimal level. The body of an athlete who does not have pliable muscle/tendon units may become overwhelmed by the high energy levels these sports demand, leading to strains in muscles and/or tendons.

But the good news is that a regular flexibility program will increase the pliability of the muscle/tendon unit and decrease dysfunctions in the body’s kinetic chain, decreasing the chance of injury.

Flexibility and sport performance:

A tight/shortened muscle in an athlete’s body can cause the opposing muscles to work harder and prevent the athlete from utilizing their muscles to their full capacity. Sports, in general, require a certain range of motion from the joints in the body that are critical to the sport or exercise being executed. If you consider a sprinter, their body requires a large range of motion in the hip area to get sufficient knee-drive during a sprint. If the glute muscles are tight, the athlete will not be able to adequately accomplish their goal with the loss of stride-length and power in the hip flexors from the tightened muscles. Conversely, if the hip flexors are tight, the athlete loses much of the power needed for the glute muscles to do their job.

The benefits of a flexibility program:

A flexibility program will improve joint range of motion, increase the power output of a muscle by allowing it to contract through a larger range of motion, relieve stress on involved joints, and improve health and pliability of the muscle/tendon unit in an athlete’s body.

A proper flexibility program includes the following components:

  1. Foam Rolling – Foam rolling consists of three phases. Using the quadriceps (quad) muscle as an example, the athlete is lying face-down with the foam roller under the quads. Here are the steps to follow in order to effectively use a foam roller on sore muscles:
    1. Start by rolling up and down the length of the muscle. When you find a hot spot (one that hurts quite a bit), hold in that spot for 30 seconds and concentrate on breathing.
    2. After the 30 seconds, roll up and down past that point 5-10 times.
    3. Find the spot again and flex (bend the knee to bring your foot to the glutes) and extend, then straighten the leg 5-10 times.
    4. Find another spot and repeat. This process can be repeated for the calves and IT bands (the side of the leg) simply by changing position on the foam roller.
  2. Dynamic Warm-up – A dynamic warm-up is part of many sport practices. If your team does not do a dynamic warm-up, encourage your coach to incorporate one into your practices. A dynamic warm-up moves the body through a variety of repetitive movements allowing the body to move farther with each repetition. Many of the movements are designed to simulate athletic movement, therefore a dynamic warm-up is a great way to prepare the body for athletics.
  3. Post Activity Static Stretching – After a sports-related activity, when the muscles are still nice and warm, is the best time for static stretching as the muscle fibers are more pliable when they are warm. Each stretch should be held at least 30 seconds. Below you will find instructions for a static stretching program that can be effective for athletes.

Instructions

Do 3x/day holding for each stretch 30 seconds, one of which can be after practice.

Things to remember: Stretch to the point of mild discomfort. KEEP BREATHING!

Area Stretching How to do it
High Hamstrings Lying on back, rope wrapped around foot, pull leg straight.
Lower Hamstrings Lying on back, rope wrapped around foot, knee to chest, pull foot so that leg starts to straighten out.
Glutes Lying on back with knee to chest, pull to opposite shoulder.
Piriformis Cross right ankle above left knee, pull left knee to chest. Will stretch right side. Repeat for opposite leg.
IT band Standing, place outside of right foot on table, allow knee to drop out to side, lean forward at waist.
Repeat for opposite leg.
Back Pull right leg across body, breaking at waist and keeping shoulders flat. Repeat for opposite leg.
Groin Butterfly and push down on knees.
Quads Laying on stomach, pull foot to butt OR standing, pull foot to butt keeping stomach tight and chest up.
Hip Flexors Standing, lunge forward keeping back foot straight, keep chest up, and push butt forward.
Bucket Stretch/
Hip Flexor Tendon
Kneel on one knee with other foot in front in a lunge position, place back foot up on bucket behind you.
Push hips forward. Repeat on opposite side.
Elbow to Instep/
Deep Hip Flexor
Kneel on right knee with left foot in front in a lunge position, step out with left foot into a long stride. Push hips toward the
ground, try to touch left elbow to left instep. Repeat on opposite leg.
Calves Standing on step with heel off edge, with knee STRAIGHT.
Achilles Standing on step with heel off edge, with knee BENT.

How do you work on your flexibility in sport?

Share your tips in the comments.

Young Athletes And Concussions

Concussions can happen in any sport, whether it is a high impact sport like football, soccer, and basketball, or a lower impact sport such as track and field, tennis, and cross country.

concussionA concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way a brain functions, and can have a negative impact on its victim for years to come. Although concussions are usually caused by a blow to the head, they can also occur when a person’s head and upper body are violently shaken causing the brain to be forced back and forth inside the skull. Concussion damage can range from mild to severe and 90% of all concussions occur without a loss of consciousness.

All concussions are potentially serious and can result in complications including, prolonged brain damage or, in the worst cases, death if not recognized and managed properly.

Signs and symptoms can present themselves immediately or sometimes can take a few hours or days to fully appear. In other words, concussions and their symptoms are unpredictable, which means that young athletes and their parents, as well as their coaches, need to be educated and ready to spot the symptoms of a concussion. If an athlete reports any symptoms of a concussion or you notice the symptoms and signs, the athlete should be immediately removed from activity and evaluated by a medical professional.

What do I do if I suspect my child has suffered a concussion?

Any athlete who is suspected of suffering a concussion should be removed from play immediately. No athlete should return to a sports-related activity after sustaining an apparent concussion, regardless of how mild or how quickly the symptoms subside, without written medical clearance from an appropriate health care professional. Close observation of the athlete should continue for several hours and you should seek medical care. The child’s parent, coach, athletic trainer, and/or school administrator should be alerted immediately if an incident has occurred where a concussion is suspected.

What can happen if my child keeps playing a sport with a concussion or returns too soon?

Athletes with signs and symptoms of a concussion should immediately be removed from practice or the game where an incident has occurred. Continuing to play leaves the young athlete especially vulnerable to sustaining a second concussion. There is an increased risk of significant damage to the brain if an athlete who sustains a second concussion before the first one has resolved. This can lead to prolonged recovery or even severe brain swelling (Second Impact Syndrome) with devastating and even fatal consequences.

What are the steps to recovering from a concussion?

The first step in gaining full concussion recovery is cognitive rest and is essential for the brain to fully heal. Activities that require concentration and attention, including homework, use of electronic devices, such as computers, tablets, video games, texting, etc., as well as exposure to loud noises, may worsen symptoms and delay recovery. Students may need their academic workload modified initially while they are recovering from their concussion. This may involve staying home from school for a few days, followed by a lightened school schedule, and then gradually returning to a normal schedule. No consideration should be given to returning to physical activity until the student is fully integrated back into the classroom and is symptom free.

When should a young athlete return to practice or competition after a concussion?

An athlete must first complete a graduated, step-wise return-to-participation physical activity progression under the supervision of a medical professional, as outlined in Max’s Law (OAR 581-022-0421), which requires Oregon school districts to implement concussion management guidelines for all student athletes.

The athlete should then be given a written clearance note (per Oregon State Law HB 348) from a health care professional, releasing them to full practice and competition. Until these steps take place, the student should not be cleared for practice or competition.

What’s most important is the health of our youth athletes. And while these protocols, symptom assessments, and recommendations for concussion awareness and management may seem cumbersome, they are necessary in order to keep our athletes safe and sound on the field and at home.

For additional information, please visit the following websites: