runner stretching

Flexibility and Sport Performance

Flexibility and sport performance are closely linked. In fact, not only does flexibility improve performance, but it also helps prevent injury. Specifically, when a muscle is tight or shortened, it can create a point of weakness in the body. This in turn can limit an athlete’s performance and predispose them to injury.

Flexibility and Injury Prevention:

Poor flexibility can lead to poor posture. This in turn can lead to dysfunctions within the kinetic chain. For instance, athletic activities requiring 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. Because of this, an athlete who does not have pliable muscle/tendon units may become overwhelmed by the high energy levels these sports demand. As a result the athlete is prone to injury and 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. Thereby 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. As a result, the athlete is prevented from utilizing their muscles to their full capacity. In general, each sport requires a certain range of motion from the joints in the body that are specific to that activity. Specifically, 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. On one hand, if the glute muscles are tight, the athlete may experience a loss of stride-length and power in the hip flexors. 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:

Foam Rolling –

foam rollingFoam rolling consists of three phases. For example, for the quadriceps (quad) muscle, 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. Next, 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. Next, 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. Finally, 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.

Dynamic Warm-up –

A dynamic warm-up is an important part of many sport practices. If your team does not do a dynamic warm-up, then encourage your coach to incorporate one into your practices. Because a dynamic warm-up moves the body through a variety of repetitive movements, the range of motion increases a bit with each repetition. In addition, 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.

Post Activity Static Stretching –

The best time for static stretching is after a sports-related activity, when the muscles are still nice and warm. In this state, muscle fibers are more pliable and less prone to strain. 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.


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.