Stretching Develops Flexibility in Body and Mind
I often get the question: when should I stretch?*
The short answer is: After your workout. After your game. After your run. There are 2 main reasons for this.
One is physical: after exercise is when your muscles are warm and supple. Stretching afterwards allows them to lengthen, that is, go back to the length they were before you shortened them doing all that exercise. This is healthy for the muscle and speeds its recovery. Stretches held for 30 -60 seconds can even increase the amount of flexibility in the joint.
The second is mental/emotional: taking time to stretch provides a transition for the athlete, from the fury of movement, to the calm of stillness. And this is not just a physical phenomenon. There are many emotions pent up in the play of a game. Win or lose, the whole athlete needs time to let these emotions play out.
I find, whether I work with youth or adult athletes, that we are excited to get right out there and jump into our game or our sport or our workout. But we rarely leave time afterwards for the transition, for the stretch. In our freneticness we move from one thing to the next at breakneck speed. But we fail to realize that the growth, the learning, the comprehension and the insight tend to come in the calm after activity. In the quiet of stretching and resting. In the care-taking of our bodies. A sort of thanks to them for the effort they just offered up.
So coaches, why not circle your players up after the game and let them be. Show them the basics of stretching out the muscles that just worked so hard, and sit quietly while they do. (for sample stretches see my website: www.Fit2Finish.com) There will be plenty of time at the next practice to go over how things could be better. And who knows, in this transition stretching time, they may just come up with some great game insights of their own. Ask ‘em!
*caveat: dynamic stretching, that is using your muscles through their whole range of motion, prepares them for activity. This should be done in a controlled fashion before exercise.