Stretching is important for young athletes

Children have seemingly unlimited energy, ready to run, jump, chase, or play at a moment’s notice.

As children get older, more of that energy often becomes structured around organized activities and sports.

According to Nemours KidsHealth, participating in sports at a young age can help boost a child’s self-esteem and develop other critical skills, such as learning how to work with others and the value of practice in developing new skills. Additionally, learning healthy habits during childhood helps establish a foundation for lifelong health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Parents of first-time athletes want to do their best to help their child succeed, and one healthy habit you can help instill in your young athlete is stretching before and after practices and games.

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The Importance of Stretching for Kids

In general, stretching creates increased flexibility and prepares the muscles for exercise. Appropriate flexibility can also decrease the likelihood of a muscle injury.

Many kids want to jump right into their favorite activities, but encouraging kids to stretch before activities, practices, and games can help with both warm-ups and performance.

And pre-exercise stretching is just the start: post-exercise stretching is important, too. Because kids often transition quickly from activity to activity — rarely taking time to rest — stretching after exercise can help with muscle soreness, allowing them to keep doing the things they love without pain or stiffness.

In fact, encouraging kids to rest may become necessary as they get more active. Teaching kids the importance of rest in injury healing and prevention can help them stay healthy so they never miss a practice, meet, or game.

The types of stretches recommended may vary by activity. It can help to break them down into two groups: static stretches and dynamic stretches. In many cases, it is most effective to combine both types before and after any activity. Dynamic stretching is typically recommended before exercise; static stretching may be more beneficial when exercise is complete.

Static Stretches

Static stretches are more traditional, stationary stretching exercises. They involve holding a position in which a muscle is stretched for an extended period.

Dynamic Stretches

Dynamic stretches involve movement and activate the muscles in a way that feels more like an athletic activity. This allows stretching with movement instead of prolonged holds of the position.

Stretching for Specific Sports

While a combination of both dynamic and static stretches is recommended before and after exercise, different types of stretches may be better suited depending on the activity.

According to the International Journal of Sports Medicine and Therapy, static stretching, which helps increase flexibility, can be beneficial in sports that require athletes to be more flexible, such as gymnastics.

For sports that are heavy in running or jumping (basketball, sprinting, hurdles), dynamic stretching can be beneficial.

Ultimately, regardless of type, it is most important to make warming up and cooling down via dynamic and static stretching a regular part of your young athlete’s routine.

Stretching Tips and Tricks

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the following stretching and flexibility exercises for young athletes:

Standing Stretches

With all standing stretches listed below:

  • Hold for five seconds.
  • Repeat three to six times.
  • Repeat on opposite leg.

Forward Lunges

Instructions: Kneel on the left leg, placing the right leg forward at a right angle. Lunge forward, keeping the back straight. Stretch should be felt on the left groin.

Side Lunges

Instructions: Stand with legs apart, bending the left knee while leaning toward the left. Keep the back straight and the right leg straight.

Cross-Over

Instructions: Stand with legs crossed, keeping the feet close together and the legs straight. Try to touch the toes.

Standing Quad Stretch

Stand supported by holding onto a wall or chair. Pull the foot behind to the buttocks. Try to keep knees close together.

Seated Stretches

With all seated stretches listed below:

  • Hold for five seconds.
  • Repeat three to six times.
  • Repeat on opposite leg (where applicable).

Seat Straddle Lotus

Sit down, place the soles of the feet together, and drop the knees toward the floor. Place the forearms on the inside of the knees and push the knees toward the ground. Lean forward from the hips.

Seat Side Straddle

Sit with legs spread, placing both hands on the same shin or ankle. Bring the chin toward the knee, keeping the leg straight.

Seat Stretch

Sit with the legs together, feet flexed, and hands on the shins or ankles. Bring the chin toward the knees while keeping the back flat.

Knees to Chest

Lie on the back with knees bent. Grasp the tops of knees and bring them out toward the armpits, rocking gently.

To learn about the Young Athlete Program at UPMC Sports Medicine or to make an appointment, please visit our website or call 1-855-937-7678.

Sources

Stretching (for Teens) - Nemours KidsHealth

Flexibility Exercises for Young Athletes - OrthoInfo - AAOS

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition (health.gov)

Signing Kids Up for Sports (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth

About KidsHealth (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth

Your Child's Self-Esteem (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth

Full article: A Systematic Review into the Efficacy of Static Stretching as Part of a Warm-Up for the Prevention of Exercise-Related Injury (tandfonline.com)

CURRENT CONCEPTS IN MUSCLE STRETCHING FOR EXERCISE AND REHABILITATION (nih.gov)

Healthy Muscles Matter: Ways to Care for the Muscular System (nih.gov)

Sports Injuries in Youth: A Guide for Parents: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Steps to Take (nih.gov)

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.