Being a successful athlete is all about preparation, which includes proper stretching. Just as you study game tape and analyze opponent tendencies before a big match, it is vital to prepare your body for physical exertion, any time you are going to exercise. Stretching limbers your muscles and reduces the risk of injury, and can help make sure that you are not stuck on the sidelines during a big play. Here are five stretches that athletes should do before working out:
1. Walking lunges
To do a walking lunge, start by standing with your feet together. Next, take one long step forward with your right foot, bending the front knee 90 degrees, and the back knee until it nearly touches the floor. Hold this position for several seconds, straightening your back leg so that you can feel the stretch throughout the front of your left thigh. Then, switch legs – push your left leg forward and keep your right one back so that you can feel the stretch in that thigh as well. Do a total of 10 of these exercises.
This is a good warmup for any activity that involves running. It engages the muscle groups that are used during jogging and sprinting, like the quads and hip flexors, in a manner that simulates the forward motion of running. It is a good intermediate step for you body between being completely at rest and in constant motion.
“Seated positions keep your hip flexor in a constant state of flexion.”
2. Kneeling hip flexor stretch
If you have a job where you spend most of your time sitting in front of your computer, it could be doing a number on your hip flexors. As athletic performance coach Hannah Schultz told Livestrong, this position keeps these muscles in a constant state of flexion, making it particularly important to stretch them out before any kind of dynamic exercise.
To accomplish this, get into the lunge position described in the above stretch. This time, when you straighten your back leg, keep your front knee aligned above your toes and raise your arms over your head for a few seconds. Release, and then repeat the motion, shifting forward as you lift your arms. Do this process five times for each leg.
3. Calf raises
Most athletic activities heavily engage both the legs and feet. Every time you jump for a rebound or dive to save a goal, your calf muscles contract and engage your Achilles tendon. Make sure these parts are ready for action with a set of simple, straightforward calf raises before you work out. Stand on the edge of a curb or stair facing in, with the balls of your feet on the lip and your heels hanging over the edge. Holding onto a rail or pole so you don’t tip over, rise up onto your toes and then slowly drop your heel until it dips below the stair, stretching out the calf muscle. After a second, rise and repeat.
4. Hip swivels
Whether you are lifting a heavy weight or sprinting as fast as you can, your hips will be prominently involved. Making sure the joints and muscles therein are lose enough for activity is an important part of injury prevention. To ensure this is the case, stand with your hands on your hips and your feet about shoulder width apart. Swivel your hips in one direction, making small circles as you would if you were using a hula hoop. Increase the diameter of the circles, until you reach your full range of motion, switching after a half dozen or so rotations in one direction. For an even deeper stretch, hold the position at the front, back, left and right points of the imaginary circle.
5. Towel stretch
Your feet are going to support you throughout your workout, so make sure that they are ready for the task with the towel stretch. Roll up a towel and place it under the balls of both of your feet. Grab a hole of each end and gently pull them towards yourself, so that your heel and arch begin to loosen up. Hold this position for roughly 15 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat the process between two and four times. This can help you prevent foot problems, such as plantar fasciitis.
Of course, there is no stretch that can completely mitigate the risk of injury. Even cautious athletes who are diligent about preparation can get hurt, so it is important to know how to manage symptoms that emerge. If you believe that you have an exercise-related issue, see a medical professional as soon as possible, to prevent it from getting worse.
If the issue is foot-related, your physician may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, as well as provide further information on rest and home treatment options, such as Nice Stretch, an ankle and foot sleeve that can help reduce discomfort and get you back on your feet sooner.