New Ideas on Proper Stretching Techniques
Some stretching routines may hinder, not help, your athletic performance.
7 Things You Need to Know about Proper Stretching Techniques continued...
Holcomb recommends three all-purpose dynamic stretches for your lower
- Goose-step march: Slowly lift your leg straight out in front of you,
alternating as you walk with your normal stride length. While others may think
you're doing a Monty Python skit, it is an effective hamstring stretch.
- Knee lifts: As you're jogging or walking, bring knees up toward your chest.
For a variation, as your right knee comes up, twist the lifted leg gently to
the left and your upper body gently to the right for a spinal twist. Repeat on
each side as you jog or walk (warning: you may be mistaken for a
- Butt-kick: As you jog or walk, bend one knee and lift it behind you as if
you were trying to kick yourself in the butt. It's not punishment; it stretches
Do several repetitions of 30 seconds each at your own pace. The point is to
do the movements in a controlled way. Stop if you get tired so you still have
energy for your workout.
Consider yoga. "Isn't it interesting that this new research is
figuring out what yoga teachers have known for thousands of years?" says Mary
Pullig Schatz, MD, a retired surgical pathologist, yoga expert, and author of
Back Care Basics. If you're familiar with yoga basics, she suggests, you
can use those moves as dynamic stretches before, say, a run or a long bike
ride. Try two minutes of sun salutations to stretch multiple parts of the body.
Or make downward-facing dog dynamic by pedaling your feel or lifting alternate
"Improving your flexibility allows you to put your body in good ergonomic
alignment," Schatz says. "Yoga can help you combine flexibility and strength,
breathe properly, reduce head, neck, and back pain, and put the
body back in balance."
After your workout or competition, then do static stretches.
"Too many people do static stretching before and then nothing after," says
Holcomb. "That's the most common mistake I see." This is where you'll lengthen
muscles and improve your flexibility. Hold static stretches for about 30
Learn warm-ups and stretches particular to your sport. Levine's team
takes care of 29 varsity teams, so he's seen every kind of sports injury there
"For example, football linemen are vulnerable to shoulder tears," he says.
"Runners may suffer knee problems and shin
splints. For golfers, the lower back is often the hot spot."
New research shows it's a good move to learn stretching routines customized
for your sport and to help prevent the injuries most common to it. The Santa
Monica Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Research Foundation in California studied
women soccer players who are subject to ACL tears and created a program called
Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance (PEP). The program (which can be
downloaded at http://www.aclprevent.com/pepprogram.htm)
includes a warm-up and stretches (as well as strengthening and agility
exercises) specifically designed to prevent ACL injuries.