Flexibility of a muscle group or joint area is an important aspect of conditioning. It allows for freedom of movement. A tight muscle cannot react properly to stress or speed changes. A relaxed muscle has increased circulation which benefits the removal of waste products that accumulate during exercise, as well as the delivery of nutrients to the muscle. This increased blood supply will help with short and long term muscle recovery.
Stretching techniques to increase flexibility must facilitate three components of the muscle: the individual muscle fibers or contractile component, the connective tissue, and the nervous system.
First, it is important to elevate the muscle temperature so that the muscle fibers and connective tissue(soft tissue) will be more pliable. This is done with the heat generated during low intensity aerobic exercise such as a slow jog (9 to 10 minute mile pace) or riding a stationary bike for 5 to 8 minutes. This principle can be compared to a sponge. When the sponge is dry, it tears. But, when wet, it becomes very soft and flexible. This also helps to ease the safeguards of the nervous system.
The nervous system has safeguards to protect the muscle from working beyond its capabilities. If the stretching technique is not sound, these safeguards are activated and will not allow the muscle fiber to lengthen. The first objective is to educate the nerves involved so that relaxation can be initiated. This is achieved by allowing a 30 second pre-stretch so that a slight tension is developed in the stretching position. At the end of the 30 second pre- stretch, the slight tension should have disappeared and the muscle is ready to be lengthened. Quick bursts of movement only excite the nerves involved and do little to promote long-term flexibility. In some cases the connective tissue of the muscle will be injured and become less flexible.
During the stretching phase, the second 30 seconds, slowly lengthen the muscle group involved. If too much tension is developed too soon, the safeguards of the nervous system will be activated and the benefits lost. When this happens, slowly back off and let the muscle once again relax, then proceed. The correct procedure is to develop slight tension, let this fade, then continue to achieve a greater range. Remember a tight muscle will not become flexible if the proper techniques are not followed.
1. Elevate temperature of the muscles with low intensity aerobic exercise (slow jog or stationary bike).
2. 30 second pre-stretch to overcome nervous system safeguards to achieve relation.
3. Slowly stretch to increase range. Do not bounce or create tension.
4. Each stretch should be done twice. Alternate left to right where applicable.
5. Always stretch before and after daily workouts.
Assistant strength and conditioning coach Duane Carlisle joined the 49ers this off-season from the Philadelphia Eagles. He is in charge of directing all of the speed, agility, and conditioning programs for all positions on the team. He has spent the last 13 years pushing athletes to perform to their maximum potential. Carlisle has also developed workout videos which can be viewed, by clicking here!
Featured Question for Coach Parker: What training preparation would you suggest for young football players 10-11 years old? - Russ McGillivray
Coach's Answer: First of all, they are too young to lift weights at that age. 12 years old is the optimum time to lift weights, but they can do body weight exercises, such as push-ups, sit-ups, or knee bends. If they are playing tackle football, they must develop their neck, and you can do this with manual resistance exercises. Also for kids that age, they have to develop fundamental movement skills! Also, they are at that point in time where they start to lose natural flexibility, unless they train to retain and improve their flexibility. So I would say to make sure you include flexibility exercises as well.
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