Stretching is more than just a workout suggestion – it's a vital way to avoid injury and get the most out of your activity. You wouldn’t take your car on a long drive without making sure it’s in tip-top shape, right? So before you work up a sweat, work up a stretch.
One important thing to keep in mind is that dynamic stretching is best. It uses momentum to propel your muscles into an extended range of motion. Unlike static stretching, where you remain in an almost still position, a dynamic warm up is the best way to get your blood flowing and your heart rate pumping.
To get your muscles primed for activity, high knees, "butt kicks" and side shuffling are more effective than standing quad stretches. If you are doing an upright quad stretch, it's best to lean back a little to get the full benefit, since your quads originate from above the hip. Also, remember to always grab the ankle and not the toe.
Here are some other helpful hints on how to warm up the right way:
- For hamstrings: The hamstring muscle attaches to your bones below the knee at the back of the leg, so you want to avoid bending them (which ultimately shortens the muscle you’re trying to stretch). When bending at your back, make sure to keep your spine straight like a table to elongate those muscles. Keep your chin up. If you bend down to touch your toes, there’s no need to hover closer than six inches above the ground – unless you’re able to comfortably do so.
- For pectoral muscles: "Door stretches” offer the best stretch. Simply place your arms out on either side of you as if you were making a “T” with your body. Then, bend your arms up at your elbows so they each form a 90-degree angle. In this position, put your arms on either side of a door frame, with your body within the frame’s opening and walk forward slowly to open up the chest.
- For triceps: Make a gesture like you’re scratching your upper back and be sure to keep your elbows in for maximum benefit.
- For the torso: The iron cross stretch involves putting your arms out at your sides like a “T” and then rotating at your waist side to side. You can also drop down toward the floor and reach for your toes, one side at a time.
Other great tips to add to your stretching repertoire include:
- Don’t forget to keep breathing throughout your stretch. It will help keep your muscle tissue oxygenated.
- Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds, aiming for three repetitions of each. If you prefer, you can split up your stretching throughout the day, or use props like foam rollers to help ease tension in your muscles and break up knots.
- Listen to your body while stretching. Slight pain is acceptable, but if your muscles start shaking, it's a warning for you to stop.
- Don't give up. Stretching progress can be slow, so comparing your progress to that of others will only discourage you. Pay attention to your own progress. Seeing your body become more flexible when you previously weren’t limber will help keep you motivated and is the ultimate reward.
To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/athletes. Christina Chapski, Ed.D., AT, ATC, is the director of athletic training and community outreach at Henry Ford Health. Read more of Chapski's articles.
Most people have seen the headlines about concussions as a common sports injury—and it's natural that parents of athletes may have concerns. A large misconception in sports is that previous concussions are to be blamed for ongoing headaches, blurred vision and memory loss, among other symptoms.
“It’s really important to think about concussions in tandem with overall brain health,” says Jake Carpenter-Thompson, M.D., Ph.D., a board-certified neurologist at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology. “Concussions can be concerning, but they shouldn’t be looked at in a vacuum. It is important to understand an athlete’s overall brain health to help manage recovery after any impact.”
One way to do that is to consult with your child’s doctor or a sports neurologist for an annual evaluation. A sports neurologist focuses on managing sports-related brain and nervous system injuries and conditions in athletes, such as concussions, post-concussion syndrome, peripheral nerve injuries, migraines, epilepsy and more.
“Having an annual evaluation of your athlete’s brain health when they are at their baseline – and uninjured – can help diagnose and treat issues when they arise,” says Dr. Carpenter-Thompson.
A qualified healthcare professional can use the baseline evaluation results as an important comparison tool if an athlete develops a suspected concussion.
Best Practices For Keeping Athletes Safe
Dr. Carpenter-Thompson shares these tips to ensure you keep front of mind your child’s brain health and safety, not just their athletic performance:
- Get a brain health baseline test. This should include a personal and family neurological history, with a focus on current issues. It is important to note any neurological conditions that may influence concussion recovery, such as ADHD, depression, anxiety or migraine headaches.
- Encourage your children to listen to their body. There are risks to playing any sport. Encourage your child to listen to and be honest about how they’re feeling. It’s the best way to prevent and treat injuries.
- In the event of an injury, look for the signs. Within 24 hours after an injury, an athlete should be evaluated if they are experiencing: headaches, fatigue, dizziness and nausea, changes in sleep habits, trouble with memory, confusion, irritability and anxiety, or light sensitivity.
- Know that brain injuries don’t just occur with a blow to the head. They can also occur from falls, car accidents or even whiplash. If your child is experiencing any symptoms, consult your physician.
- Remember that brain health is more than just concussions. If your athlete is complaining of chronic headaches, migraines, dizziness, memory or mood issues, there may be an underlying issue.
“There is no magic number of concussions a brain can sustain. Each person is different,” says Dr. Carpenter-Thompson. “The severity of the impact and recovery time can vary greatly for numerous reasons. By getting a brain health assessment before the injury, we can provide more targeted care to improve an athlete's overall clinical course.”
To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/athletes.