By: Brian Rog and Jen Robbins, MS, ATC for ATI Physical Therapy
We all aim to be that bigger, faster and more conditioned athlete on the soccer field, but getting there requires a disciplined level of strength and endurance to keep up with the rapid speed and agility loads. A large fraction of your success falls heavily on your pre-game routine, which tends to be one of the most neglected aspects for many.
Before hitting the field and to help meet the physical demands of the sport, it’s important to properly stretch to limber up and activate the necessary muscle groups needed to withstand the strains from gameplay. Through stretching, the risk of injury is minimized, while flexibility is maximized.
As a result, you may also notice gains in your endurance and levels of balance. In fact, increased bending and flexibility also play a pivotal role in bettering overall posture, which over time, will strengthen your core and keep your performance at a maximum. Pre-game stretches and warm ups are also crucial for increasing the heart rate so oxygen can be transported to those muscles where major nutrients are consumed.
Considerable research has proven that increased stretching harvests a powerful impact on performance outcomes during a physically-demanding activity. When deciding to focus on specific dynamic or static stretches before hitting the field – the experts at ATI Physical Therapy recommend (after loosening up) incorporating these varying levels of stretching techniques to help support your pre-game regimen.
Skipping with High Knees
Standing in an upright position, begin skipping forward, driving your knee up each time you jump as you swing your opposite arm up overhead. Be sure to keep your movements controlled and maintain your balance.
Single Leg Cross Jumps
Begin in a standing upright position, balancing on one foot, with a crossed line on the ground beside you. Jump into each section on the same foot in a crisscross pattern. While doing the exercise, do not let your knee collapse inward as you land from each jump, and keep your foot facing forward.
Standing in an upright position with your hands on your hips and feet positioned shoulder width apart, step forward and lower your body towards the ground, then in a controlled motion, carefully return to the starting position. While doing the exercise, do not let your knee collapse inward and keep your trunk steady.
Standing Quad Stretch
Standing in an upright position on one leg, reach back and pull the opposite foot up toward your body and push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in front of your thigh (to maintain balance, you may hold the wall or a chair). Be sure to keep your thighs aligned with each other and the bent leg in line with the hip. Repeat on the opposite side. To increase the stretch, keep your knees together and push your hips forward. This stretch should be held between 10 and 30 seconds.
Standing Calf Stretch
Face a wall and keep approximately a foot’s distance from it. Extend one leg straight behind you, keeping your heels flat on the ground and your rear knee straight. Begin to lean toward the wall until you feel tension in the calf muscle of the extended leg. Hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel on the ground with one knee bent in front of your body and make sure the bottom of your foot is flat on the ground. Tighten your abdominals, tilt your pelvis backward and gently shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
While in an upright seated position on the ground, bring the soles of your feet together to form a diamond shape and gently pull your heels towards you while also easing your knees to the ground. Be sure to sit upright and place your hands on the top of your feet. Hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds.
Lower Back Twist Stretch
Lay flat on the ground with your knees bent and feet resting on the ground. Extend both arms out to form a ‘T’ position. Keeping your back flat and shoulders on the ground, gently rotate your knees down towards the ground until you feel a stretch in your trunk. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. When performing this stretch, be sure not to lift your shoulders off the ground when rotating your knees.
IT Band Stretch
Begin sitting on the ground with your legs bent to one side. Take your top leg and cross it over your opposite knee. Using your hands, hug your knee to your chest and hold this position. Hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
While in a seated position, fully extend your legs keeping your feet together and bend forward at your hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your thighs and hold. Be sure to tuck your chin towards your chest and hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds.
These stretches should take no longer than 20 minutes, conditional to age and fitness levels. Remember, stretching is your last opportunity to prep your body before taking to the field, so incorporating these techniques into your pre-game warm up will get your body to the levels required to meet the demands of the sport and deliver that bomb between the sticks.