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Static Stretching: Is This Concept Outdated?

by Alan Stein, CCS, CSCS
Co-owner, Elite Athlete Training Systems, Inc.

Basketball coaches are in a constant search to find the best methods of improving athletic performance for their players. After all, with all else equal, a bigger - faster - stronger - more conditioned player will dominate on the court. While there is constant debate on the ideal way to improve sport specific speed, power and strength, I believe an overlooked area of training preparation and performance is of a comprehensive warm-up and the role it plays in maximizing each and every workout, practice, and game.

This leads to the question; what is the best way to physically and mentally prepare a basketball player for competition? For years and years it has been accepted as the norm to do a light warm-up followed by some static stretching. In fact, you can almost go anywhere in the world, from high school to professional, and see most practices begin with "taking a couple laps around the gym" and doing some light stretching. This type of warm-up has been around for so long, and is ingrained in almost every coach's head, as to imply it is the only way to get ready to play.

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Is this approach beneficial? Does it adequately prepare each player for the workout ahead? Is there a better way? I believe there is. I whole heartedly believe in the concept of an active or dynamic warm-up as a superior way to prepare for physical activity. And this concept is certainly not new. It has been used by track and field coaches for decades. A comprehensive dynamic warm-up doesn't take any more time than the more traditional method of stretching and is much more effective. Since your warm-up sets the tone for your workouts, practices, and games, don't you want to implement something that is productive?

The theory of a general cardiovascular warm-up, for 5-10 minutes (or until a light sweat has been broken) is one I agree with. I believe a general warm-up of this nature raises the body's core temperature enough to make the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and overall joint structures more elastic and safely begins the preparation process for the workout ahead. This portion of the warm-up can be accomplished in several ways. Ideally you can have your players run through drills that involve jogging, back pedaling, and defensive sliding to make sure they address the same muscle groups used when playing. They can also jump rope or perform different footwork patterns in a speed ladder. I truly appreciate the jump rope as form of warm-up because it also warms up the upper body, it doesn't take much space, and there are several different footwork drills and patterns you can use to stay psychologically stimulated. Another benefit of this initial warm-up is to prepare the mind for the workout ahead. It is a time for each player to focus, concentrate and to mentally prepare and a time to leave all outside distractions (stressors such as school work, relationship problems, etc.) at the door. As a coach, it is vital to make sure your team's initial cardiovascular warm-up is serious and free from goofing around.

Once the body and mind is warmed up it is time to move to the next phase of preparation and begin the dynamic warm-up. There are several benefits to performing a dynamic warm-up over a more traditional "sit and stretch" routine. One, by continuing to keep your players moving you ensure their muscles stay warm throughout the process. I have found you will lose the 2-3 degree increase in core temperature by sitting and stretching for 10-15 minutes. The dynamic warm-up, when performed appropriately conservative, prepares the muscles and joints in a more specific manner than static stretching. Given the workout, practice, or game is going to consist of dynamic movements - it is important to prepare the body in a similar manner. Do not get me wrong; I am by no means advocating anything dangerous or inappropriately ballistic. I simply believe performing a safe and conservative dynamic warm-up you will better prepare the mind and body for the workout that is to follow. Another major benefit of the dynamic warm-up is its ability to help coordination, motor ability, as well as to rev up the nervous system. These traits are extremely valuable with younger players who are still learning their bodies. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, I truly believe the dynamic warm-up sufficiently prepares the mind for the workout ahead (not just the body). Mental preparation for any sport is vital. In my vast experience working with entire teams and groups, the dynamic warm-up causes players to focus and concentrate at the task at hand, where as many sit and stretch routines are a day dream session.

As with any drill, it is important to start out conservative and slow until a player has mastered the movement with perfect technique. For drills such as "high knees," an athlete can certainly increase speed as they become more proficient at performing the movement. For drills such as "pointers," speed should be kept slow and controlled with improving range of motion as the primary focus. The entire dynamic warm-up can be done in as little as 5 minutes or take as long as 20 minutes depending on the goals, age, and fitness level of the group you are working with.

Each of the following dynamic warm-up exercises should be done for the length of half of a basketball court and can be followed with a light jog back to the starting point to guarantee the warm up effect is not lost. When designing the day's dynamic warm-up, try to incorporate exercises that address all of the body's muscle groups fairly evenly (hamstrings, quadriceps, calves/Achilles, and hip flexors). Also try to use as much variety and creativity as possible to keep the players interested and prevent them from becoming complacent during the warm-up. Choose 4-6 of the following dynamic stretches each workout.

  1. Ankle Pops: lightly bounce off the toes while keeping the knees in a very slight bend. The goal is to progressively get more range of motion towards the end of the prescribed distance. This motion looks very similar to jumping rope except you will be moving progressively forward.
  2. High knees: basic running form with the addition of bringing the knees up higher than normal; make sure to move your feet as quickly as possible and aim to get your knees higher than your waistline. Important to keep your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders facing the direction you are running.
  3. Butt kicks: similar concept to high knees except you keep your thighs perpendicular to the ground and you kick your heels up towards your backside (again; move your feet as quickly as you can). Like above, keep your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders facing the direction you are running.
  4. Carioca: moving laterally to your left, cross your right foot in front - then step with your left - then cross your right foot behind and repeat. Aim to get as much hip rotation as possible and get those feet moving quickly! If done correctly this looks like a new dance move!
  5. Step Slide: assume a low athletic position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Slowly step with your lead leg while keeping the body in a low position. You should stay low and keeping a minimum of 6 inches in distance between the feet upon returning to the original position. This is similar to a "defensive slide" in basketball.
  6. Glute walk: In the process of your walk, put your left hand on your left knee and right hand on your left ankle. From there pull both your knee and ankle in towards your chest. Take a step and repeat on the other leg.
  7. Back pedal: run backwards keeping a little bit of a forward lean (shoulders over your toes) to prevent falling. Really "reach" back as far as you can with each step to help stretch the hip flexor muscles.
  8. Frankenstein march: keeping your left leg straight, kick your left leg up in front of you as high as you can and try to touch your opposite arm's finger tips - basically a straight leg march - and then repeat with the right leg. This is an excellent way to increase hamstring flexibility.
  9. Knee hug: while walking forward, hug your left knee into your chest, then step and do the same thing with your right leg (then repeat again with your left). This is an excellent way to loosen up the glutes and hips.
  10. Pointers: keeping your left leg straight (and right leg bent) and left foot pointed upwards; reach down with your right hand try to touch your left toe. Then take a step and repeat with the other side. This is another excellent movement to increase hamstring and low back flexibility.
  11. Quad walk: while walking forward, pull your left heel into your butt, then step and do the same thing with your right leg (alternating each leg). This is ideal for loosening up the quadriceps and hip flexors.
  12. Low lunge: Step forward with your left leg into a lunge position (ankles, knees, hips and shoulders square to where you are facing; torso upright); try and place your left elbow on the ground as close to your left heel as you can.
  13. Over the fence: facing opposite of the way you are going; raise your left knee up as high as you can and rotate it behind you as if you were trying to walk backwards and step over an imaginary fence. Then do the same thing with the right leg (alternating each leg).
  14. Inchworm: Assume a push-up position on the ground. Walk your feet close to your hands while keeping the legs as straight as possible. From this position, then walk your hands back out to the original pushup position. Repeat for the prescribed distance. Your hands and feet should never leave the ground when performing this exercise.
  15. Scorpion: Lie face down on the ground with your arms extended out to your sides and palms facing down. Drive your left heel towards your right hand while keeping your right glute and shoulder on the ground. During this process, squeeze your left glute, and attempt to keep your shoulders flat while reaching the left foot towards the hand. Repeat this move on the opposite leg.

In summary, I want to challenge the traditional thinking that suggests "warming up and stretching out" is the ideal way to maximize performance for every workout, practice or game. I believe a dynamic approach will better prepare an athletes mind and body and play a role in improving their athletic performance!

Key definitions

Static stretching: a stretch that is taken to the point of slight muscular tension and held for 15-20 seconds.

Cardiovascular warm-up: any activity that involves large muscle groups, is fairly rhythmic in nature, and causes an increase in the body's core temperature.

Dynamic warm-up: a series of ballistic movements performed in a safe and controlled fashion.


About the Author

Alan Stein is the co-owner of Elite Athlete Training Systems, Inc. and the Head Strength & Conditioning coach for the nationally renowned Montrose Christian Mustangs boyís basketball program. Alan brings a wealth of valuable experience to his training arsenal after years of extensive work with elite high school, college, and NBA players.

His passion, enthusiasm, and innovative training techniques make him one of the nationís leading experts on productive training for basketball players. Alan is a performance consultant for Nike basketball as well as the head conditioning coach for the annual McDonaldís All American game, the Jordan All American Classic, the NBA Playerís Associationís Top 100 Camp, and Five Star basketball camps. He is a sought after lecturer at basketball camps across the country and is regularly featured in publications such as the Winning Hoops, Time Out, Dime, American Basketball Quarterly, Stack, and Menís Health.

Contact Information

Elite Athlete Training Systems, Inc.
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1141
Germantown, MD 20875
Email: Alan@EliteAthleteTraining.com
Phone: (301) 972 - 0558
Fax: (301) 972 - 0524

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