By Greg Gargiulo
Everyone knows that having young athletes warm up before exercise is essential in practically every sport. But now, research shows that the type of stretching that’s performed can actually improve athletic performance.
In a Spanish study of junior tennis players, a warmup including the static stretches that many parents will remember doing when they were young led to poorer performance than a warmup based on dynamic stretching.
“Based on our findings, I think it’s beneficial if dynamic stretching routines are used during warmups and that static stretching is avoided,” said Jaime Fernandez-Fernandez, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physical Education and Sports at the University of Leon, in Spain, and a member of the Tennis Performance Research Group in Madrid, who helped conduct the study.
Static stretches are those in which muscles are stretched and held in a challenging but comfortable position for about 10-30 seconds; dynamic stretches involve movements that are analogous to sport-specific skills. Although static stretches are effective for improving flexibility, studies conducted in adult populations have suggested static stretching prior to exercise can potentially have a negative impact on performance.
Fernandez-Fernandez and his team conducted the study which tested the abilities of 12 internationally ranked male junior tennis players (average age 16.8) after doing two different warmup routines. Both routines were identical, except that one used static stretches and the other used dynamic stretches.
The results, which were published in the journal PLoS One, showed that the athletes had faster sprint times, higher jumps, and faster and more accurate tennis serves after warming up with dynamic stretches than when warming up with static stretches.
Dynamic warmups in young tennis players should include exercises that are analogous to tennis movements for the main body parts involved — the shoulder, lower back, hips and knees, Fernandez-Fernandez said.
“Lunges, butt kicks, side steps and movements that twist the trunk and hips are all very effective,” said Todd Ellenbecker, DPT, clinic director of Rehab Plus Physical Therapy Scottsdale in Arizona, and vice president of Medical Services for the ATP World Tour. “Simply performing tennis strokes with the racquet at different intensities is also excellent for the arms and
trunk since they simulate the demanding movements needed during play.”
There is still a role for static stretching in youth sports, but primarily after exercise rather than before, Fernandez-Fernandez pointed out.
“Static stretching should not be demonized, as doing it after activity will help increase flexibility and reduce pain and soreness,” he said. “I recommend including daily, individualized static stretching routines (using 30 seconds per stretch) after practice and competitions.”
“Since athletes may experience a loss in performance after doing static stretching, I would recommend replacing them with a quality dynamic warmup before tennis and doing static stretches after play,” he said. “One notable exception is that if a child has a tight or injured area, static stretching can be beneficial and should be used before aggressive workouts and tennis play.”
For parents and coaches interested in learning more about the benefits of dynamic stretching, Ellenbecker recommended the book Complete Conditioning for Tennis, while
Fernandez-Fernandez suggested Dynamic Stretching and the USTA website. P
Greg Gargiulo is a freelance medical writer based in San Francisco. He has over 10 years of writing experience, with specialized focus on sports medicine and the treatment and prevention of common injuries and painful conditions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, ggmedwriter.com.