Chris Blake gives answer some common questions about flexibility training for young athletes
What is the difference between Flexibility and Mobility?
Flexibility can have two definitions:
1.) The ability of muscle to lengthen during passive movements.
2.) Range of motion about a joint and surrounding musculature during passive movements.
Mobility can also have two ways of being defined. The main definition is the state of being in motion. But this state of motion can be looked at within certain joints (subtalar mobility) or as a physical whole (moving from one position into the next during a run).
Are both important to young athletes or is one more important than the other?
This is a great question. Both are important for the older athlete (ages 14-18+) as athletes within this age group tend to show more restrictions with both flexibility and mobility, often times once you take care of the flexibility then you improve mobility. But with the younger athlete (ages 13 and under) I wouldn’t place much importance on either one unless there has been a certain injury that limits each.
Are there different kinds of Flexibility, or is ‘bending over to touch my toes and stretch my hammy’ what all young athletes should be doing?
There are seven different ways of going about flexibility:
Passive (or relaxed) stretching
I use dynamic stretching (more like an active movement series of stretches) with most of my youth athletes from as young as 6 years old.
When should you perform Flexibility Training for Young Athletes?
As I stated, I use dynamic stretching with most of my young athletes. But my goal is not to improve flexibility with the younger athletes because I feel that this is not appropriate. If anything, most children are too flexible until their bones lengthen. I would have athletes start to work with flexibility around 14 years of age for males, 12-13 for females. But again I feel that at that point in time dynamic movements and warm-up periods are ideal for flexibility.
When should they train Mobility?
Global Mobility should be an ongoing part of your everyday programming along with movement preparation.
What is the single greatest mistake or myth people make when it comes to Flexibility training?
There are actually two mistakes or myths that come to mind. One is that everyone needs to do static stretches to avoid sustaining a muscle injury. To date there has not been any substantial evidence through research or scientific literature that suggests stretching prevents injuries.
The second part that is more of a mistake than anything when Flexibility Training for Young Athletes is having children perform static stretches before athletic contests or games. The contractile properties of a child’s musculoskeletal system does not work well with static stretching. But knowing this and then seeing groups of young athletes stretching the way that their coaches did “back in the day” just does not make any sense. And yet this is still taking place in every youth athletic league throughout this country. Clearly we still have some work to do to make changes.