Young Athletes and Resistance Band Stretching
By Dave Schmitz
What age is good to start band stretching?
Is it appropriate to stretch young athlete ages 10 to 13 with Bands?
Are there precautions when stretching young athletes with bands?
As a band expert I have never felt doing band stretching with athletes younger than 14 was an effective way to improve passive mobility because of the hypersensitivity of the nervous system to passive over pressure stretching. Anytime I attempted to introduce band stretching to this age group, I met with a great deal inhibition and compensation. Passive overpressure stretching of young athletes for years seemed to be very noxious to the neuromuscular system which resulted in kids just putting their body through unproductive stress that the body was not mature enough to handle. The key word in this sentence was mature or from a functional standpoint integrated.
Band stretching is like any other movement skill, it must be integrated progressively which means eliminating inhibition by introducing the movement skill in a progressive manner. With band stretching that means:
- Using the correct band strength that provides the young athlete with enough resistance to initiate a contraction but does not put their muscle under inhibitory causing stress
- Providing a manual training stimulus using your hands and verbal cueing to guide them through the movement patterns
- Stressing the importance of opposite side stabilization and manually assisting with this so they can feel the impact of locking out the opposite arm and maintaining a solid foot contact against the wall
- Not overwhelming them by showing all stretching positions in one training session. Start with hamstring stretching first and then gradually introduce hip rotation, hip flexor/quad and ankle on subsequent sessions
Other important keys to remember are that many of these young athletes are going through abrupt growth spurts which disrupt their neuromuscular control and coordination instantly. Lever arms are lengthened which in turn challenges dynamic stabilization. Also with this added length neural tissues become shortened leading to neurotension restrictions which are best addressed with rhythmical dynamic stretching versus using a static stretching approach.
A Case Study
My son Carter was 13 years old, 135 pounds and 5 feet 1 inch tall going into 8th grade school year. Carter moved very well for his age but had recently gone through a 3 inch growth spurt over a 2 month time frame which dramatically increased his hamstring and hip rotation tightness. Carter played soccer as well as football. He had become very interested in becoming the kicker for his 8th grade club football team. In watching Carter kick during the summer prior to his 8th Grade year, he was not able to get effective hip flexion with knee extension during the follow through of his kicks which had decreased both his power as well as accuracy. In accessing his Straight leg Raise (SLR) Test, Carter demonstrated only about 30 degrees of hip flexion with full knee extension.
Up until this time, I had never implemented band stretching with Carter but decided to do a 3 week trial. For the first three 15 minute stretching sessions, I manually worked with Carter to insure proper movement and stability during the movement. I did not apply any overpressure but rather allowed Carter to create that with the band. My role was simply to guide the movements and assist with stabilization. After the first 2 sessions Carter started demonstrating very good neuromuscular control using a Red Small band and was able to perform all hamstring and hip rotation stretches effectively without my assistance. He stretched a total of 15 times over a 21 day period with each session lasting about 12 to 15 minutes. Many of the sessions were done prior to practice or before going out to play with his friends.
After 3 weeks of band stretching, Carter’s SLR Test increased to 75 degrees and his kicking accuracy from 30 yards was 90%. After 6 weeks his SLR Test was 90 degrees and his accuracy was now 90% at 35 yards.
Obviously after seeing this incredible change in Carter’s hip flexibility, I quickly started to adjust my opinion on band stretching for younger athletes. One of the other factors that I realized while going through this experiment with Carter, was level of muscle stiffness maturity he was experiencing. Carter’s tissues were stiff but not to the degree of an individual in his 20’s or 30’s Therefore by applying the correct stretching stimulus Carter’s tissues quickly adapted and lengthen which explained the dramatic improvement but also provided a stronger support towards instituting band stretching sooner than later in young athletes.
Recommendations for stretching young athletes with bands
Here are a few recommendations for starting a band stretching program for ages 11 to 14.
1. Begin by using a red band before considering any stronger level band. Very important to not over tension their muscle tissue and make them struggle getting into the correct positions.
2. As their coach or parent, you need to help them learn the movements and positions. They will need manual guidance and verbal cueing for at least 2-3 sessions before they can be allowed to stretch on their own.
3. Start with 1 or 2 stretches and gradually implement the others as they master the initial stretches. Again keep in mind, this is not fun stuff and the motivation to train flexibility will probably not be there initially. Until they begin to feel functional improvement, getting young athletes to stretch effectively will require coaching patience.
4. Stretch slowly but actively. 2-3 second progressive holds while performing at least 90 seconds of rhythmical movement in each position is important. Progressive holds are defined as maintaining increased tension for 2 to 3 seconds while still attempting to push further into the range.
The video below will take you through what stretches I feel you should start using with young athletes.
It should be noted the hip flexor- quad stretch is not performed but should be added into the routine once hamstrings and hip rotation stretches are mastered.