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Finish First Insider, Issue #46
February 23, 2009
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Please enjoy another issue packed with evidence-based information about sports performance training and news about current events at Finish First Sports Performance. If you find value in this e-newsletter, please forward this message to your teammates, coaches, or other parents of hard working athletes.


Why Many Athletes Still Don't Know How to Stretch

By Coach J. Hoy, CSCS, USAW, Jump Stretch, Inc. Certified,
Elite Performance Scientist

An interesting question was recently posed to me about flexibility training and I feel obligated to share my answer with all of you. The question was derived through observation of stretching techniques of most 'weekend warriors', young athletes at the hockey rinks, gyms, etc., and fitness club members.

The question:

Why do you think, with all of the effective Integrated Flexibility Techniques available, most people focus strictly on traditional static stretching techniques?

The answer:

This is definitely a huge issue. Many arguments have been made on both sides of the coin here, so I’d like to offer some of the current issues causing this to continue.

I'd like to point out, first, that scientific research has proven that there exists an optimal length at which each muscle functions best (meaning that it is capable of producing the most force as well as capable of optimizing force reduction and optimal muscle synergies). When a muscle is not at optimal length due to tightness (shortness) or over-stretching (typically a result of dysfunction), the body is not able to produce its most efficient movements (movement patterns). Athletes performing at their best use efficient movement patterns.

I'd also like to point out that research on the subject of flexibility is inconclusive in reference to injury prevention. There is research showing that each type of flexibility training has its positive and negative effects, and using flexibility training does not necessarily mean that an athlete will see increases in performance and/or reduce his/her risk of injury.

However, as a performance coach and scientist, there is enough evidence for me to recommend an integrated approach to flexibility training that is individualized and utilizes a variety of methods specific to the needs of each athlete. From my experience training athletes over the last 10 years, there has been much success with addressing specific muscle length imbalances which has resulted in increased performance AND played a role in reducing the risk of injury.

1. Coaching Education: Due to the ‘natural selection’ component of athletic development in the U.S., many of the coaches that we have as young athletes are volunteers with little or no background in sport performance enhancement outside of their own former athletic careers. Most of the best sports coaches in the U.S. can be found in the professional or higher level ranks, where pay is much better. Even these coaches may not fully understand the value and the variety of the various forms of effective Integrated Flexibility Techniques available, but at least they belong to organizations that can afford to hire a performance enhancement specialist to address these needs. A better structured athletic development system from the top down will better empower the coaches at all levels with the knowledge to make better flexibility training choices, leaving a lasting impression on athletes beginning at an earlier age. Most coaches don’t fully understand the link between integrated flexibility training and performance and injury prevention.

2. Financial Resources: This one doesn’t need much explanation, but many athletes who make it to the next level lack the financial resources to get quality performance coaching during their youth development.

3. Laziness: Many coaches, parents, and athletes should have heard by now that static stretching is not the only way to stretch, and especially not the most effective flexibility training strategy to use. However, due to laziness of the coaches, parents, and athletes to learn or do more research on the subject, they continue to only employ these strategies. I have seen strength coaches that claimed they were so busy that they didn’t have the time to properly get their athletes stretched out—come on—this is crazy—that is the job of the strength coach—do whatever it takes to help your athletes, including using the most effective flexibility training techniques.

4. Stubbornness/Tradition: Just as with anything else in life, many people are set in their ways and are not interested in changing. Several years ago I talked to a major D1 football strength coach about his training philosophies and the discussion led to flexibility training. Interestingly enough, he said that he’s been doing the same programs since 1985 and he has no intention of ever changing. As you can imagine, the argument started immediately following!

5. Results: I know there are many studies showing the negative implications of utilizing only static stretching prior to performance training or athletic competition. On the flipside, evidence has also been presented that flexibility is not a valuable indicator of athletic performance—many of the top level athletes have been found to have flexibility issues, especially in the hips. Testing has been done with NFL athletes, as recent as 2008, that found that there wasn’t one single player on a particular team that didn’t have flexibility issues, yet they were playing the highest level of football possible! The argument has been made by some athletes and coaches that flexibility is often over-rated in regards to performance, and that as long as something is being done to help address major imbalances, stretching is not a big deal. What I have found, after closer analysis of the programs of these coaches, is that there was dynamic flexibility, foam rolling, sports massage, active isolated, and static stretching techniques being used during the workouts. Also, quite often, these high level athletes would get additional stretching from the athletic trainers.

6. Time: Many people using commercially available gyms focus on getting started with their workouts immediately, and skip over a more generalized warm-up of preparatory flexibility routine. Instead, they execute a specific warm-up without regard to flexibility (ie. For a day where bench press was the major lift, several sets of warm-up would be executed for the shoulders, back and chest specific to bench press). They try to squeeze as much weightroom workout in as possible before they need to leave for the day, forcing them to leave without stretching. I noticed this with many of my athletes, too—they will try to make excuses to get out of stretching post workout—usually related to time. When, in reality, the extra 5-10 minutes they spend at the end of the workout addressing this area now may prevent the 6-8 months they would possibly have to miss due to a serious non-contact injury.

7. Attitude: Many of us think we are invincible and “that won’t happen to me.” Sometimes it takes an injury for us to realize that it can happen. Until then, many people will continue to ignore stretching at all, or will only use static stretching.


Motivational Sports Quotes

I asked a ref if he could give me a technical foul for thinking bad things about him. He said, of course not. I said, well, I think you stink. And he gave me a technical. You can't trust 'em.
-- Jim Valvano

That's so when I forget how to spell my name, I can still find my clothes.
-- Stu Grimson, Chicago Blackhawks left wing, explaining why he keeps a color photo of himself above his locker

Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.
-- Joe Theismann

Things that hurt, instruct.
-- Benjamin Franklin



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Coming Soon at Finish First Sports Performance:

Ice Hockey Optimal Performance Training Seminar

Coming to Finish First Sports Performance in May 2009

The science behind performance training for ice hockey Programming for ice hockey (specific to position, age, gender) Optimal nutrition for ice hockey performance Mental strategies for ice hockey performance such as visualization, attitude, aggressiveness, etc.

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Congratulations Bryce!

Please join me in congratulating Finish First Sports Performance athlete (ice hockey goalie) Bryce Merriam on his recent signing with ECAC Division I Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) for the fall of 2009.

I look forward to continued success with Bryce as he continues to work hard towards being the best he possibly can.


Thanks again for subscribing to this free e-newsletter. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. I look forward to your feedback as I continue to research to bring you the most current scientific training information available.

Should you have any specific article requests or questions, email me at jhoy@finishfirstsports.com. Please visit www.finishfirstsports.com for detailed sports performance training information and programs offered exclusively by Finish First Sports Performance.

Yours In Training,

Coach Jeremy S. Hoy, CSCS, USAW, Jump Stretch, Inc. Certified,
Elite Performance Scientist

Finish First Sports Performance
jhoy@finishfirstsports.com
866-468-2231
412-787-5070

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