It is a well-documented fact that limber, flexible muscles can enhance athletic performance, whether it’s getting around on a 90mph fastball or running down that fly ball that is sailing over your head. Everyone benefits from stretching, from serious athletes to weekend warriors.
Improving and maintaining flexible muscles can make the difference not only in your performance but how your body feels when you complete your workout and how quickly you’re ready to begin again. Many people are unaware that there are different stages and elements in the stretching game. That’s what it is, a game, before and after engaging in the actual competition.
There are also different types of flexibility. These different types of flexibility are grouped according to the various types of activities involved in athletic training. The ones that involve motion are called “dynamic” and the ones that do not are termed “static”. Let’s get this right out of the way before we start anything; stretching is not a warm-up! Too many people use stretching as such and are setting themselves up for a huge fall if not a torn muscle. A proper warm-up should raise your body temperature by a couple of degrees Celsius.
This is followed by the:
- General warm-up
- Sport-Specific stretching.
Warming up can do more than just loosen your stiff muscles, when done properly it should improve performance. On the other hand improper warm-up or none at all can increase your chances of become a member of the Disabled List (DL.) Before we actually get to the stretching game a few interesting points to mention. Breathing is a key element in stretching, proper breathing is important for a successful stretch. Proper breathing helps relax the body, increase blood flow throughout the body and helps to mechanically remove lactic acid and other by-products of exercise. Some sources also suggest that water is an important element not only in re-hydration but is directly related to flexibility. Increased water intake is believed to contribute to increased mobility, as well as increased total body relaxation.
The bone structure of a joint places noticeable limits on flexibility depending on the type of joint involved and its present condition. This is a common way in which age can be a factor limiting flexibility since older joints tend not to be as healthy as younger ones. Muscle mass can also be a factor, when muscles are heavily developed. Overly developed muscles can interfere with the ability of adjacent joints to move through their full range of motion. Excess fat also hinders flexibility. Well now that we have gotten the academic mumbo jumbo out of the way lets get on to the actual stretching.
Warm-up should consist of a short jog or bike, anything to get a little sweat going and to increase that body temperature a couple of degrees.
This should consist of Static stretches, which involve stationary actions, meaning no bouncing around. Stretch out the lower back (pretzel stretch) forearms (outstretched hand), chest, shoulders, groin, quads, and hamstrings. After you have done these static stretches for no less that 20 seconds per limb, you can now continue to the third phase of stretching, Sport-Specific stretching. Which for baseball include partner stretching for the shoulders, i.e. internal and external stretches for the rotator cuff and resistive stretches for the hamstrings.
After the actual practice or game it is very important to instil a Cool-down into ones regimen. This should involve the opposite order of the warm-up. Do your sport-specific stretches, followed by your static stretches and finish off with a short run. This is a good program for the everyday player; pitchers should do extra running and concentrate more on shoulder and rotator cuff flexibility along with a more intense cool-down period.