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Flexibility in Youth Athletes

 Brian Grasso is the source for this article.

Flexibility is an important component in overall fitness. However it is only a small part
of true fitness. There are many misconceptions about flexibility and many less than
reliable measurement tools. The following article from Brian Grasso helps to debunk
some of these myths and provides age appropriate flexibility expectations.

      Flexibility remains a mysterious avenue within the sport industry, cluttered with myths, half-truths and opinion. Many trainers’, coaches’, and parents’ question the type of flexibility training an athlete should perform, when they should perform it, and for how long. The answer to these questions are very important to the young athlete and how flexibility training should be factored into the answer frequently relates to the motivation and financial sources available. This article may shed some light on a few key points.

      The scope of confusion regarding flexibility can be seen when considering the assessment tools most commonly used to test one’s suppleness. The standard ‘sit & reach’ test is most often incorporated into pre-training assessments as the ‘flexibility test’. In fairness, many coaches and trainers I have worked with cite the fact that the sit & reach is an indirect assessment of flexibility at best, and does not give a truly accurate picture as to the ‘global’ suppleness an athlete may posses considering that flexibility is joint specific. Also, it does not allow us to assess any dynamic qualities, which is important because static flexibility is quite different than dynamic flexibility, and dynamic flexibility is critically more important in sport.

      The degree of flexibility a joint exhibits is not entirely determined by the tightness or pliancy of the muscles that act on that joint. While elasticity of the muscle is a key component to flexibility, so is the elasticity of the corresponding ligaments and even the emotional state of the individual. Additionally, the physical length of a muscle can play a very large role in determining the flexibility or ROM of a joint. Muscle length is largely determined by genetics, but can also be positively influenced through strength training.

      This certainly contradicts a common myth that strength or resistance training INHIBITS flexibility. Furthermore, as the elasticity of a muscle reduces with age (which we generally accept as true), strength training can also positively influence this concern. Yes… Strength training has a positive impact on flexibility and suppleness! In fact, when working with younger athletes, basic static stretching habits can increase the length of a ligament and lead to joint instability. This can lead to poor posture and increased dependence on muscles for joint stability. Strength and flexibility (through full ROM) must work hand-in-hand to ensure optimal development and decreased injury occurrence.

      In terms of young athletes, flexibility develops in correspondence with the rate of growth. The types of training, frequency, and duration change with as the athlete ages:

Ages 6 – 10:   Hip and shoulder mobility declines, resulting in the need for dynamic ROM exercises within these two joints (multi-directional raises and rotations). Maximum flexibility of the spine is reached by the age of 8 or 9 – increases beyond normal ROM can be made, but is unnecessary and considered potentially harmful.

      Within this age group, STATIC STRETCHING SHOULD BE AVOIDED. Excitement within the nervous system is much more pronounced than inhibition, which means that kids this age cannot truly execute a held stretch. They cannot gain the appropriate feedback from their body needed to ensure the safety and optimal effectiveness of the stretch.

      Additionally, Isometric stretches (as found in Yoga) should also be avoided completely in this age category. These kinds of stretches may increase the resting tone of a muscle, which can negatively affect movement skill and coordination. Remember – Fitness fads come and go, but the critical science of athletic development and human physiology is what it is. Yoga has its place to be sure (although I know many skeptics who disagree with that), but coordination and movement MUST dominate this age bracket.

Ages 10 – 13:    Children incur gains of body mass at a quicker rate than gains in height at this age, which leads to an increase in strength. Flexibility training should intensify in this age category. Increases in strength and changes in body mass can combine and lead to poor bio-mechanical habits – most critically in not using full ROM during movement. Ensure that kids incorporate full ROM and dynamic exercises into their training.

Ages 13 – 15:   Height can increase as much as one inch per month during the growth spurt. Muscles and supporting connective tissue do not grow as quickly as bone, which can result in general pain throughout the body. Flexibility training can and should target the areas most prone to pain – this would include quadriceps, hamstrings and muscles of the lumbar spine specifically. Poor posture, reduced movement skill and injury are all potential concerns of rapid growth, but can be limited with appropriate flexibility habits.

Ages 15+:  Now is the time to start adding sport-specific means of flexibility training into an athlete’s routine.

Filed Under Youth Hockey Training  by TampaBayLightningCare    

       Flexibility encompasses more than bending at he waist/hips and putting the palms of your hands on the floor. Flexibility is concerned with the range of motion over which it is possible for you to generate force through your extremities that originates from the body's core.

Note:  The Source for following information is - karateathlete.com 
  • The temperature of the place where one is training (a warmer temperature is more conducive to increased flexibility)
  • The time of day (most people are more flexible in the afternoon than in the morning, peaking from about 2:30pm-4pm)
  • The stage in the recovery process of a joint (or muscle) after injury (injured joints and muscles will usually offer a lesser degree of flexibility than healthy ones)
  • Age (pre-adolescents are generally more flexible than adults) - gender (females are generally more flexible than males) - one's ability to perform a particular exercise (practice makes perfect)
  • One's commitment to achieving flexibility
  • The restrictions of any clothing or equipment
It is possible for the muscles of a joint to become too flexible. According to `SynerStretch', there is a tradeoff between flexibility and stability. As you get "looser" or more limber in a particular joint, less support is given to the joint by its surrounding muscles. Excessive flexibility can be just as bad as not enough because both increase your risk of injury. Once a muscle has reached its absolute maximum length, attempting to stretch the muscle further only serves to stretch the ligaments and put undue stress upon the tendons

Recommended Reading:

Additional articles by Brian Grasso

Flexibility For Young Athletes- Q & A With Chris Blake  There different kinds of Flexibility. What all young athletes should be doing? There are seven different ways of achieving flexibility.

Flexibility For Young Athletes - Q & A With Dr. Kwame Brown  What is the single greatest mistake or myth people make when it comes to Flexibility training?

Flexibility For Young Athletes - Q & A With Bill Hartman  What is the difference between Flexibility and Mobility? Technically speaking based on textbook definitions there may be no difference, but I do tend to separate the two.

Flexibility - Are We Hurting Kids?  The scope of confusion regarding flexibility can be seen when considering the assessment tools most commonly used to test one's suppleness.

Flexibility - More Than Stretching
Performing basic static stretches (like a standard hamstring or calf stretch) can certainly increase the resting length and decrease the tone of a given muscle, but that may have little to no effect on the actual flexibility that a young athlete has.

A Practical Way To Prevent Overtraining
In working with young athletes, there is very little reason to ever test their ability at certain lifts or speed variances. Your programming guidelines must be based around instilling proper execution of technique in your young athletes from a lift and movement economy standpoint.

How To Warm-up Your Young Athletes  Warming up for sport or activity is, in essence, preparing the body for the task it is about to do.

References:

Flexibility Training... Stretching For Sport And Athletes   Flexibility training can improve your athletic performance and your health. Stretching exercises can increase your power, improve your co-ordination, and help prevent injury.

Karate Athlete - Flexibility There different types of flexibility that are grouped according to the various types of activities involved in athletic training. The ones which involve motion are called "dynamic" and the ones which do not are called "static".

Stretching Improves Flexibility, Provides Foundation for Flexibility Studies abound on the effects of flexibility on muscular strength, joint motion, and injury prevention. But the fact remains: stretching improves flexibility.

Flexibility in Youth Athletes: What You Need to Know   Of critical importance to this conundrum is the young athlete and how flexibility training should be applied to this demographic.

Sports Information

Resources:

The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

    
Sports Training

  
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