Young athletes should incorporate stretching into their sports training program. The two basic forms of stretching are called static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching involves holding a fixed position for up to 30 seconds, while dynamic stretching warms up the muscles with controlled movements. Both forms of stretching are beneficial, but young athletes must perform them at the proper time.
Since dynamic stretching increases the heart rate and engages muscles throughout the body, it’s best to warm up this way before games and practices. Doing so provides the following benefits:
Save static stretching for after games and practices when the body is still warm. This elongates muscles and connective tissues to increase flexibility over time.
If you’re not sure what dynamic stretching looks like, follow this guide. Direct your young athlete to complete each exercise for 20 to 30 seconds each.
Jumping jacks are a form of thermogenics, elevating the core body temperature and gradually increasing the heart rate.
Stand naturally. Then, jump into a spread-leg position and swing your arms above your head. Jump again, bringing your legs together and your arms back to the starting position. Repeat until you complete the exercise.
2. Arm Circles
This dynamic stretch for young athletes warms up the shoulders and loosens the back muscles.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your legs straight without locking your knees. Then, make large, overhead circles with your arms, starting in the clockwise direction. After about 15 seconds, reverse directions.
3. Arm Crossovers
Arm crossovers open up the shoulders, chest, and upper back for improved flexibility.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Swing both arms in front of you, crossing them at the elbows. Then, reverse directions and swing your arms behind you as far as the shoulders will allow. Repeat this warm-up in a smooth, continuous motion.
4. Walking Knee Hugs
This dynamic warm-up stretches the muscles of the lower back and glutes while activating the calves. It also focuses on improving balance.
Begin in a neutral standing position. Then, raise your right leg, grab just under the knee with both hands, and hug your leg into your chest. Hold for one beat. Release your leg and take a step forward with your right foot. As you do, lift your left leg and hug your knee into your chest. Hold for a beat, and take another step forward. Repeat until you complete the exercise.
Backpedaling focuses on balance and being quick on your feet.
Stand with your feet together and elbows bent at about 90 degrees. Then, begin running backward, focusing on lifting your heels into each step and staying on your toes. Do this exercise on a flat, even surface to avoid tripping and falling.
6. Side Shuffles
Side shuffles engage the ankles, calves, and quads while promoting good mobility.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees. Lean forward slightly and tuck in your arms, holding your elbows at about 90 degrees. Then, shuffle to the right in a galloping motion while still facing forward. Go about 10 hops, pause, and reverse directions. Continue shuffling back and forth until you complete the exercise.
7. Walking Lunges
This warm-up is good for improving balance and core stability as well as developing hip, knee, and ankle flexibility.
Stand with your feet together and your hands on your hips. Take a big step forward with your right foot and lower your left knee to within an inch or two of the ground. Bend your knees no further than a 90-degree angle, and don’t allow your knee to extend over your ankle. As you return to standing, lift your left foot and take another big step forward. Continue these lunging steps until you complete the exercise.
Squats warm up the knees and hips while engaging the quads and glutes.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands and arms extended out in front of you. Then, lower into a squat as if trying to sit in a chair. Bend your knees until your thighs are parallel with the ground, being careful to keep your back straight. Then, return to standing while pushing through your heels. Repeat until you complete the exercise. Do not bend your knees past 90-degrees.
9. Leg Swings
This dynamic warm-up for young athletes increases hip flexibility.
Stand tall with one hand on a wall, railing, fence, or another stabilizing object. Engage your core and swing one leg forward and backward as far as the hips will allow, bending the knee slightly. Continue for about 15 seconds, and then repeat with the opposite leg.
This head-to-toe exercise warms up the entire body.
From standing, bend forward and place your hands on your ground, bending your knees if necessary. Then, slowly walk your hands out until you reach plank position. Walk your feet toward your hands while keeping your knees as straight as possible. Then, walk your hands out again. Continue inching forward until you complete the exercise.
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