Those quads, hammies and calves are about to go full bore for 90 minutes -- or more if there’s overtime in your soccer game. So you don’t want to subject cold, unprepared leg muscles to the potential for injury by jumping onto the soccer field unprepared. Your entire body needs some tender loving care in the form of dynamic stretches before the game starts.
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Make It Dynamic
If you’ve been among the millions originally taught to lean against a teammate and pull up a heel to stretch a quad, or to bend over, straight leg against a bench, to work on a hamstring, it’s time to update your stretching routine. Soccer and other team sports have been persuaded by exercise scientists that these so-called static stretches -- where you “stretch and hold” -- are not effective before practices or games. They put athletes in too much of a relaxed mode, notes Greg Gatz in “Complete Conditioning for Soccer.” You want to instead make stretching part of warmup moves that activate the muscles across a range of motion and stimulate the body for work.
Time for Some Carioca
More up-to-date dynamic warmups include the carioca or grapevine step, which you can do once or twice across the width of the field. The swinging arms and twists of the carioca activate the core and upper body as well as your leg muscles. Butt kickers and high knees warm up and dynamically stretch the glutes, quads and hamstrings. You can also add power skips for height and squat jumps in place, as well as backpedaling, Gatz suggests.
The Full FIFA
For the best preparation of all, perform the full FIFA 11+ warmup, developed by soccer’s international governing body to prevent injury, especially in female players prone to knee ligament tears. Start with eight minutes of different running exercises: straight ahead, with outward hip rotations, with inward hip rotations, circling your partner while shuffling, bumping shoulders with your partner and quickly running forward and backward. While these may not seem like classical “stretches,” the hip rotations in particular, as well as the shoulder contact drill, require fluid muscle elongations. The 11+ continues with 10 minutes of strength, plyometrics and balance work and a final two minutes of additional running exercise. Of these exercises, a jumping component and a bounding component also provide dynamic stretching.
Save It for Later
Those static quad and hamstring stretches of yesteryear? You can still perform them, just wait to make them part of your cool-down. Add the prone calf stretch, the static spiderman and the side groin stretch, Gatz advises. And pair off with a teammate for partner-assisted stretches of the hamstrings and hip flexors.