Updated: Jun 7, 2020
So it has been proven that static stretching is not speed inducing and that it can cause more problems than it creates for performance- as a new coach you probably know this and have put this into practice for your own running. Having said that, there are no absolutes in this world and banning static stretching is also not desirable. It can be used to increase flexibility in areas where it is much needed. For example, often runners static stretch calves and Achilles tendons as well as hamstrings when addressing injuries. A trainer or physical therapist can help guide this kind of stretching- or you can relax because these are 12-13 year olds. If they are static stretching because it feels good or because that is what their coordination allows for, I would let them do that. Also you can simply turn static stretching into simple dynamic stretching by adding some gentle bounce to the those stretches. As your athletes move through their running career this is the exact kind of thing that can be refocused and where they can gain some speed. But you do need to introduce it and give it a try. To best use dynamic stretching prior to workouts that will help the young body get ready to challenge itself you should have an actual plan. Remember these exercises also help develop muscles that are not being used regularly and should therefore not be left out even if it means cutting into running time for a while as they learn the basics.
How to Develop a Plan-
The first rule of dynamic stretching is to get the body parts through a full range of motion several times. This warms the muscles and loosens joints and tendons. For Middle School you can create an easy plan, perhaps from the neck down. For example: (repeat each about 6-10 times times and do these relatively slowly):
-Roll neck down and to the sides- not back
-Roll shoulders back and then forward
-Do the “backstroke” with the arms, really extending those arms and rolling through the shoulder. (This also helps focus on posture!)
-Warm up the posterior chain by clasping hands together in front, gently bend the knees, lean forward and swing down, letting your clasped hands go through the knees and then come back up all the way and straighten your legs while swinging hands up over your head.
-With feet apart twist upper torso side to side, reaching with each arm to the opposite direction
-Hurdle rotations- you can do these standing to help develop balance or on all fours- bend the knee and rotate in circles to move that hip joint all the way around, forward and backward. Go through the entire joint rotation.
-Active squats- go down as far as you can go with feet flat, then extend the legs, keeping your head down to get to the hamstrings, repeat.
-Stay hinged at the hips, touch foot with opposite hand while extending the other arms all the way to the sky, follow that hand with your eyes, switch sides back and forth, you can gently bounce to a count of five at each foot.
-Rotate ankles both ways, fully. Then do toe raises.
-do side to side squats to get to those inner thighs and to keep warming the leg muscles.
-One more that can be a bit tricky is- go into a forward lunge then tip back straightening the front leg with head toward knee. This duo get at the hip flexors and hamstrings.
If you work up a routine and repeat each of these 6-10 times the athletes will learn and can lead the routine themselves. The idea is to repeat the “stretch” until you start to feel the loosening. These are always important.
Next blog I will give some ideas for drills- remember- there are a number of great ways to do much of the basics- find what works for you and your team. Maybe coordinate some with the High School so your Middle Schoolers can take these with them when they become High Schoolers.