Stretching football: Stretching no help to kicking in football
Static stretching, once an absolute pre-requisite of pre-exercise warm-ups, is increasingly under attack these days as study after study fails to demonstrate its efficacy.
The latest blow comes from research carried out on Australian Rules footballers, which showed no significant changes in either flexibility or kicking variables following a stretching warmup.
When planning their study, the researchers reasoned that, although static stretching might be unhelpful prior to strength and power activities, it has been found to be effective for increasing range of motion (ROM) at various joints, such as the hip, which might prove useful for kicking in football.
‘Generally,’ they explain, ‘the greater the distance over which the swinging leg can move, the greater the potential to achieve a high foot speed at the instant of impact with the ball. Therefore, if stretching during warm-up can produce a short-term increase in flexibility, it could potentially enhance the ROM achieved in kicking and, in turn, increase foot speed at impact.’
Their study was set up to determine the effect of static stretching during warm-up on hip and knee joint flexibility, ROM at the hip and knee joints and foot speed during kicking for distance.
Sixteen AR footballers performed six maximum effort kicks following two different warm-ups on two different days, 1-3 days apart.
The control warm-up consisted of submaximal running and seven kicks of the football at 50- 100% of maximum effort, while the experimental warm-up included static stretching of the hip flexors and quadriceps between the submaximal running and kicking.
Immediately before and after each warm-up, the players were assessed for hip flexor and quadriceps flexibility by means of a modified Thomas test, using joint angle calculations in a knee-to-chest position.
After this test, each subject performed six labbased maximum-effort drop punt kicks with the right foot into a net about 10m away, while being videotaped to determine the range of motion of the kicking leg and foot speed at impact with the ball.
Key results were as follows:
- There were no significant changes in flexibility as a result of either warm-up;
- There were no significant differences between the warm-ups for any of the kicking variables.
The findings on flexibility were considered ‘somewhat surprising’, given that static stretching has been reported to produce significant short-term gains in flexibility in the plantar flexors and hamstrings.
It is possible, the researchers speculate, that a stretching routine is more effective for those with ‘tight’ muscles; or that a longer stretching period is needed to produce results; or that the Thomas test was not sensitive enough to detect changes resulting from the stretching warm-up.
However, as they point out: ‘the question of interest is whether or not the warm-ups differed in their influence on ROM and final foot speed in kicking. The results indicated no significant differences between the warm-up conditions on any of these variables, suggesting that stretching had no influence on kicking kinematics.’
They explain that foot speed at impact with the ball is a function of complex neuromuscular patterns from many other muscles. And they conclude that even if static stretching does produce short-term changes in flexibility, these ‘may not be reflected in the kinematics of kicking because of the complexity and multi-factorial nature of this skill’.
J Sci Med Sport 2004; 7:1, pp23-31
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