Stretching the Content of Your Warm-Up

Article excerpt

Many time-pressed activity leaders conduct the same stretching routine every day, regardless of the activity that follows. Here are some guidelines for adding variety.

University students work hard at learning and demonstrating effective methods of teaching physical education. One of the concerns that arises for many students, and for many practicing teachers and coaches I have worked with as well, is the need to provide participants with appropriate stretching exercises as a part of the overall warmup experience. In order to be considered appropriate, the stretching portions of warm-up routines should meet the following standards:

* They are performed in ways that are consistent with what we know will yield safe gains in flexibility.

* They are designed to prepare the parts of the body that will receive the most attention in a particular activity. In other words, there is a good match between what is stretched and what type of activity will follow the warm-up.

* Participants understand the exercises well enough to evaluate other warm-up routines they perform, whether they are created by fitness instructors, team coaches, or the participants themselves.

The purposes of this article are to emphasize that the stretching portion of warm-ups is important, to identify some factors that may interfere with teachers' effectiveness in leading their students, and to pose some solutions. The majority of what is presented in this article is intended for teachers, but much can be used by wider audiences.

The Importance of Stretching

During the initial phase of most physical education lessons, students are frequently warmed up with a series of low-intensity exercises, followed by various stretches. These stretches are often intended to control flexibility, or the ability of joints to move through a full range of motion. Flexibility plays an important part in reducing injuries during exercise (or even in daily activities), preventing muscle soreness and post-exercise pain, reducing the chances of low back pain, and relieving emotional tension. Once participants have learned a variety of exercises, they will be equipped to continue to work on flexibility beyond their student years - a component of health-related fitness thought to be a factor in a higher quality of life. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (1995) identifies flexibility as one aspect of their standard that states that a physically educated person "achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness" (p. 3).

Impeding Factors

Learning to stretch properly and safely should matter at least as much as the other content in most physical education lessons. Several factors, however, impede the ability of physical activity instructors to provide appropriate warm-up exercises. Some teachers, for example, invest their time and energy learning the content of various units of instruction but may not spend as much time attending to appropriate stretching routines as part of the process of preparing for a given activity. Sticking to a single routine where the same stretches are done before each session - regardless of the activity - is often justified as a way to reduce the need for repeated instruction in different stretches and to increase the appearance of control in the instructional setting. Accordingly, the amount of time that can be devoted to instruction in other aspects of the activity is thought to be increased.

Unfortunately, both teachers and students become bored when the single-routine approach to stretching is used. Furthermore, students may stop paying attention to form during stretches, which can decrease the intended effectiveness of the stretching activities. A simple turn of a foot by 90 degrees can involve quite different ligaments, tendons, and muscle groups.

Another impeding factor arises when teachers, coaches, and exercise leaders feel the pressure of insufficient time. …