Flexibility in Mind and Body Provides Advantages On and Off the Field

STACK Expert Jim Carpentier offers guidelines & exercises to improve physical and mental flexibility, boost your performance and make you a better teammate.

Quad Stretch

The ability to bend forward to touch your toes while standing or sitting is one example of body flexibility that can extend your range of motion when you reach to catch an errant throw or pass. Imagine shoulder inflexibility that limits your range of motion so you can't extend your arms overhead to catch a potential game-winning pass, or a stiff lower back or groin that hinders lunging in different directions on the field, court or ice.

Mental Flexibility

The ability to figuratively "bend over backwards" to support an injured or depressed teammate; or to "go that extra yard" by volunteering to collect your team's equipment before and after practice; or to change your behavior for optimal sportsmanship—these are examples of how being mentally flexible can help you gain respect among teammates and coaches and boost your sports performance.

Imagine blowing your cool and arguing with the referee and hurting your team with a costly penalty. That can be viewed as an example of lack of mental flexibility.

Below are samples of dynamic warm-up stretches and cool-down static stretches that can help you become more physically flexible and improve your sports and exercise performance.

Body Flexibility Guidelines

  • Perform dynamic warm-up stretches before practices, games and workouts to prepare your muscles and joints for high-intensity activity. Dynamic stretches are done while you're moving (e.g., Lunge and Overhead Raise combinations). Hold the stretch for one second, release and continue moving.
  • Dynamic stretches also generally target the muscles you will use for specific activities, enhance blood circulation to warm the muscles and relieve tightness.
  • Do static cool-down stretches after practices, games and workouts to loosen tight muscles and promote greater range of motion. Upper- and lower-body static stretches can also be done daily to relieve both physical and mental stress caused by sports, school or work. Hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds and don't bounce. Perform a comfortable stretch throughout the muscle's range of motion.

Dynamic Warm-Up Stretches

Front Lunges and Twists

  • With your arms extended at your shoulders, lunge forward with your right leg into a deep knee bend while rotating your arms and upper body from left to right.
  • Hold the stretch for one second.
  • Lunge with your left leg to a deep knee bend while rotating your upper torso and arms from right to left.
  • Alternate Lunges/Twists for 10 yards, then turn around and repeat them to the start position.

Benefits: Warms up lower-body muscles (quadriceps, hips, hamstrings), upper-body muscles (shoulders, upper back, arms, chest), and core muscles (low back, abdominal, groin and oblique muscles).

High Leg Kicks and Arm Raises

  • Assume an athletic stance with your arms at your sides.
  • Raise your slightly bent leg up to waist level while raising your arms overhead.
  • Hold the stretch for one second.
  • Lower your arms and leg and continue by raising your other leg and your arms.
  • Alternate Leg and Arm Raises for 10 yards, turn around and repeat to start position.

Benefits: Great sport-specific upper- and lower-body warm-up.

Side Lunges and Chest Stretches

  • Assume athletic stance with your hands pressed together at chest level.
  • Lunge laterally with your right foot while simultaneously laterally stretching your arms and hands out at chest level.
  • Pause for one second.
  • Drag your left foot toward your right and bring your hands and arms back to start position.
  • Continue right Lateral Lunges/Chest Stretches for 10 yards, then reverse and do them for 10 yards back to start position.

Benefits: Another lower- and upper-body dynamic stretch targeting quadriceps, hamstrings, groin, chest, shoulders and upper back.

Static Cool-Down Stretches

Standing Quadriceps Stretch

  • Place your right hand against a wall.
  • Lift your left foot off the ground, bend your left knee and pull your left ankle back toward your hip with your left hand.
  • Hold for 10-20 seconds.
  • Switch and perform the stretch on your right leg.

Standing Rear Shoulder/Upper Back Stretch

  • Interlace your hands behind your head with you elbows bent.
  • Slowly bring your elbows back while squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Hold for 10-20 seconds.

Seated Butterfly Stretch

  • Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet together.
  • Slowly drop your knees laterally to the ground and simultaneously gently press down with both elbows against your inner thighs to increase the stretch.
  • Hold for 10-20 seconds.

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