Do you have rhythm? If not, get it.
Rhythmic movements help you loosen up without taking away explosive potential.
By: Josh Staph
The rules of soccer dictate the importance of flexibility. "You can’t use your hands, so everything relies on your feet, and you can get into some really awkward positions with your legs," says Barry Kagan, strength and conditioning coach for men’s and women’s soccer at the University of Maryland. "In other sports, you rarely see an athlete caught with his instep facing out in a wide stance. In soccer, it is quite common to be sliding with your legs out as opposed to leading with your hips."
In soccer, flexibility does more than facilitate ease of movement; it prevents injury.
Kagan says his teams’ successes in 2004 resulted from his players’ recognizing the importance of flexibility training and making the effort to improve this aspect of their game.
In 2004, the women made it to the Sweet 16 of the College Cup; and the men made it all the way to the national semifinals. Specifically, Kagan praises Mallory Mahar, a finalist for the National Freshman of the Year Award in 2003, and Kimmy Francis, who is considered one of the hardest working soccer players in the nation. On the men’s side, he points to Michael Dello-Russo, who captains the 2005 team, and Kenny Bertz, a tremendous athlete who brings a dominant physical presence to the team. Such reputations have been built in part by following Kagan’s three-part flexibility program.
Instead of static stretching, which increases laxity in the joints and limits explosiveness, Kagen employs dynamic stretches before workouts and games.
"Dynamic flexibility is a rhythmic motion that doesn’t take your muscles into positions they shouldn’t be in," Kagan says.. "You are just putting them through their full range of motion, exploiting some of their dynamic flexibility and elasticity, and preparing them for the way they are actually going to be used."
The Terrapins complete each exercise over a 20- to 25-yard-distance, then turn around and repeat it. They go through the dynamic warm-up almost every day before practice in and out of season.
Rapidly drive knees up and down in running motion
Rapidly kick heels towards butt in running motion
Skip with opposite arm/opposite leg motion
Skip with opposite arm/opposite leg motion, trying to achieve maximum height with each skip
Bring rear leg up and across your hips in carioca fashion
Reverse Up and Out Skip
Skip backward while rotating the knee out and back, as if you are stepping over a hurdle
Forward Up and Out Skip
Skip forward bringing knee out to the side first, as if you are stepping over a hurdle
Walking Toe Touch
Stand on one leg and bend over trying to touch your toes with the opposite hand, keeping your back flat
Walking Quad Stretch
Grab your foot and pull your heel towards your butt while going up on your opposite toes
Straight Leg March
Swing straight leg up to meet extended arms
Walking Bent-Knee Hip
Bend knee across body and pull ankle up
Step backward into lunge position keeping your front knee behind your front toes
Lunge forward at a 45-degree angle
Lunge and Quad Stretch
Step into a lunge and grab your rear foot on the way back up to standing, pulling your heel toward your butt
Cool Down Sequence
At the end of a workout or practice, Kagan has the Terps perform the following drills around the touchline/18-yard line box. Beginning at the touchline, drill to the 18-yard line, jog across the 18 to the other side and drill down to the touchline. Once at the base of the other touchline, turn around and repeat the drill in the other direction.
Skip and Shake
Skip and gently shake out your legs
Kick heels to buttocks in a slow, relaxed fashion
Shuffle in a slow, relaxed fashion
Shake out your legs as you walk slowly
After cooling down, the Terps convene for a brief static stretch. Kagan’s main goal for post-workout stretching is not so much to train flexibility as to begin the recovery process. He coaches his soccer players not to overstretch, telling them to hold each stretch no more than 15 seconds.
Straddle Stretch (right, left, middle)
- Spread legs wider than hip width
- Bend over at the waist bringing your head toward the ground
- Reach both hands toward the right foot,, the left foot, then to the middle
Side Groin Lunge
- Spread legs wider than hip width
- Lunge over one leg while keeping the opposite leg straight
- Stand with feet shoulder width
- Squat down and press out on your knees with elbows
Hip Flexor and Hamstring Stretch
- Lunge forward allowing the back knee to rest on the ground and hold
- Straighten front knee and bend upper body over the leg
- Sit on the ground with one leg straight and the other bent across it
- Pull your bent knee into your chest
- Place your opposite elbow outside the bent knee and twist
- Grab your foot and pull your heel to your butt
- Get into push-up position with hips raised
- Bend one knee and push the heel on the opposite side toward the ground