We stretch before a run, after a workout, or when we feel tight at the gym. But when did we learn to do this? When did we form good stretching routines and habits? When we were kids, of course!
Stretching is a fun and easy way to teach your child flexibility and healthy habits. It’s good for kids of all ages, in fact. Whether your child is attending their favorite sports camp, working hard in the middle of the season, or heading into the the big game, help them get ready with some great, safe stretches and routines.
Benefits of stretching
There are many benefits of stretching beyond simply warming up your muscles for play. Everyone from your grade school coach to the scholars at Harvard knows that stretching helps you stay flexible, healthy, and mobile. As adults, we tend to focus more on the “mobile” part, but for kids, it is important to stretch growing muscles so that they perform well and keep young bodies fluid and strong.
Stretching supports muscle length and strength, which reduces injury and inflammation. A daily stretching routine counteracts school days spent at a desk and endless hours hunched over mobile devices. Stretching also supports blood and oxygen flow through muscles, making your child feel better and feel better!
Strong muscles protect joints. We see too many young athletes with overuse injuries and a consistent stretching practice can play a key preventative role. Stretching muscles when they are young will also keep them healthier and more flexible as your child grows up.
Start stretching today. Do it together!
When To stretch
The great debate: stretch before or after a workout?
Honestly, there is a lot of information out there and it can be confusing, but your child should be warming up those muscles before playing and stretching again to cool down afterwards. On a rest day, try a little yoga – there is even a pose ready-made for you and your young athlete: Child’s Pose!
Before any good playtime, make sure your son or daughter does some dynamic stretching. Some studies suggest that static stretching, or stretching where you hold one, long stretch, can strain “cold” muscles. Instead, before the big game or even before a recess scrimmage, encourage your child to move their muscles slowly to get ready for all the fun. Walk with long steps, do a few jumping jacks, or showoff some giant toe-kicks to get ready to move.
Especially during Summer activities when the weather is hot, it is also important to have a good cool-down routine that includes static stretching. Muscles that get a lot of use in play need extra attention. Lots of running means your child should definitely stretch their hamstrings by touching their toes; stretch quads by holding one shoe behind while pulling the heel to the back of the leg; butterfly stretches on the ground are great for flexible and mobile hips.
Best stretches for young athletes
Don’t let those challenging soccer drills trip up your child. Here are a few of our favorite stretches that will keep your son or daughter flexible, healthy, and happy all year long.
There are many options for this traditional yoga sequence, but try this super-easy, dynamic set of stretches for a great routine to wake up to, whether you are 9 or 90. In no time at all, you and your child can get all your muscles moving to start your day.
- Stand up tall
- Take a very deep breath, sweeping your hands over your head
- Take another deep breath and bend at your hips as you reach for your toes
- Put your hands on the floor and step one foot at a time backwards into a plank (younger or more active kids may want to jump backwards – go ahead!)
- Pause and take another breath
- Drop your body to the floor and then push up through your hands, lifting just your chest and keeping your legs on the floor. Look up and breathe!
- Push your hips up into a triangle shape for “Downward Dog”
- Walk or jump feet back forward, take a breath, and stand up tall again
Repeat as often as you like and you will be ready for whatever school, camp, or practice has in store!
A great dynamic stretch that works muscles kids use everyday is a Walking Lunge. This is a perfect warmup activity before practice. It works muscles in the whole body, especially the legs, and is great for developing better balance, too. Get ready to run those bases!
- Choose a distance (this can be the length of the kitchen or the length of the soccer field!)
- Take one large step forward, dropping the opposite knee almost all the way to the ground
- (Make sure your front knee lands above your front foot – if you step too far, make your next step shorter)
- Push through your front heel, stand tall, bring your back knee up to your chest, and then step forward with the other leg
This dynamic stretch is for the kid who likes to be the star! Clear the room, she’s coming through!
- Step firmly with your right foot
- Kick your left foot high and reach forward with your right arm
- Touch your right hand to left toe and hold for a breath
- Drop leg and repeat on the other side
Butterfly Hip Stretch
After a great practice or fun day at camp, an easy, but important stretch is the Butterfly Hip Stretch. This lengthens and strengthens hip muscles that can get tight and less mobile, especially as your child grows.
- Sit up straight on the floor and pull the soles of your feet in to touch each other
- Sit and breath for 30 seconds
(For extra stretching, take a giant breath in and exhale your arms forward on the ground)
Remember, all stretching should be fun and healthy. Your muscles may be sore, but if your child says something is painful, stop and listen. Stretching makes your body better, so teach your child to always listen to their body!