Warm-Up, Stretching, Warm-Down

In 1995 members of the Executive Board of the Fairmount Soccer Association attended a seminar sponsored by the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association entitled Common Soccer Injuries, given by Dr. Raymond Rocco Monto, M.D. who is an orthopedic surgeon of the Pennsylvania Orthopedic Associates. Dr. Monto is a consultant for the United States Youth Soccer Federation, and specializes in sports injuries.

Following that seminar the Board decided to create a standardized program of warm-up, stretching, and warm-down for all Playing Divisions of Fairmount Soccer, to be implemented by all coaches at practices and games to prevent muscle injury. The purpose of the program is both to prevent injury to Fairmount Players now, and to instill in the players the importance of these ideas and get them into a routine of injury prevention which they could use for the rest of their life. Youngsters resist programs like this partly because they think of themselves as invincible, and partly because they think it’s a pain in the neck. After all, they’re here to play.

We want to make sure that we fulfill our responsibility to teach all the physical and mental skills necessary to play soccer, and conduct our practices and games in a safe manner. Carrying out this injury prevention program will help to fulfil that responsibility.

We have developed the following program with the assistance of Dr. Monto, and with input from literature provided by Dr. Allan M. Levy, M.D. and Dr. H. Winter Griffith, M.D., both of whom are sports medicine specialists.

Dr. Monto writes in The Goal Line, Skeletal muscles are made up of many bundles of individual fibers that are recruited by the brain to power limb or joint motion. Many more fiber bundles must contract together to generate a powerful motion than are needed for a gentle or finely controlled activity. Large groups of muscular bundles then funnel into tightly wound, rope-like tendons that anchor into the bone. Muscle fiber damage usually occurs at these muscle-tendon junctions.

As it turns out, the problem with muscle strain is one more of degree than architecture. Strength training actually relies on producing microscopic damage in muscle-tendon junction sites. Delayed muscle soreness usually felt 24-48 hours after working out is a result of this damage. As the muscle then heals, it gradually gains in size and strength. A muscle strain occurs when violent force is applied to the muscle while it is simultaneously being stretched. This stress overwhelms the musculotendinous junctions, leading to extensive muscle fiber damage. The player feels an extremely painful tearing sensation usually accompanied by a spasm of the remaining intact muscle. If severe enough, a deformity can be felt in the muscle. Unlike strength training, the extensive fiber disruption in muscle strains often results in scar formation rather than muscle growth. Unfortunately, this leads to a stiffer muscle that is far more susceptible to re-injury than normal muscle tissue.

A great deal of sound lab work now demonstrates that proper stretching leads to some lengthening of the muscle-tendon unit. Muscle that has been chronically stretched can handle greater loads before failing and is at less risk for muscle strain injury. Stretching can even enhance performance by increasing energy return while decreasing heat dissipation. Also, several studies at Duke University suggest that warm muscle can stretch farther than cold muscle before being injured.

Certain muscle groups seem to be at particular risk for muscle strain in soccer. These include the hamstrings (the dominant muscle group during kicking), groin muscles, quadricepts and surprisingly, the abdominal muscles. Careful strength training in the off-season, adequate recovery periods between matches and practices during the season and repeated stretching sessions of these muscle groups should ultimately help reduce the number and severity of muscle injuries.

While stretching prior to a game or practice is the primary method in our program to help ensure against muscle injury it is only part of our standardized program. A warm-up is the first step to take in the program. The warmer muscle fibers get, the softer and more fluid they become. The warmer the muscle becomes the more easily they are able to stretch and the more rapidly they are able to contract. Warming joints lubricates them, thus allowing them to move more freely with less energy expended.

Once a light warm-up has been completed stretching can be accomplished. Our stretching routine will include only static stretching. Bouncing, or ballistic stretching can do more damage than no stretching at all. Bounce stretching shortens the muscle which is exactly opposite of what we are trying to accomplish. In the static stretching we are holding the muscle stationary for 20 seconds, in which the muscle responds by lengthening slowly. Stretches for the hamstrings, groin, quadricepts, abdomen, and neck will be among the ones we will do.

After the game or practice is over a gradual warm-down period should take place. The warm-down period should be a 5 to 10 minute period of mild activity. This will allow your heart to slow down and adjust its blood flow without pooling of the blood in the muscles. Warm-down enhances the removal of lactic acid from the muscles, which will reduce muscle soreness. In an older athlete, such as coaches, who participate with their players, a quick stop to aerobic activity may cause severe blood pooling leading to an increased chance of fainting or even heart attack. A coach who participates with their players should follow the program too.