If you were to ask most coaches if flexibility was an important characteristic for athletes, most would tell you that it is absolutely essential. If you were to later ask them how much time they devote to static stretching or purposefully improving flexibility, you will probably hear some humming and haa-ing about how static stretching can hamper power production and therefore they only do dynamic work. There is certainly an abundance of evidence at this point that static stretching prior to training or competition may be contraindicated. However, this doesn’t mean that static stretching should be completely eradicated from ones programming. Flexibility work certainly has its place whether that be post-sessions or during separate non-training times. But don’t take our word for it, see what the evidence has to say.
Published ahead of print in the Journal of Sports Sciences, Garcia-Pinilos et al. (2015) evaluated how hamstring flexibility related to specific soccer performance markers. A total of 43 semi-professional soccer players (age 14 – 18) were tested for hamstring flexibility with a unilateral passive straight leg raise. The athletes were subsequently split into a “Flexible group” and a “Non-flexible group”. The athletes were then put through a battery of performance tests including: vertical jump, sprinting speed, agility, and kicking speed for both dominant and non-dominant feet.
The results demonstrated non-significant difference among the groups for age and body composition. The flexible group performed better on sprint times (3.29% – 6.12% better), agility (4.11% better), vertical jump (10.49%) and kicking speed (6.86% – 8%). The flexible group outperformed the less flexible group on every marker of soccer performance.
The results of this study make it pretty clear that flexibility (at least of the hamstrings), is an important characteristic of athletic performance in soccer players. Flexibility may therefore be worth training with athletes. Post-training stretching circuits as part of a cool-down may be beneficial, or stretching circuits as part of a recovery/regeneration workout may also be worth considering. It’s clear that flexibility is not just important for reducing the injury potential, but also for optimizing performance in speed, agility, jumping ability and kicking speed.
Garcia-Pinilos, F. et al. Impact of limited hamstring flexibility on vertical jump, kicking speed, sprint, and agility in young football players. Journal of Sports Science, Ahead of Print.