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From a young age, athletes have long been trained to go through the motions of a warm up before activity, usually involving some type of stretching to prepare their bodies for upcoming movement and reduce their risk of injury. Many different types of stretching exist, though the most commonly practiced forms are static and dynamic stretching. This article will dive into the science of stretching, the do’s and don’ts of the exercise and recommendations for how to best incorporate the practice into your routine that will most benefit your needs.

What is the difference between static and dynamic stretching?

Static Stretching

Static stretching occurs when a joint is taken past its active range of motion placing muscle fibers in a lengthened position and holding for a period of time. Static stretching can acutely increase ROM though is likely due to the body increasing its tolerance to stretch rather than full physiologic changes (i.e. increasing muscle length).

Dynamic Stretching

In contrast, dynamic stretching works by controlling a joint through its full ROM, avoiding prolonged holds and focusing on muscular control through as much range as the body naturally allows. Dynamic stretching will oftentimes incorporate sport-specific movement patterns to prime the nervous system for an upcoming match.

For more information on dynamic stretching and sport-specific warm ups, check out the ACL Prevention Program created by Seattle Pediatric Sports Medicine for youth athletes.

What is the most beneficial type of stretching for athletes?

Several studies have highlighted the greater need to focus on a dynamic warm up rather than static stretching both pre- and post-game. A study done in 2017 looked at a group of youth athletes participating in the English Premier League academy and measured changes in muscle edema (swelling), creatine kinase production (marker of muscle damage), force production during a double leg jump and perceived muscle soreness.

Static stretching immediately following a match did not show any benefit when compared to passive recovery (rest) during the next 48 hours after the match with regard to all variables measured.

Over 48 hours, the body goes through a period of recovery improving all variables mentioned above. No significant differences in measurements were found between the static stretching and rest groups suggesting static stretching provides no additional benefit to a faster recovery.

However, static stretching can be beneficial for adolescents currently going through a growth spurt. Youth athletes will commonly complain of heel pain, hamstring tightness and knee pain, all of which can be a result of growing. Puberty brings about quick changes in body shape, height and composition. These changes often lead to a decrease in relative flexibility as bone grows at a faster rate than muscle. This can largely affect the young athlete’s ability to process its position in space and coordinate movements, thus producing the coined term “adolescent awkwardness” and temporarily hinder overall sport performance. Static stretching may be able to reduce some of these effects by improving muscle length to better match the growing bones it surrounds.

Alternatively, utilizing full depth loaded movements can also provide a stretch to specific tissues while also enhancing muscular control into an end-range position. Both tasks play an important role with regard to athletic performance and injury prevention.

Common muscle strains in youth soccer players

A muscle strain occurs when the muscle fibers cannot meet exercise demands placed on them, causing the muscle fibers to tear. This typically occurs when the muscle is producing force as it is lengthening, an eccentric contraction, or when the muscle is overstretched. Muscle strain severity can vary based on the number of muscle fibers involved. Some commonly strained muscle groups in youth soccer players include the hamstrings, hip adductors, and the calf.


The hamstrings are located on the back of the thigh and include the biceps femoris (short head and long head), semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. These muscles bend the knee and extend the hip.





The adductors are located on the inside of the thigh. Their main role is to move the legs in towards the midline of the body, with some of them serving additional functions. The adductors include the adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis, and pectineus. A strain in this region may also be referred to as a groin strain.





The calf muscle group is located on the back of the lower leg and is composed of the gastrocnemius and soleus. These muscles share a common attachment on the heel via the Achilles tendon. They both work to point the foot down, also known as ankle plantarflexion. The gastrocnemius also plays a role in bending the knee.

Stretches to reduce soccer injuries

Cossack Squats

  • Start with legs wide and shift your weight into one leg by bending through your knee and hip
  • Try to keep your knee stacked over your ankle, minimizing any side to side movement of your knee
  • Your back should stay in a neutral position throughout the movement
  • Your other leg should remain as straight as possible, allowing you to feel a stretch through the inner part of your thigh and groin
  • Alternate between sides and perform 2 sets of 10 per side

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

  • Start standing with a soft bend in your knees (not bent, but not locked out)
  • Shift your weight towards the back part of your feet by hinging your hips backwards
  • As your hips shift back, your torso will remain neutral and begin angling down towards the ground
  •  You should feel your glutes, hamstrings and core working to control the movement
  • Reach as far down as you can to feel a moderate stretch through the hamstrings while still being able to maintain a neutral spine
  • Perform 2 sets of 10 at a slow controlled pace

Nordic Hamstring Curl

  • Start in a tall kneeling position with a partner holding your ankles behind you
  • Maintain a straight line from your knees to your shoulders as you  try to slowly lower your body down to the floor, controlling primarily with your hamstrings
  • Use your arms to help slow your body down as it nears the ground and push back up into kneeling
  • Perform 2 sets of 8

Eccentric Calf Raise 2 up/1 down

  • Start by leaning into a wall and keep your heels on the ground. You should feel a stretch in your calves
  • Lift both heels at the same time and pause at the top for 2 seconds
  • Pick up one foot and slowly return your other heel to the ground. This should take about 5 seconds
  • Return your other foot to the ground and repeat for 2 sets of 12 per side

Eccentric Single Leg Calf Raise

  • Start by leaning into a wall and keep your heel on the ground. You should feel a stretch in your calf
  • Lift your heel and pause at the top for 2 seconds
  • Slowly return your heel to the ground. This should take about 5 seconds
  • Repeat for 2 sets of 12 per side

Standing Gastrocnemius Stretch

  • Put a rolled up towel on the ground and place the ball of your foot on the towel
  • Straighten you knee and lean forward into the wall until you feel a moderate stretch in your calf
  • Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat for a total of 3 sets

Standing Soleus Stretch

  • Put a rolled up towel on the ground and place the ball of your foot on the towel
  • Bend your knee 20-30 degrees and lean forward into the wall until you feel a moderate stretch in your calf
  • Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat for a total of 3 sets

Butterfly Stretch

  • Sit on the ground and bring the soles of your feet together by allowing your knees to fall out to the side
  • Use your elbows to help push your knees down toward the ground
  • At the same time, lean forward through your hips until a moderate stretch is felt around your groin and inside of your thighs
  • Hold for 30-45 seconds, repeat for 3 sets

Static Stretching Protocol

The following static stretching protocol has been shown to increase ROM, muscular cross-sectional area and one-legged jump height (calf was stretched) in adolescent athletes:

5 sessions/week for 12 weeks – ex: performed 1x/day Monday-Friday 

Weeks 0-3: 2x6x45s (2 sets of 6 reps each held for 45s)

Weeks 4-6: 2x6x60s (2 sets of 6 reps each held for 60s)

Weeks 7-9: 2x6x75s (2 sets of 6 reps each held for 75s)

Weeks 10-12: 2x6x90s (2 sets of 6 reps each held for 90s)

 * Reps are performed in succession of each other with a 1 minute break in between sets at a 7-8/10 intensity level.


Static stretching has been shown to reduce the rate of force a muscle can produce, which can be hindering activities requiring a large amount of power such as sprinting. Most studies support dynamic stretching over static stretching, though the most optimal warm up is sport-specific incorporating frequently used movement patterns the athlete will encounter during a game.

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Jessica Hiestand DPT, CSCS

This post was written by Dr. Jessica Hiestand in December of 2022.

Learn more about Jessica on our about page: https://gopt.co/people/jessica-heistand/


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2. Hill, M., Scott, S., McGee, D. et al. Coaches’ Evaluations of Match Performance in Academy Soccer Players in Relation to the Adolescent Growth Spurt. J. of SCI. IN SPORT AND EXERCISE 2, 359–366 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42978-020-00072-3

3. Panidi I, Bogdanis GC, Terzis G, Donti A, Konrad A, Gaspari V, Donti O. Muscle Architectural and Functional Adaptations Following 12-Weeks of Stretching in Adolescent Female Athletes. Front Physiol. 2021 Jul 16;12:701338. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2021.701338. PMID: 34335307; PMCID: PMC8322691.

4. Pooley S, Spendiff O, Allen M, et alStatic stretching does not enhance recovery in elite youth soccer playersBMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2017;3:e000202. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2016-000202

5. Robles-Palazón, F. J., Ayala, F., Cejudo, A., De Ste Croix, M., Sainz de Baranda, P., & Santonja, F. (2020). Effects of age and maturation on lower extremity range of motion in male youth soccer players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 36(5), 1417–1425. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003642

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