Gridiron Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Gridiron stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with gridiron injuries.
by Brad Walker | First Published September 14 , 2008 | Updated August 14, 2017
The origin of Gridiron or American Football can be traced to early rugby and soccer played in England. Similar largely unorganized games were also played by Native Americans until the early 19th century.
Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth students played their own versions by their own rules. Due to sheer brutality, many schools and cities banned the game.
In 1873 Yale, Rutgers, Columbia and Princeton got together to standardize the rules. These were based more on soccer than on rugby. In 1878, on Walter Camp’s proposal, the number of players on the field was limited to eleven.
Professional football began in 1892. In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was formed. Two years later, it changed its name to the National Football League (NFL). It quickly became a national phenomenon and in 1960, the American Football League too was formed. Eventually, the two leagues merged. This also led to the first Super Bowl. The league has expanded to 32 teams and 8 divisions. The season runs from August to December. The Super Bowl is played in January with Pro Bowl in February.
The modern rules are structured to improve safety and the new equipment standards have taken some of the danger out of the game. However, as athletes get stronger and faster the collisions and tackles become more violent. American football players must be well conditioned for their game to avoid injuries and achieve peak performance. Football requires a good combination of strength, speed, agility, and endurance.
The various positions in football require different degrees of muscular involvement. Running backs and receivers require more lower body strength and agility. Offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers, and ends require more upper body strength along with the lower body strength. Neck strength and flexibility, along with good musculature along the torso to protect the rib cage and organs are essential to the football player. The muscles of the extremities must be strong to protect the joints.
The major muscles involved in Gridiron (American Football), for all positions, include:
- The muscles of the legs; the quadriceps, hamstrings, and the gastrocnemius and soleus.
- The muscles of the hips; the gluteals, abductor and adductor muscles of the hips, and the hip flexors.
- The core muscles; the rectus abdominus, obliques, and spinal erectors.
- The muscles around the shoulder girdle and neck; the pectorals, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, the muscles of the neck and the trapezius.
A comprehensive training program is essential to keep these muscles strong and flexible. This will help reduce injury and improve performance in gridiron.
Most Common Gridiron Injuries
Athletes playing American football are subject to violent external forces on a regular basis. The high speed collisions and awkward body positions during tackling and blocking activities often put the body in danger of traumatic injuries.
Some of the common injuries suffered by football players are ligament sprains in the knee, meniscus tears, shoulder dislocation and subluxations, muscle strains, concussions, and neck injuries.
- Knee Ligament Sprains: During play the knee is subjected to many stresses, ranging from normal to extreme. The ligaments that hold the knee together have a small degree of stretch capability but when they are stretched beyond their normal range they will tear. The severity of the injury depends on the number of fibers torn, and whether it tears completely from the bone. Blows to the side of the knee or getting hit while the knee is twisted are common causes of these types of injuries. The two most common ligament injuries occur to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). The recovery time varies depending on the severity of the injury, and whether surgical interventions are required to repair it.
- Meniscus Tear: The cartilage, or meniscus, that cushions the knee is under constant abuse when running, jumping and blocking. When the knee is twisted the cartilage can be torn. The torn cartilage causes further injury as the jagged edges rub against the other cartilage and bone. It may not be debilitating, and many athletes play with torn cartilage, opting to have it repaired in the off-season. It requires arthroscopic surgery to repair, which usually requires 4 to 6 weeks to return to normal function.
- Shoulder Dislocation and Subluxations: The shoulder joint is weakest when the arm is extended away from the body, especially behind the body. Force applied against the hand in that position can cause a partial (subluxation) or complete dislocation of the shoulder joint. When falling from a tackle or while extending to catch a pass, players are often in these positions. The additional weight of a tackler, along with their own body weight, can lead to the necessary force for a dislocation. Immobilizing the joint and applying ice are the immediate treatment steps. Subluxations often return to normal position on their own. Some dislocations will reduce on their own, as well. Both of these conditions, even if they return to normal position on their own, should be treated by a medical professional. The average recovery time is 6 weeks.
- Muscle Strains: The muscles of football players are subjected to bursts of activity followed by rest and then a return to activity. When an athlete is resting the muscles cool and then they may be called back into action without any sort of gradual build up. This can lead to tearing of the muscles. These vary depending on the number of fibers involved. Complete tears may require surgical intervention. Minor strains can be treated with ice, rest, and NSAIDs.
- Concussions: The head to head collisions involved in tacking and blocking activities have caused many concussions on the gridiron. When the brain is bounced around inside the skull some slight swelling and bruising occurs. This damage to the brain can cause unconsciousness, memory loss, and in extreme cases, long term brain damage. The swelling and bruising often subsides within 24 hours. Keeping the athlete awake and applying oxygen can often reduce the impact of the injury. Any brain injury should be seen by a medical professional.
- Neck Injuries: The scariest injury in football is an injury to the neck. Although the number of spinal cord injuries is very small it is always a concern. When the vertebrae in the neck are fractured or moved beyond their normal range of motion the spinal cord may be damaged, or severed. This can cause many problems from paralysis to death. Neck injuries require immobilization of the spine and immediate medical attention.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Strength and conditioning is a key piece of the injury prevention strategy for gridiron players.
- Using high quality protective equipment that has been maintained properly will help prevent many injuries.
- Practicing proper body mechanics when performing the many skills on the field will also reduce the chance of putting the body in a position that might cause injury.
- Avoiding use of the head when tackling or blocking will help prevent neck and head injuries.
- Strengthening the muscles to provide support for the joints and reducing the strain on the muscles during the intense activity will prevent strains, sprains, and dislocations.
- Stretching exercises will help keep the muscles flexible enough to handle all of the activities required on the field.
The Top 3 Gridiron Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for gridiron; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Arm-up Rotator Stretch: Stand with your arm out and your forearm pointing upwards at 90 degrees. Place a broom stick in your hand and behind your elbow. With your other hand pull the bottom of the broom stick forward.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.
Kneeling Hip & Upper Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
To do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints, and improve your full body mobility and freedom of movement, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM).
In total, they include 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.
The DVD also includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you wherever you go.
The Handbook and DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.