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Gridiron Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

Gridiron stretches to improve your performance and do away with gridiron injuries for good.

by Brad Walker | First Published October 14, 2010 | Updated November 12, 2018

Gridiron, popularly called American Football, is characterized by strong collisions and explosive strength. To avoid getting injured, players should perform regular gridiron stretches as part of their gridiron training.

Muscles used in Gridiron

Gridiron Stretches and Flexibility ExercisesDifferent positions in football involve different muscles at varying levels. The lower body should be strong enough for running backs and receivers. Offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers need their upper body to be strong and agile. The various muscles that function in Gridiron include:

  • Among the leg muscles, the gastrocnemius, soleus, quadriceps and hamstrings are involved.
  • In the hip flexors, the gluteals, abductor and adductor muscles function in Gridiron.
  • The use of core muscles, such as the rectus abdominus, spinal erectors, and obliques, is quite high.
  • The trapezius, the muscles of the neck, the pectorals, latissimus dorsi, deltoids, and other shoulder muscles play an important role in the game.

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 Benefits of Gridiron Stretches

Many players do not fully utilize gridiron stretches and put more emphasis on strength development. Regular stretching exercises improve range of motion, which helps reduce the risk of injury. Good strength and stretching exercises are specifically useful in preventing meniscus tears, ligament sprains in the knee, neck injuries and muscle strains, all of which are common to Gridiron players.

Despite the numerous benefits, it is important to bear in mind that stretching can have detrimental effects when done incorrectly. Improperly done stretches can over time cause permanent damage to ligaments and joint. When performing the stretching exercises below, be sure to warm up first and if any of the exercises cause pain or severe discomfort, discontinue immediately. Review my article on the rules for safe stretching for more information.

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.

Gridiron shoulder and rotator 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.

Gridiron lower back and core stretch

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.

Gridiron hip and quad stretch

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.

Watch the Gridiron Stretches below

Click on the play button below to watch the 10 minute gridiron stretching exercises video.

The Stretching Handbook, DVD & CD-ROMWhile the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you include a wider variety of stretches.

To do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints, and become loose, limber and pain free, grab a copy of the Ultimate Stretching Video & Book Guide.

In no time you'll... Improve your freedom of movement and full-body mobility. Get rid of those annoying aches, pains and injuries. And take your flexibility (and ease of movement) to the next level.

You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for all the major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely.

Get back to the activities you love. Whether it’s enjoying your favorite sport, or walking the dog, or playing with the grand kids. Imagine getting out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. Or being able to work in the garden or play your favorite sport without “paying-for-it” the next day.

Click here for my Stretching Video & Book Guide!


Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout 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.

10 Free Stretching Routines...

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