Acute Effects of Soleus Stretching on Ankle Flexibility, Dynamic Balance and Speed Performances in Soccer Players

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Most dynamic stretching protocols include the gastrocnemius muscle, but soleus stretches are often neglected, which is the key powerful muscle for the push-off (concentric) of all speed movements. The purpose of this study was to examine whether the added soleus stretch in a regular stretching protocol would have greater benefits for ankle flexibility, dynamic balance and functional performance. Fourteen healthy male soccer players received each of the stretching conditions (regular stretching only (Regular), regular stretching with soleus stretching (Soleus) and no stretching (Control)) randomly on different training days, with two-day separation. The ankle flexibility, standing heel-lift balance and speed performances were assessed following each stretching intervention. The active dynamic stretches were performed for 30 s with three repetitions on each of the three (Regular) and four (Soleus) muscles. One-way ANOVA with repeated measures (or the Friedman non-parametric test) was performed to determine any significant effect with alpha = 0.05. Our findings revealed that both the Regular and Soleus stretching groups showed an increased active range of ankle motion compared to the no-stretching control (Ps < 0.05). In the heel raise balance test, both stretching groups experienced a significant increase in maximum plantarflexion strength as well as resultant anterior–posterior and medial–lateral CoP excursions compared to the no-stretching control (Ps < 0.05). In the sprinting tasks, both the Soleus and Regular stretching groups induced faster linear and curved running times (Ps < 0.05). When comparing the two stretching groups, Soleus stretching led to better ankle flexibility, maximum plantarflexion strength and curved running time (Ps < 0.05). Thus, added stretches on the soleus muscles can provide further benefits to speed performances in soccer.

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