Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Wednesday 27th November 2013

The interview I posted with Sarah (Ramsden) last month generated such interest, that a further blog dedicated to the work Sarah does with footballers was almost a necessity!  For those of you that may have missed the first instalment (, Sarah is employed by both Manchester United & Manchester City to contribute to their players' conditioning programmes, specifically in relation to their flexibility.

I am glad that Sarah's expertise was so widely recognised, as she has certainly influenced how I work with athletes over the last few years.

Sarah has kindly agreed to explain her approach to training flexibility in more detail & also provide some insight as to what a typical session would look like.  



I’ve been training flexibility in athletes for over 10 years – largely in football, but also with many non-professional athletes. I've come to realise that for many athletes and S&C coaches, flexibility is a difficult area – most athletes and trainers haven’t trained their own flexibility so don’t really know where to start or have the experience, and there is too much confusion about types of stretching.

So I want to explain how you train flexibility. This isn't an article describing lots of stretches, but it tells you what sorts of things you would be doing to train flexibility. And remember that no one protocol will suit every group or individual – but this is just the same as every other aspect of training.

If you want to learn or practice more, I do run courses so check out/contact me on  

The next course is February 26th, 2014.

Why should you train flexibility?

To recap: Flexibility is an EQUAL aspect of fitness along with strength, cardio-vascular output and body composition.  (That’s using the American College of Sports Medicine’s definition, but I haven’t come across a definition of fitness that doesn't include flexibility, or range of motion (ROM)).  Of course it is flexibility specific to your sport – but that applies equally to cardio or strength training.

What happens if you don’t train your flexibility?

Again to recap, muscles (read all connective tissues) that are too short for your skeleton, or too short for the joint range required by your sport will make you less efficient in your movement, thus require a higher oxygen cost, will carry greater tension and be more prone to injury.  They will force your body to compensate with excess movement elsewhere (usually the lumbar / pelvis) and make any sport that requires explosive end range movement feel like a struggle.  And you get stiffer with age and the more you play.


First, put aside all the discussion of different types of stretching and different types of yoga. These are useful tools but they may or may not be what you need in your programme at any point or with any athlete.

What you are trying to achieve?

Forgive me if this is obvious, but know your joint ranges, ideal joint ranges for your sport, know how to test them and have an assessment protocol that identifies at the very least those with moderate and marked restrictions – i.e. those requiring intervention.

Know what key functional movements are relevant to your sport and the typical patterns of muscular restriction that interfere with these movements. So test a few of these multi-segment functional movements and flag athletes who struggle to perform them without marked compensatory movement elsewhere. This should tie-back into single muscle range testing.

Remember that core control is the twin of flexibility.  So assess low load core control because if an athlete doesn't have it then you will be in danger of creating greater flexibility on an unstable base.

So your programme should address the combination of flexibility and core, and the focus (more passive stretching? More low load core? More maintenance and functional movement?) based on your assessment.


Any flexibility programme will have the same elements in it, but it is your assessment that tells you the balance and focus between the parts.

Mobility / Articulation

Start with slow, repetitive joint movement / muscle gliding and spinal articulation. This is especially important if the flexibility session is early in the day, or you are not warmed-up. I know this is obvious but remember that (regardless of resting muscle length) all connective tissues tether overnight and synovial fluid becomes more viscous. This means start slowly and repetitively allowing fibres to loosen and glide.

ROM Warm-Up

This means warming-up over full range and particularly over the sorts of movements relevant to your sport. It needs to be moving (to increase core and skeletal muscle temperature); weight-bearing (to start moving functionally); sport-specific (patterning the movements in a controlled environment that will be used explosively in play); but also slow enough to assist the thixotropic softening of ground substance in connective tissue, and repetitive enough to dampen the stretch reflex.

Functional Movement

Here you are training functional movement with absolute control. This will be body weight-bearing, multi-joint, end-range, stabilised, controlled movement. This is active flexibility in the sense of using muscular contraction to create movement patterns that require (increasing) muscular length / joint range. It should challenge your range, strength, balance, and proprioception of your whole body.

Low Load Core

As with all the sections tailor the level and focus to the group you are working with. The key here is absolute quality of control: low load does not mean easy! It must be controlled movement so without momentum or compensation.


This section is where you create flexibility. Generally you will be using long passive stretches with the area being stretched as relaxed and supported as possible in order to dampen the stretch-reflex and allow muscle lengthening. Your assessments will tell you what needs to length due to restriction and what needs constant re-setting due to the repetitive demands of your sport.


Aim for two sessions per week, with additional short programmes in-between. Become familiar with before and after-training regimes and how different ability groups respond. Try everything on yourself first and learn what works and what might go wrong as you train yourself or others. And enjoy it – you should feel freer, looser, more mobile after each session and that your sport feels a little easier and freer!

Thank you Sarah!  For those of you that want to know more about the courses that Sarah runs, click on the links below to be directed to her website & to view the flier for the next course.  These resources will provide you with all the information you need to register for the course taking place on 26th February, 2014 (& I have a feeling this might be very popular, so if you are interested, book your place soon!).

Sarah's Website:

Sarah's Course:     How to Train ROM in Football:  A Practical Workshop 

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