Wow, stretching is a complex subject. It seems to be on par with Homeopathy regarding lack of proof that it has any effect in injury prevention.
This post is going to be purely anecdotal because there are so many articles out there that offer conflicting advice that if I say ‘this is 100% what you should be doing’ you can guarantee a conflicting expert opinion will appear in the newspapers tomorrow.
First for my confession.
I never used to stretch before or after training. Occasionally I’d go through the motions with the group in the middle, but more often than not, the big empty track would be too tempting and I’d go and practice some skating whilst I had the chance.
In the summer, I’d also do an off-skates workout before training, either at home, or outside our training venue. Only then did I feel like my body was warm enough to warrant doing some stretching.
The trouble with stretching once you are on skates is that I find it pretty hard to get sweaty enough to deserve a static stretching session. Stretching with cold muscles makes it much easier to overstretch, thus defeating the whole purpose of stretching for injury prevention in the first place. My basic rule was always Sweat Before You Stretch, but when your training session is 2 hours, using 20 precious minutes of these warming up properly and getting a thorough stretch felt like too much. Especially with so many articles out there saying that it doesn’t make any difference anyway.
It was through my plyometric training that I learnt about Dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretches are moving stretches that act to warm you up and prepare your muscles for action at the same time. They have the added bonus of not taking very long to perform either! The idea is to do fluid motions that are less intense versions of the movements that your muscles will go through when you are playing. The key is to keep control of your movements, therefore reducing the risk of overstretching.
You shouldn’t just fling your arms and legs around, as fun as that may be.
Flinging your arms and legs around in an uncontrolled manner is called ‘Ballistic Stretching’, and much like Ballistic Whistle, is Jerky and may lead to injury.
From the literature I have read, it appears that Dynamic Stretching retains some ‘spring’ in your muscles, meaning that you perform better at the more intense movements that training might involve. Jumping, leaping, cutting across the track, speed control- anything that requires a sudden action and those fast-twitch muscles.
We shouldn’t dismiss Active (static) stretching altogether however. It definitely still has it’s part to play in your training routine. It just so happens that it may be better to schedule it in on a day when you don’t have derby or plyo training so that you can get the full benefits without being afraid of overstretching. As we discussed in the previous post about Muscle Imbalances, stretching can form an integral part of balancing up your body and lengthening
the flexor muscles that in our compressed posture can become shortened. Sometimes, Active Stretching is the only way we really get the extensor muscles working. Active stretching is what we call the stretches where we get into a position and then hold this position for approximately 10 seconds using the power of our Agonist muscles alone. Many yoga stretches are Active Stretches. It’s the act of holding our bodies in these positions that gives our muscles work to do, and also allows the Antagonistic muscles to fully stretch out.
After all of that, I can say that Dynamic stretching is my favourite option before training, and a good Active Stretch session once a week on a day when I don’t have training or plyometrics seems to keep me ticking over. The Active stretch being as much about checking everything is staying tuned up as much as anything.
So that’s the boring part over with. Next time, there will be pictures illustrating my favourite on-skates dynamic stretch routine, and then if you are lucky, the same for those Active Stretches off-skates.