30 Aug 2008
The Importance of Stretching
By Lauren Downes, MSPT
The majority of skaters have completed the ‘jump out of the car and put the skates on in two minutes to be in time for a lesson’ maneuver at some point in their career. Even the two minute ‘throw the leg up on the boards and stretch for 30 seconds’ move falls by the wayside in order to be on time. While proud to have made it on the ice before the clock hits 5:01, a skater has unfortunately increased her risk for injury. How?
In the majority of ice rinks, the temperature of the air is not ideal for exercising. Sometimes it can be downright frigid and you can see your breath! Cold temperatures do not make for happy and healthy muscles. A warm temperature will help to keep sufficient blood flow and nutrient exchange in a muscle, improving its elasticity. The looser and warmer a muscle is, there is a decrease in chance for a muscle strain if that muscle is put under stress. Now think about the amount of stress placed on your muscles during a jump or spin: a lot! Many skating moves also require a great deal of flexibility (darn biellmans and spirals!), and a tight muscle can be unforgiving in those extreme positions.
Picture a muscle as a bunch of thick fibers lined up parallel to each other, each with a certain amount of elasticity, like a rubber band. If you overstretch a rubber band, eventually it will tear or snap. The same is true of muscle fibers. A muscle strain occurs when it is not properly warmed up and its fibers become inflamed or partially torn, resulting in pain with a stretch or contraction of the muscle. A significant tear is more serious and may result in immobilization of a joint to allow for healing. No skater wants to take time off to heal. The solution is to always stretch before skating, or at least perform five minutes of warm-up exercises on the ice if you are running late for a session. Prevention is the key!
There are several methods of stretching: static, dynamic, and ballistic. Static stretching involves lengthening a muscle by holding it in an elongated position for a set period of time, typically 30 seconds. Dynamic stretching brings the muscle into its lengthened position, but is repeated 10-20 times and held for a much shorter duration. This method lengthens the muscle while simultaneously bringing blood flow to its fibers. In both static and dynamic stretching, greater range of motion should be gained with each repetition. Ballistic stretching involves bouncing movement at the end range of motion, and is not a recommended stretching technique.
Prior to stepping on the ice, it is ideal for a skater to complete at least ten minutes of dynamic stretching, using both the lower and upper extremities. If time allows, fifteen to twenty minutes will properly warm-up every muscle used while skating. Static stretching is not as beneficial prior to skating, due to the lack of blood flow to a muscle. A fan of dynamic vs. static stretching once said, “Do we stretch to become statues, or do we stretch to move?” It makes sense! Static stretching is highly recommended after skating or exercising, to cool down a muscle and lengthen it after many contractions have made it tighter.
The moral of this story is: a skater needs to stretch! Taking those extra minutes to take care of your muscles will result in a happier, healthier skater, with less injuries!
Lauren Downes, MSPT