In the game of hockey where the extra ounce of strength could knock you off the puck or the extra 0.5secs of time is the difference between you getting the shot off or not, it is my job to ensure your training is preparing you in every best way possible.
Often times the same questions keep coming up:
“How do I improve flexibility?”
“Should I stretch before a game?”
“What stretches should I do before or after my workouts?”
For decades now we have heard from coaches and gym teachers that we should incorporate some light aerobic work prior to training and games in combination with some static stretching. Although recently these strategies are beginning to be questioned by more informed authorities. Which is why the confusion is beginning to settle in for the average gym goer and/or athlete.
It was originally suggested that static stretching improves range of motion, recovery form exercise (decrease DOMS), performance and decreases risks of injury.
Although as it stands today the scientific reviews on injury prevention are very much hit and miss. Additionally, I don’t know about you, but if I squat 10 sets of 10 static stretching isn’t going to do a damn thing for my soreness.
But probably the biggest factor in this mix is the fact that as of now hundreds of studies have been done on measuring performance in 1 rep max, running speed, reaction time, isometric torque production, jumping, throwing and most, but not all of them, report decreases in performance from a combination of both neurological and muscular factors.
It is also important to note that this performance decrease seems to have a linear relationship with how long you hold the stretch. Meaning, the longer you hold it, the greater negative effect it can potentially have on your performance.
Here’s a quick breakdown on a meta-analysis performed in 2012 compiling 104 total studies on stretching performance:
• A very likely negative effect of performance from static stretching on explosive muscular contraction
• A likely negative effect on maximal strength
• A likely negative, although inconclusive effect on muscular power
(A. D. Kay and A. J. Blazevich, “Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: a systematic review.,” Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 154–64, Jan. 2012.)
In addition to the above, many of the studies deemed inconclusive have neutral performance effects, meaning no better or no worse. So in a game like hockey where how strong you are plays such a huge factor to your performance and how explosive you can move will be a factors in that make or break 0.5secs, eliminating all potential negatives is a must.
Where does that leave us?
Static stretching is to be kept in the post-workout, post-game window.
But hold on a second. Static stretching is not all bad, that’s not what I am saying at all. Static stretching has been shown to effectively improve range of motion and not to mention it is very easy to learn for anybody at any level. So as a coach I have to take in all the current research and anecdotal evidence I can and weigh the benefit-risk analysis.
The positive benefits are there for static stretching although they are small and from a negative standpoint it also more than likely to compromise performance if done prior to a workout or game.
So the best case scenario for a hockey player would be to incorporate any and all static stretching after games and workouts, hold the stretch for no longer than 15 – 30 secs and use the static stretches on the areas of the body where hockey players so often create the same tightness’s (see my mobility article for more information on this).
For hockey players, this means working the static stretches for the:
• Calf / Achilles tendon
• Lower body in general
Here is an example of a standard static stretching routine for hockey players:
1. Groin frog stretch – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
2. Seated piriformis stretch – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
3. Seated glute stretch – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
4. Hip flexor stretch, rear foot elevated – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
5. Calf/Achilles tendon stretch on a stepper – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
6. Anterior delt/pec stretch – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
7. Posterior delt stretch – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
8. Lying, internal rotator cuff stretch – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
9. Lying quad stretch – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
10. Seated hamstring stretch, reach for the toes – Hold for 2 rounds, 15-30secs
• Best performed post-workout, or sometime in the evening.
• In addition to counting 15-30secs, focus on taking deep diaphragmatic breaths.
• Do not overdo it, there is no trophy for who can do the most.
• When trying to improve ROM, perform this ideally 3-4x per week.
Dynamic stretching is a type of functionally based stretching exercise that incorporates more sport specific movements to prepare the body for activity. Dynamic stretching, AKA mobility drills, places an emphasis on the movement requirements of the sport or activity rather than on individual muscles.
Dynamic and ballistic stretching may appear similar on paper although a number of factors separate the two from each other, most notably the fact that dynamic stretching avoids the potential negative effect associated with ballistic stretching such as bouncing in the stretched position. It is performed in a more controlled manner than ballistic stretching which results in a slightly shorter range of motion but a safer movement.
The big bonus’ you get with dynamic flexibility is it improves range of motion in a joint more effectively than does static stretching alone while also being far more sport specific than a static hold. Additionally, dynamic stretching has not been shown in the research to have any negative effects on performance while also actually being shown to have a positive effect on running performance.
The combination of sport specific movement, improved range of motion, improved performance and no drawbacks make dynamic stretching a no-brainer for a solid option in the pre-game / pre-workout windows.
The degree to which an athlete needs to stretch prior to game time is dependent on the sport. Sports in which flexibility is a make or break, such as gymnastics or diving, demand the best possible range of motion the athlete can deliver and thus require a thorough stretching routine.
Although other sports with high demands for the stretch/shortening cycle of the musculature during high intensity movements such as hockey, football, rugby and sprinting are likely to require more stretching than those at low intensities such as jogging or cycling.
This places hockey right around the middle. Nothing that consumes too much time, but also doing some is going to be better than doing none. In addition to the aforementioned benefits to dynamic stretching; the sport specific movement and range of motion you go through will also help increase core temperature benefits of a warm up (something static stretching does not and can actually lead to a reduction in temperature) and activate the central nervous system for proper recruitment of muscle fibers. I also recommend athletes use this time in the dynamic stretching window to not only focus on technique, but focus on getting in the zone.
The warm-up is the time and the place to get your game face on and bring that killer, competitive attitude to the ice or into the gym. Once the warm up begins, it’s time to go both mentally and physically.
When assessing the movement mechanics, range of motion and stretch-shortening cycles for hockey, the following would offer up an incredibly solid start to the game:
Example of a standalone hockey dynamic stretching routine or could be used as part of a warm up:
1. Jumping jacks x 10
2. Body weight squats x 10
3. Leg swings forward/backward x 10 per leg
4. Leg swings laterally x 10 per leg
5. Hip circles x 10 each direction
6. Arm circles x 10 large circles in each direction
7. Arm circles x 10 small circles in each direction
8. Cossacks squats x 5 per leg
9. A-skips 10yds there and back
10. B-skips 10yds there and back
• Perform everything through a full range of motion.
• There is no trophy for who gets done first. Perform with good technique.
As far as bang for the buck goes, the definite winner is dynamic stretching. Although you can’t always say that given that they bring their own specific elements to the table. But if you only had the time or the effort to only perform one, I would say go on ahead with dynamic flexibility.
Dynamic differs from static due to the fact that a number of joints can be integrated into a single stretch which opens the doors to multi-planar movements similar to those that occur in sport. Making dynamic stretching much more time efficient which can be very important when training time is limited (I.e. during a busy schedule or during the in-season).
From a physiology perspective, dynamic stretching is unlike static stretching in a sense that the muscle does not relax during the movement but is instead totally active throughout the range of motion; this is why I keep repeating that it is more specific to sport. The muscles are constantly activated during the game of hockey which is why it is much better replicated through dynamic movements during the warm up as opposed to static holds.
Last but not least if you are going to attempt to create a dynamic flexibility routine on your own keep these thoughts in mind:
• Careful analysis of the game of hockey and the major movement patterns
• The range of motion required for these movements
• Exercise selection to best replicate these movements not from a purely “what it looks like” standpoint, but from a joint and range of motion perspective.
• You can perform the warm up in repetitions (example jumping jacks x 10) or in distance covered (A-skips for 10yds). Repetitions are usually easiest when performing by yourself, distance covered is usually best if working with the whole team.
• Each drill should start slow, and gradually increase the range of motion, speed, or repetitions.
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