Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Stretching (it's important, honest!)

Stretching is the process of elongating the muscles before exercise in order to prepare the muscles for physical activity. I want to write a wee bit about why it's important, and then go on to set out a simple stretching routine specifically for cricketers.

If you're the sort of person that groans at the mention of a warm-up or stretching I'm going to ask you to bare with me for a minute- hopefully I'll change your mind about it.

There are four types of stretches: dynamic (a stretch through a range of motion), static (a dynamic movement which is then held at the extrema), isometric (a stretch against resistance) and relaxed (a stretch aided by resistance).

For example:

Arm Rotations are dynamic;
A lunge held at the deepest point is a static stretch;
Doing the splits propped in between chairs is a isometric stretch;
A front split is a relaxed stretch.

Each different type of stretching works a different variety of flexibility. For example, you may be able to kick above foot about your head (a dynamic movement) but that doesn't automatically mean you can do the splits. Clearly different sports require some types of stretching and not others. Gymnasts require all types of flexibility. As cricketers we only require dynamic flexibility.

This is the reason why it is pointless to do static stretches before a game. Static stretches impair the contractile force of muscles for up to one hour (Fowles et al, 2000) and may even INCREASE the risk of injury. There is no place for static stretching in cricket before a game. The only time you hold a static position in cricket is when you pose for the cameras after playing a glorious cover drive for four...

... I'll let you decide how frequently you do that.

Although there is no place for static stretching before a match, a well trained and experienced athlete should participate in isometric and relaxed stretching. Isometric stretches are the quickest way to improve the tensility (or flexibility) reserve of your muscles. In a given muscle, the flexibility reserve is the difference between the maximum reach of a movement and the amount of movement required for in a sport, e.g. the difference between how high a kick boxer has to kick dynamically and how low he can go in the splits.

Although this is quite a complicated topic, simply put; the bigger the flexibility reserve, the smaller the risk of injury.

Unfortunately, isometric stretching is fairly taxing on the muscles and requires a background in strength training to ensure injuries will not occur. If you're interested, send me an email (address at the top) and we'll discuss it.

Back to dynamic stretches.

Dynamic stretches are the best way to increase active range of motion. It is also the best stretching method to perform before cricket. I would also advise performing dynamic stretches on days when you're not exersising as well, as it will increase your active range of motion without a warm-up.

Here is a sample stretching routine that you could perform before a game and after you wake up (ideally before breakfast as eating inhibits blood flow around the body). If you find that you're getting tired from the stretching routine, stop.

Perform the stretches in the order given below.

Arm Rotations: spin your arm round in several directions, gradually increasing the speed. Perform 15 reps per arm or until you feel blood rushing to your hand. Fast bowlers should definitely do this unless they want thier hand to be throbbing and painful after the first ball!

Hugs: hug yourself, then immediately try and clap your hands behind your back, then very briefly hug yourself again. Once you have done a clap, after a hug try and bring your arms higher up your back. When performing the hug, flare your back muscles out and shrug your shoulders. Perform 15 reps.

Kicks to the front: Put your hand out in front of you. Using your hand as a target, attempt to kick your hand with the leg on the same side as your hand. Once you manage to kick your hand, move it up. Continue to move it up until you cannot kick any higher. REMEMBER to work up gradually and don't go too fast. You shouldn't need to swing your legs. Perform 10 reps with one leg, then move onto the next. Perform 2-3 sets depending on whether you reach your maximum range of motion after each set of 10 reps.

Kicks to the side: Same procedure as above, just kick out to the side. You may find that your hip clicks: as long as its painless, don't worry. Again, 10 reps for 2-3 sets.

Squats: I suggest you youtube 'bodyweight squats' to get the technique correct. Make sure your knees don't go beyond your feet. Go down as low as you can (ideally with your butt around ankle bone level). These are tiring, so only perform 10-15 reps depending on your fitness levels.

Torso Twists: Sit on the floor with your legs straight and wider than shoulder width apart. Bring your hands up to your arm pits and twist at the waist, making sure your arse doesn't come off the ground. Do 10 reps on each side, with 3-4 sets. Don't bounce. Go as far as you can, then immediately bring your body back to the front.

Side bends: Still on the floor, with your arms by your armpits, bend to the side. Do 10 reps with 3-4 sets.

Forward bends: Still on the floor, bring your feet slightly closer together. Bend forward, making sure your back becomes curved. We want the back to curve to stretch the back muscles out. Again, perform 10 reps with 3-4 sets.

Shoulder Raise: Lie on your stomach and put your arms by your shoulders. Use your back muscles and your arms to push your torso up, but make sure your hips stay on the ground. Work up to locking your arms out.

After performing this sequence of stretches you should feel supple and ready to exersise. Make sure you do a general warm up before sport to prepare your entire body, including your heart, your lungs and your muscles. However, one thing I see too often is a warm up which is too intensive: the players use vital energy stores before the game has started! I suggest skipping (like a girl) for 20m or so and jump rope as good all-round exersises.

If you follow these steps, you will reduce the risk of injury. However I will put as a DISCLAIMER that by performing this routine you remove any responsibilty on my part for any injuries that occur during this routine. Although the risk of injury should be very small if performed correctly, you perform these exersises at your own risk. Like I said before, sueing me would be lame.

Enjoy and work hard!



NOTE: for more info on stretching, I would recommend reading 'Stretching Scientifically' by Thomas Kurz. Although the writing is quite technical, anyone can gain valuable knowledge from this excellent book.

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