Focus on the Groins
- There may be muscle imbalances between the hip abductors and hip adductors. The hip abductors will be strong and tight because of the propulsion phase of skating produces a strong contraction of these muscles, which would leave these muscles tight, requiring more stretching.
Conversely, the hip adductors (groins) may be weaker and more susceptible to injury because this muscle group is constantly being stretched, with high intensity eccentric (lengthening) muscle contractions. The hip adductors will probably be more flexible because of the continual lengthening of the "groins" during the propulsion phase of skating.
Because of this, it may be misguided for hockey players to spend so much time stretching the groins. Instead, stretching the hip adductors (outside of the hip) may produce more injury prevention performance enhancement potential.
- It is observed that hockey players have an obsession with stretching their "groins." However, this practice may be detrimental to performance. Hockey players typically step onto the ice, skate around the rick twice then immediately stretch their groins with the "frog stretch," arch their back and maybe stretch their hamstrings, then start taking shots on the goalie. The muscles in the hips that really need stretching are rarely stretched, and the muscles that probably do not need to stretched may actually be overstretched.
The concept in occupational physiology and ergonomics is that a chronically lengthened muscle does not need stretching rather, the position it is in should be reversed or strengthened. In regard to high performance hockey, a hockey player may be better served to spend less time increasing the flexibility of the "groins" and more time strengthening said muscle group, and stretching the hip abductors.
Current research on stretching and flexibility training suggests that there are four reasons why stretching does not prevent injuries, and they all relate to hockey:
- Some people believe a more flexible muscle is less likely to be injured because it can absorb more energy or force, thus reducing the risk of injury. There is no research evidence to support this claim.
- Many people believe that most injuries occur when a muscle is stretched beyond its normal range of motion. This is not true.
Most injuries occur within a normal range of motion. The muscle is injured during a high velocity eccentric muscle contraction (when the muscle is contracting but getting longer). This seems to be the mechanism of injury in “pulled” groins.
During the skating stride, the hip abductors (outside of thigh) contract to push the skate to the side. Close to the end of push-off phase, the abductors stop contracting and the adductors (inside of thigh) contract with an eccentric contraction to slow the movement down. It is this neurophysiological mechanism that seems to cause injury. The muscles seem not to adapt to high velocity eccentric contractions very well, especially in a weak, tired muscle.
- Even mild stretching can cause damage in the small connective tissue proteins of the muscle.
- Stretching somehow increases tolerance to pain. Stretching has an analgesic effect.
It does not seem prudent to stretch, thereby increasing one’s tolerance to pain, possibly creating some damage at the muscle, and then exercise a “damaged, anaesthetised” muscle.
Ian Shrier, PhD, MD, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(10), pp: 324-325, October 2000.
Other references on how stretching does not prevent injury include:
- A Randomized Trial of Preexercise Stretching for Prevention of Lower-Limb Injury. Pope, Herbert, Kirwan & Graham. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 32(2), pages: 271-277, 2000.
- Stretching Before Exercise Does Not Reduce the Risk of Local Muscle Injury: A Critical Review of the Clinical and Basic Science Literature. Ian Shrier. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 9, pages: 221-227, 1999.
- Flexibility and Its Effect on Sports Injury and Performance. Gliem & McHugh. Sports Medicine. 24(5), pages: 289-299, 1997.
- Myths and Truths of Stretching. Shrier and Gossal. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 28(8), August, 2000.
- Stretching: Acute Effects on Strength and Power Performance. Schilling and Stone. Strength and Conditioning Journal, pages: 44-47, February 2000.
Focus on the Trunk and Back
- There may also be muscle imbalances between the trunk flexors and trunk extensors. The trunk extensors (most of the muscles on the back) are chronically in a static contraction while skating. They are also in a chronically lengthened position. As stated above, when a muscle is in a position for an extended period of time, that position must be reversed. Hockey players may do well to maintain functional flexibility in the back, and focus more attention on stretching the trunk flexors (abdominal and oblique muscles) and the hip flexors which would be shortened because of the flexed trunk position of skating.
- It has been suggested that muscle imbalances may be the reason for hip adductor and abdominal strains in ice hockey players (Bruker, et al. 1996).
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