Stretching is something that’s commonly undertaken before and/or after exercise, as it’s perceived to loosen muscles, which prepares them for a workout and reduces the risk of injury.
With stretching and subsequent gains in muscle lengths there will be improved performance and a decrease in the likelihood of injury. Using fielding as an example, if you have long and flexible hamstrings, you will be able to bend over to field the ball more efficiently. A short hamstring will not only be mechanically inefficient but can increase the stress on your back and is also more likely to tear as you bend forward whilst running at high speed.
The following recommendations should be considered when implementing a dynamic flexibility-training program:
• Each stretch is to be held for 30-60 seconds or more on both sides of the body. Studies show that anything less than this will have limited effect on gains in muscle length. Ideally this should be completed daily, even twice daily if time permits.
• Improving a joints range of motion through planned stretching will decrease your risk of injury, not simply using static stretches before playing/training.
• Do not force a stretch. If it hurts, don’t do it.
• Flexibility and strength training should be combined.
• Be joint specific in the development of flexibility.
• Orientate the body in the most functional position relative to the joint or muscle to be stretched and relative to the athlete’s activity.
• Use gravity, body weight and ground reaction forces as well as changes in planes and proprioceptive demand to enhance flexibility .
• Develop a flexibility routine specific to the demands of Cricket and your individual needs, that is, replicating bowling, batting and fielding movements.
• Unlike other physical qualities, flexibility can be improved from day to day and once range of motion is increased or developed to the desired level it is easy to maintain that range of motion. Less work is needed to maintain flexibility than is needed to develop it.
• Warm up prior to stretching.
It must also be understood that muscles play a major role in the stability of most joints, preventing dislocation. It is possible to become too flexible. If you have had a history of any dislocations, please consult the team physio regarding stretches you should avoid. It is also important that any stretches or warm up procedures you need to perform for a previous injury are addressed routinely to prevent injury recurrence.
Types of Stretching
What may be less known is that there are multiple types of stretches that might have different effects on different muscles and therefore different outcomes. Static Stretching (SS) is the most common form and is where a muscle is held in a stretched position for 10-60 seconds. SS is perceived to improve the range of muscular motion and performance and reduce injury. Dynamic Stretching (DS) lengthens a muscle through motion, for example straight leg swinging to pull and lengthens hamstring muscles and tendons. Finally Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), commonly used by sports scientists and physiotherapists, involves holding an SS, then contracting the muscle, then holding another SS. This type of stretching is thought to help release and lengthen muscles and allow a greater range of motion.
With various types of stretching available, it’s difficult to know which one works best for specific outcomes. A group of sports scientists in Western Australia reviewed the current literature on stretching and came to a few conclusions. They found that all types of stretching improved muscular performance. It was difficult to ascertain which type of stretching was best as each type had different effects on various muscles. A consistent benefit found with all stretching was improvement in the Range of Motion (ROM), which lasted during exercise and for at least half an hour after completion.
The researchers concluded that it is possibly beneficial to include warm up and warm down SS and DS in your exercise regime. Stretching may be the best way to improve range of motion in joints prior to working out. Start slowly and gradually build up the intensity and duration of each hold as you progress.