Dr. Timothy Baghurst
Racquetball players are notorious for not stretching or at least not stretching properly. So few competitive players have a stretching routine, whether at home or at competitive events. As a consequence, many players either don’t stretch at all or do so sporadically, which has questionable results. Stretching has many purposes. These include: injury prevention, increased blood flow to the muscles, improved flexibility, temporary reduction of post-exercise muscle soreness, relief of aches, pains, and muscle cramps, and improved body position, balance, and strength. Recognize that the word stretching has many negative connotations even though it’s the term used. Therefore, think of it more as lengthening rather than stretching.
There is debate whether stretching should be ballistic, whether the stretches are done very quickly, or static, where the stretches are done slowly and progressively. Ballistic stretching is more sport-specific, as it’s the movements we do during physical activity. However, some have reported that it can lead to injury where an athlete overstretches. Therefore, the general consensus is that slower, more controlled stretching should be used.
Why don’t more players stretch? Perhaps it’s because they can’t “see” the results or benefits straight away. Maybe it’s because it’s uncomfortable. Or maybe it’s perceived to be a waste of time. But there is plenty to evidence to support its value within both a training program and competition.
There are dozens of different stretching exercises, but there are several points to take note of when incorporating stretching into your game:
- Racquetball uses the entire body. Therefore, stretch all parts of your body; starting from the feet and gradually moving up your body to the neck is one effective approach.
- Stretching should make you feel uncomfortable but should not hurt excessively.
- Many players will stretch before a match but not after. Stretching needs to be done after also. Not only does it maintain flexibility, but the process of stretching will allow blood flow to and from the muscles, which will aid in recovery.
- Do not stretch before warming up. Injuries can occur when you’re not prepared to lengthen the muscles. Warm up first by increasing blood flow to the muscles through light such as jumping rope or lightly jogging.
- There’s no ideal length for how long each stretch should last, but spend at least 10 seconds on each stretch but preferably up to 20 seconds.
- As you stretch, slowly lengthen the stretch as you exhale on your breaths.
- Remembering to stretch regularly is difficult. Consider joining a class such as yoga which focuses on whole body stretching. Take a class three times a week would be sufficient in addition to shorter stretching sessions before and after exercise.