Are your goalie stretches reducing your flexibility?

stretch - assisted squat lateral 1

Have you ever started a goalie stretching program and found that your muscles felt stiff and sore afterward?  If so, you are likely trying to force your range of motion which is a very common mistake.

As a competitive hockey goalie, when you commit to a program, you to go for it.  Athletes, by nature are often very impatient, but lengthening muscles to improve your flexibility takes time.  If you try to accelerate your progress, you may actually decrease your flexibility.  The human body is very smart and we have built in safety features.  These features are hardwired into our reflexes, so we cannot really over-ride them.  Without getting to technical, basically your muscles have stretch receptors in them. 

One type of stretch receptor detects the rate of stretch.  If your muscle is stretching very quickly (as it may when you are sprinting) then the brain triggers a reflex relaxation of that muscle to prevent a high speed muscle tear.

 The other type of stretch receptor detects the magnitude of stretch.  If the muscle is put under a high force stretch, such as when a goalie tries to use their muscle force to overstretch, then the muscles reflex response tries to prevent the stretch from going any farther.  Again, the body is trying to reduce the risk of tissue damage.  How does the brain try to prevent the muscle from over stretching?  It achieves this by contracting the muscle.

If forcing a stretch causes contraction of the muscle you are trying to lengthen, you can see how this will be counterproductive.  It takes time for goalies to improve their flexibility and there are not short cuts. Here are three strategies that hockey goalies can use to make their stretching more effective:

  • Move into your stretch position until you feel a gentle stretch in the target muscle.  It should not be painful at all.  As you hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds you may feel that gentle stretch diminish.  At that point you may move further into your stretch until the gentle stretch returns.
  • If you are taking the time to stretch, then you should also take the time to pick up a foam roll to work on your connective tissue.  If you have been stretching consistently for 4 weeks with little improvement to show for it, then it may be more of an issue with adhesions in the connective tissue that surrounds your muscle.  Click this link to view some video showing stretching and foam rolling techniques for hockey goalies.
  • Goalies must be consistent with their flexibility training.  Research in this area is conflicted, but as a starting point, if you lack flexibility, then you better commit 15-30 minutes every day to make some serious improvements.  If you have a good base of hip flexibility and are looking to maintain or improve slightly, then you should go for a 15-30 minute stretch every other day.