Stretch for Success

Adding or Increasing Off-Ice Stretching.

Stretching before and after a game is an important part of injury prevention.  When and where it is best for youth players to stretch can vary quite a bit given the variety of circumstances that youth teams face.

John Whitesides, the Boston Bruins Strength and Conditioning Coach for the past nine years, commented during a Coaching Symposium that the worst surface on which to stretch your body is the ice.  Muscles contract when exposed to cold.

That doesn’t mean that a player should never stretch on the ice.  We often see professional and college teams stretching on the ice.  What we don’t see is how much of their stretching occurs off ice versus on ice. Professional and college teams tend to have the time and facilities to do the majority of their stretching off ice.  Youth teams often have neither the time nor the facilities to do off ice stretching.  Most youth players tend not to devote the time to stretch at home prior to and/or after a practice or game.  As a result, a common routine for youth teams is to do all of their stretching while sitting or laying on the ice.

While on-ice stretching is better than no stretching, youth teams could make better use of their limited, pre-game time by stretching at home or as a team prior to getting onto the ice.  Most locker rooms are too small for a team stretch, but there usually are places somewhere else in the rink where teams can stretch.  If a youth team did their stretching prior to getting on the ice, then the 3 to 5 minutes of ice time prior to a game could be used solely for

  1. skating to increase the heart rate to game pace and
  2. warming up goalies.

At the beginning of practice, on-ice stretches that don’t require players being down on the ice can be worked into the routine so that the majority of stretching is done away from the cold surface.  Stretches done while standing on skates can be combined with balancing exercises – something that a player cannot work on as easily off ice.  A few examples are

  1. front, back, and side kicks while gliding on one foot,
  2. knee rotations up, out and down while gliding on one foot,
  3. single leg extensions while gliding on one foot with a bent knee, or
  4. stationary, straight-leg, hamstring stretches with a foot up on the boards.

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