At the physiological level, the goal of stretching is to maximize the joint range of motion while maintaining the joint stability, by lengthening the individual muscle fibers. Every muscle in the body has built-in protective mechanisms. When a muscle is stretched, sensory receptors, known as muscle spindles, within the muscle recognize the amount of stretch and allow the muscle to lengthen. If a muscle is engaged in a stretch too quickly or the muscle is overstretched, the muscle spindles initiate a protective response known as the stretch reflex that causes the muscle to contract. When the stretch reflex triggers, small tears and strains in the muscles can occur. An additional receptor located within the musculotendon junction, known as Golgi Tendon Organs (GTOs), can also fire when too much stretch is placed on a muscle causing an inverse myotatic reflex. The GTOs function as a protective response which inhibits further contraction and actually causes the muscle to relax. These mechanisms work to provide monitoring of the muscle and allow a safe range of motion for stretching the muscles. Understanding the role of these mechanisms helps us to understand the importance of proper stretching.
When to Stretch
There is a lot of debate around when is the most beneficial time to stretch. Prior to training or games, stretching should be composed of dynamic stretching movements that simultaneously warm up and stretch your muscles. Following your exercise routine or competition, a thorough stretching routine should be completed after a short cool down. This stretching should be more static in nature.
The following stretching routine is designed to be completed after exercise following a cool down. It can also be used in isolation to increase flexibility if a proper warm up is completed. These stretches are designed to be done consecutively, transitioning smoothly from one move into the next.
Purpose: This stretch is for the piriformis and gluteal muscles which can easily get tight during prolonged squatting position associated with the defensive stance.
Lying on your back, bend both knees and place feet flat on the floor
Cross your right ankle over your left knee
Thread your right hand through the opening made by your right leg, your left arm around the outside of your left leg and link your fingers behind your left knee
Hug your left leg in towards your chest
Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch in your right buttock and hold for 20-30 seconds
Repeat on opposite leg
If the stretch is too strong or you cannot reach behind your leg, use a towel behind your leg to assist in pulling
ASSISTED STRAP SERIES
Purpose: This is a great stretch series for the hamstrings. Hamstrings are used when moving from a defensive position to a powerful jump and help stabilize the hips when landing. They also stabilize the hip abductors and adductors and iliotibial band, which are vital for quick, lateral movements ,
Place the stretch strap around your right foot and lay on your back
Keep your left leg out straight and down to the mat while you slowly lift your extended right leg towards the ceiling
Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch in your right hamstring and hold for 20-30 seconds
Slowly lower your right leg to a 45 degree angle from the ground
Pull your extended right leg across your left leg while keeping your right hip down to the mat
Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch on the outside of the right leg and hip and hold for 30 seconds
Slowly bring your right leg back to midline and across your body to the outside
Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch on the inside of your right leg and groin and hold for 30 seconds
Repeat entire series on the left leg
Make sure to maintain contact with both hips on the mat
Only pull your leg as high as provides a comfortable stretch while the leg is extended
Slowly transition from one move to the next
When you are crossing over your opposite leg, wrap the strap around the outside of your ankle
If you do not have a strap, use a towel
Purpose: The incidence of back injuries in volleyball players is high due to the frequent and intense loading associated with jumping and landing. This stretch is designed to assist in stretching the muscles of the lower back. Additionally, this stretch will help open up the hips.
Kneel on the floor, placing the tops of the feet flat on the floor
Slowly sit back on your heels
Stretch your arms out straight in front of you as far as they can go without coming off your heels
Rest your head down to the mat and hold for 20-30 seconds
Walk your hands to the left, pushing your hips to the right for a good latissimus dorsi stretch
If the stretch is too deep and is painful on your knees, roll a towel and place it on your heels to sit on
Purpose: When correctly used, the abdominals are constantly engaged and function as a core stabilizer. This stretch will help lengthen and loosen the abdominal muscles.
Lay on the mat, stomach down with the top of your feet flat on the mat
Place your hands directly under your shoulders and push up until your arms are straight
Lift your head up and hold for 20-30 seconds
If this stretch is too intense initially, start with baby cobra by leaning on your elbows and keeping your forearms flat against the floor
Purpose: The often neglected muscles of the forearm are usually very tight. Use this stretch to open up these muscles responsible for wrist and finger movements.
In standing, extend your right arm directly in front of you, palm forward like you are telling someone to “stop”
With your left hand, reach behind the palm of your right hand and pull backwards
Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch on the bottom of your forearm and hold 20-30 seconds
In the same position, drop your fingers on your right hand towards the ground
With your left hand, reach behind your right and pull backwards
Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch on the top of your forearm and hold 20-30 seconds
Repeat with left arm
Keep your elbow extended, but not locked out
Make sure to hold onto your hand at the palm, not the fingers
With your fingers towards the ground, try rotating the hand to hit other parts of the muscle group
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