Stretching – we all hear about how important it is and how it is beneficial in terms of sports performance. But what is the ‘why’ behind the importance of stretching? Is there a correct way to stretch? What is the difference between static and dynamic stretching? How do I know what body parts to stretch and what should be prioritized when I stretch?
There are two different types of stretching – static and dynamic. Static may be what initially comes to mind when someone thinks about stretching. Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging but comfortable position for usually 15-60 seconds. Static stretching is considered to be very safe and is widely accepted and used across general fitness. Dynamic stretching involves more functional movements. Dynamic stretching takes a movement to end range and then returns back to starting position about 10-15 times. Dynamic stretches are considered to be movement oriented, they help to generate heat inside the muscles, allowing them to be more pliable. This in turn can help with injury prevention. When stretching before playing a sport or performing some other exercise, dynamic stretching is preferred as it is better at properly preparing muscles for action.
There are three planes of movement that the body works in – sagittal (forward and back), frontal (side to side), and transverse (rotational). With all movements and daily activities, our bodies are constantly moving through multiple planes at one time. Knowing that, it would make sense that we need to warm our bodies up in all three planes before stepping onto the court.
So how should I stretch? Well, take your body through similar movements that you would perform when you step on the court. In pickleball and tennis, we generate a large majority of our strength and power through our hips, meaning we need to get those hips moving and warmed up before stepping on court. We also need to get our thoracic spine (mid-upper back) moving. The thoracic spine is an area of restriction for most people as it doesn’t move as much as it should. Lack of movement in this area of the body can often be a cause of injuries at the shoulder and low back. By lunging forward, laterally, and back at a 45 degree angle with each foot, we get the hips moving through sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. If you raise your arms straight overhead when stepping forward (figure 1), out to the side when stepping laterally (figure 2), and across your body when stepping to 45 degrees (figure 3), you also get your core and thoracic spine warmed up. Six simple movements performed 5-10 times apiece will get that body warmed up in no time!
All in all, there are no hard and fast rules or one specific stretching routine that is the ‘best.’ Get that body moving in all directions for 10-15 minutes before play and go dominate the court!
Figure 1 – Sagittal plane stretch; Raise your arms straight overhead when stepping forward. Perform 10 times with each leg.
Figure 2 – Frontal plane stretch; Step straight out to side and place arms up overhead, bending core towards the same direction that you stepped out towards. Perform 10 times with each leg.
Figure 3 – Transverse plane stretch; Step back at 45 degree angle. Keep arms at shoulder height and rotate core to follow the direction of your foot. Perform 10 times with each leg.
About the Author: Megan Sween PT, DPT, is a Physical Therapist at Spooner Physical Therapy in Ahwatukee. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org