You’ve just played a good, hard game. But your legs ache and you’re tired. Such a scene occurs in almost any sport one plays for recreation. But you have a unique problem. You play hockey and your games can end (or often start) after the late night news. Compounding this is you get to go to work or school tomorrow. You will only get a few hours of sleep, and you’ll be tossing and turning all night thanks to those aching muscles. (That open net you somehow missed doesn’t help either!) Tomorrow you’ll try to function on sleep deprivation and more muscle soreness than the average sedentary person ever deals with.
But you don’t have to suffer after indulging in some ice time. There are ways to reduce the soreness. There are even ways to get a better night’s rest without drugs. The two even tie in together.
Like every player, I had my own methods of avoiding next-day soreness and mental relaxation. What follows are those methods, plus, techniques used by a Canadian major junior team; since they play a pro-like schedule while attending school.
Every player should do this before and after a game, pickup session or practice. Stretching prevents injuries by making muscles and joints more elastic and allowing joints to safely go through a range of motion. Pre- and post-game stretching goes a long way toward preventing next-day soreness. I found it a good way to unwind mentally afterward. “Guys don’t (stretch) as much as they should,” said Curt Kamp, trainer for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. “It helps to keep them limber and not be sore.”
In addition to avoiding injury and soreness, stretching can improve your game. More power can be generated by flexible joints and muscles, which can help your skating and shot power. For legs, hockey’s most used muscles, there are three stretches players can do in the locker room.
To stretch the quadriceps (front thigh), stand upright. Raise the calf and foot behind you by bending the knee. Grab you leg at the ankle and hold while maintaining straight posture (figure 1). Repeat this for the other leg and as often as needed.
To stretch the hamstrings (back thigh), stand with your legs together and without bending at the knees, bend at the waist. Let your fingers reach as far down as possible, stretching the hamstrings gently (figure 2). Hold for a time and then come up slowly. Repeat as needed.
For the calves, stand before a wall with your arms extended. Extend one leg straight behind you, keeping the foot planted firmly (figure 3). To hit the Achilles tendon, bend the knee of the extended leg slowly. Make sure your other foot is firmly planted with the knee bent while stretching the other leg (figure 4). There are other stretches which work the hips, hamstrings, groin, and lower back. But most recreational arenas do not have suitable places for players to stretch those muscles, since they require more space to perform. Locker room space, if any at all, is sparse and cramped
In addition, anyone who has suffered from athlete’s foot will tell you the flooring might not be clean enough to risk sitting on to stretch.
The arena I played in was a newer facility and was about as close as one could find to a “state of the art” arena for recreational hockey. Still, the locker rooms were cramped and players wore thongs to avoid athlete’s foot fungus. Because of this, I would do stretches which required more space at home.
There, I would stretch the groin, hips and lower back. For the lower back, lay on the the floor. Bend one leg at the knee, and bring towards the stomach. Grab your leg behind the knee and hold (figure 5). Do this for both legs. To stretch the hips, lay on the floor with your legs extended flat. Bring both legs toward the stomach. Cross one leg over the other and hold (figure 6). Repeat for the other leg and as often as needed.
There were two ways I used to stretch the groin. One was to sit on the floor with legs extended. Bring legs together into a diamond with feet touching one another. Grab your ankles and push them towards your body gently. Another way is the hurdler’s stretch, which also helps the hamstrings. Sit on the floor with legs extended. Gradually spread the legs apart until your legs form a “V.” To work the groin, lean forward gently with your arms in front of you, until the elbows reach the floor (figure 7). To work the hamstrings, reach toward one foot with both arms, grabbing your feet with your hands. Lean forward until you feel the stretch (figure 8). Repeat for the other leg.
You’ve just played a good, hard game. But your legs ache and you’re tired. Such a scene occurs in almost any sport one plays
Stretching can also be a used to cool the upper body, and Kamp says good stretching is usually sufficient to cool the upper body following a game. There are three kinds of simple upper-body stretches a player can do in the locker room before and after a game.
To stretch the back of the shoulder, wrap one arm around the front of the neck with the other arm pressing gently on the elbow (figure 9). For the front shoulder (deltoid), place a hand on a wall at the shoulder height, then turn your body away from the wall slowly (figure 10). To stretch the triceps (back of the arm), reach overhead with one arm and bend it at the elbow so your forearm is going down your back. With the other arm, grab the elbow, push gently, and hold (figure 11).
2. Take a bath
This was always a favorite, time permitting. After a game, I would experience what exercise jargon calls a “burn” throughout my legs, but especially in my calves. Even with stretching, the burn (the buildup of lactic acid, which causes muscle soreness) was so intense, it interfered with sleeping. Taking a hot bath helped me unwind mentally, but it didn’t eliminate the burn.
As it turns out, I took the wrong kind of bath. Pros in many sports take baths after games. But theirs are hardly hot. Instead, a trainer will take buckets of ice and dump it into a tub. A player will bare the cold and sit waist deep in ice and water, all to get lactic acid out of the legs and speed recovery.
“It’s the same as icing down the legs,” Kamp said. “It keeps the lactic acid from building up in your legs, and gives you fresh legs for the next day.” Filling the bathtub full of ice cubes may be extreme for once-a-week players. But post-game ice baths could help those who practice or play daily, such as high schoolers, and players in a tournament which can require playing multiple games a day.
“It’s hard for me to do too much,” Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Greg Kuznik said of ice baths. “I just can’t bear it.”
Strange? Sure. But it is common among pros and juniors to do a brief workout following a game. “A lot of guys ride the (exercise) bike for 10 to 15 minutes after a game to work the lactic acid out of their legs,” Kamp said. Spending a few minutes on an exercise bike or stair climber has its proponents in the NHL as well. Rod Brind’Amour of the Flyers and Darren McCarty of the Red Wings, for example, use a little post-game workout as a way of allowing their bodies to recover.
One does not need to limit themselves to a bike or stair climber to cool the legs. Any aerobic exercise which works the legs is sufficient in cooling down and speeding recovery. “A lot of Europeans do a light jog afterwards,” Kamp said. “Basically, do anything to cool the body down. Runners don’t run a marathon and then stop. They run more to cool down.”
4. Drink fluids
For many adults players, this means having a beer or two with teammates. Kamp says having a beer after a game isn’t a cardinal sin, but post-game beer intake should be limited to one, due to the alcohols effect on water replacement. Drinking fluids is more critical if you feel unusually tired. “Players should drink lots of fluids if the muscles are depleted,” Kamp said. “Drink lots of water or a good (carbohydrate) drink right after competition.” Failure to replenish your body with the right fluids can lead to dehydration.
5. Listen to Music
For those strapped for time, listening to whatever relaxes you on the way home can be one of the more important steps in getting relaxed enough to get adequate rest. On game nights I brought hard rock cassettes to listen to on the way to the rink, and mellower stuff, like blues, for the drive home. Kuznik, a 1996 Hartford Whalers draftee, also likes to use music as a way to unwind after a game. “I listen to music, watch some TV, maybe read,” Kuznik said. “I’ll listen to whatever music I like—except rock. I can’t unwind listening to rock.”
John Santana is a freelance writer living in Silverdale, WA and a former recreational hockey player.
This first appeared in the 04/1997 issue of Hockey
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey
Posted: Nov 10, 2001, 10:53
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