Stretching with the Spiders

by Jay DeMayo, University of Richmond

Stretching, it’s one of the words that make strength coaches ears pop up like a dog when it hears someone say “walk.”  There is such a vast array of different thoughts on stretching with possibly the biggest question being, to stretch or not to stretch?   At the University of Richmond we stretch, and stretch a lot.  We stretch before workouts, during workouts in even between sets.  It’s something that I’ve felt has really helped with the technique of the lifts implemented and also the athlete’s generally feeling better after the work out.  Prior to lifting, but after our on court work in the off-season, we will come into the weight room and “re-warm up”.  During this time we run a CD to time everything with 3 stations:

1) foam rolling the glutes, IT band, groin and quad,

2) Stretching the hip rotators, glutes, hip flexors and calves,

3) Planks and variations. 

Once we get into the lift we’ll continue to stretch.  There are some stretches that we prescribe more than others, but just like strength training exercises, there are some prescribed on an individual basis.  The three I prescribe most regularly are: downward facing dog, hip flexor stretches, and quadruped groin stretch with lower body exercises.

I’m sure after you read the first stretch you were thinking, “oh boy a Yoga guy.”  That’s not really the case.  While I do feel that Yoga in moderation can be very helpful for certain athletes, this is the only pose you will find regularly in programs I prescribe.  The downward facing dog has been called “the one position you should use” in Yoga Hoops.  This stretch helps with every muscle behind you from your calves all the way to your upper back.  Most of the hoops players I deal with say they feel it in their calves (I don’t really think I need to go into why their calves are tight).   The next most commented on area is the hamstrings.  I’ll prescribe this stretching exercise in combination with the “vertical explosive lifts” we perform.  Those lifts being all snatch, push jerk, and push press variations (also performed with DB’s and single arm variations).  I feel this pairs great here being a total body stretch that covers the posterior region of the body with a lift that trains the body moving in a vertical manner.

Hip flexor stretches, sometimes called warrior lunges, are performed and paired with all squatting or pulling (deadlift) variations.  I can get into a long rant about how these kids sit more, play too many video games, do everything on a computer or a hand held, blah blah blah, but I’m not going to get into the endless reasons why they’re locked up in their “front butt.”  (We all know the lunge hip flexor stretch with a vertical reach, a lean to the side, and a twist over, so we don’t really need to go over that.)  In doing this stretch with our squatting, I’ve discovered that as the sets progress and you stretch after each one, hitting depth is easier.  I see it every time we front squat, single leg squat, RFESS (Bulgarian Split Squat) any type of squat you can think of.  This stretch and all variants of it are just good for hoops players to help them get into a full squat.

The quadruped groin stretch is what you might see hockey players doing next to the boards prior to getting into a game or practice.  Assuming the traditional quadruped stance (some call it bull dog) open your feet about twice as wide.  From here push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes.  You’ll know when you hit a stretch right away because it is intense.  We train the hips extension quite a bit, and pair this with many of the hip extension movements we do (BB Hip Bridges, Hip Extensions and variations).   I look at this stretch as almost the exact opposite position of what we are doing, so we are definitely looking at stretching the antagonist in this situation.

We can sit here and argue all day about the pros and cons of stretching, but what I keep coming back to is this: look good, feel good, play good.  If they athletes look and feel better, they’re more confident and most likely going to perform better.  Again, I realize that this is about as scientific as saying the world is flat and would not base my entire program around that principle, but what I am saying is part of our jobs is to keep our athletes healthy and feeling good.  I really feel that stretching can help them perform better in work outs and more importantly feel better physically when they are playing basketball.