The Ice Dynamics® program uses both mobilization and flexibility for different aspects of warm up, cool down, recovery, and flexibility.
Tissue mobilization using foam rollers or small massage balls are beneficial both before and after skating.
- Start the warm up or the stretching session with the indicated self-mobilizations. This feels like a deep tissue massage and can help to break up muscle knots and smooth out inconsistencies. Some mobilizations may be uncomfortable which may cause the athlete to tighten the involved muscles. Consciously relax the muscle as it passes over the foam or ball to obtain the best results.
If flexibility gains are the goal, the best time to specifically work on flexibility is at the end of a workout or after skating when muscles are at their warmest. These prolonged stretches are held for 20-60 seconds and repeated 2-3 times. Some stretching may be moderately uncomfortable for some athletes, but should never be painful. Focus on relaxing and lengthening muscles with each exhalation.
- Focus on relaxing and lengthening muscles. Stretching at the end of a workout may help promote waste removal from muscles and decrease muscle soreness. Post workout stretching also increases the parasympathetic system's input to the musculoskeletal system, calming and relaxing the muscles. Correct and consistent stretching technique decreases the chances of injury, increases joint flexibility, and reduces the possibility of pain after an athletic career has ended.
- Bouncing has no part in safe stretching as this quick stretch put across the tendon and muscle actually facilitates a contraction and may lead to tighter muscles or a re-injury to a torn muscle.
Hypoflexibility: Limited motion at a joint due to naturally short ligaments or tight tissues
Tight muscles limit the range of motion by becoming taut before the joint has reached its limit of movement. As a result, damage occurs in the muscle, tendon, or ligament if the joint is pushed too quickly beyond the available end limit. When an injured or painful muscle limits full joint range of motion, joint tissues may adapt and shorten making motion of the joint feel stiff after the muscle heals. By the time the pain has subsided, joint flexibility and smooth motion is lost. Because muscles contract during strengthening, limited range can also result by strengthening muscles without stretching. The contractions need to be reversed through stretching in order to maintain or increase flexibility. An example of hypoflexibility in the hamstrings and low back is the inability to sit up straight on the floor when both legs are out straight in front of the body.
Hyperflexibility: Increased motion at a joint due to naturally long ligaments or overstretched tissues
Weak or over-flexible muscles subject the joints to increased wear and tear since muscles cannot absorb the forces of skating. Ligaments are sometimes naturally long, or can become over-stretched with injuries such as recurrent ankle sprains that stretch out the ligaments. This allows for excessive motion between bones and may result in increased wear at the joints. If the structures around a joint are over-stretched, over-worked, weak, or loose, the bones within the joint are subjected to increased motion, potentially causing degenerative changes at the joint surfaces. Some individuals are naturally hyperflexible due to ligament laxity, where the ligaments are slightly longer than in other individuals. In this situation, it is important to focus on stabilization and strength training to help protect the joints, not on flexibility gains, as this will come easily.
Training programs focus on attaining and maintaining a balance between muscle strength and flexibility. Muscles on the opposite sides of a joint (called agonists and antagonists) need to compliment each other to help control joint motion. The quadriceps and hamstrings, for example, help control knee motion. The low back and abdominals work together to control the lumbar spine position. Agonists are the primary muscles for a particular joint action (for example the quadriceps straighten the knee), while antagonists perform the opposite action and help control the motion (i.e. hamstrings bend the knee and help slow down rapid knee extension, such as in a high kick). If a muscle group is over-strengthened without any flexibility training, tightness will most often result. Often, adjacent joints and muscles will become over-stretched to compensate for the tightness. To prevent this, strengthening and stretching is completed through the full joint motion.
Joint and Muscle Protection
- Muscles are the best shock absorbers in the body and help absorb the forces that are otherwise transmitted through bones and across joint surfaces.
- When muscular strength and/or flexibility are poorly balanced on either side of a joint, the muscles are less able to absorb the shock and force of abrupt motions, such as landings. This also occurs when a joint is not allowed to move through its normal range of motion, such as the ankle inside of a stiff skate. Instead, these landing forces are transmitted to the bones and up through the body, eventually leading to soft tissue, bone, or joint damage.
- Balanced and coordinated muscle strength and adequate flexibility best attenuate landing forces.
- Boots that are too stiff or are laced too tightly can limit ankle motion and transmit high landing forces up the leg into the knee, hip or low back. Boots need to limit lateral bending while permitting ankle flexion and extension.
- Exercise routines that combine balance, joint stabilization, strength, and flexibility help to decrease the likelihood of injury.