Every racquetball player experiences a tight neck and stiff lower back from time to time. In addition to the stress caused by the intense activity of the game, modern life may be the origin to your problems. The modern lifestyle is “forward,” which means that the head shifts forward instead of being straight over the shoulders; the shoulders are rounded and positioned forward instead of being perfectly above the hips and the lower back has lost its natural sway curvature due to prolonged sitting. Your body is fighting to keep its balance forcing some muscles to work extremely hard, which will cause their overuse and tightness from the constant tension. That is the reason why your neck and lower back are stiff and sore—they are fighting to correct your poor “forward” posture.
Furthermore, racquetball being a one-side dominant sport will create even more imbalances in your body. All the strokes are played with one arm only, using the dominant side of your body to a much bigger extent. To make things even worse, most racquetball players sit down after the racquetball practice, either to rest or to drive to work or school where even more slouched sitting will occur, adding to the problems of “forward” posture. Your highest priority in your racquetball fitness regimen should be to create maximum balance in your body. The balance between your dominant and non-dominant side is more obvious. Less obvious, but just as important is balance between the front and back of your body. Strengthening the back of the shoulders, the lower back, and the glutes, and stretching of your front side, such as the hip flexors and quadriceps, should be part of correcting the problems of modern life.
The back-bend stretch, also known as wheel, is a highly advanced stretch that addresses the entire front side of your body and that makes you aware of all your life and racquetball imbalances. You may not be able to master it immediately, but with practice, you will reap all the benefits of this great stretch. The back-bend makes your spine flexible and supple, while it strengthens and stretches your shoulders, elbows, and wrists. It also stretches the hip flexors and abdominals to the limit while your back is arched. The stretch is an ultimate boost to your physical energy and well-being.
The best time to do a back-bend is at the end of your stretching routine after your racquetball practice. It will reveal all the developing imbalances in your body, such as tightness in your dominant arm’s wrist or elbow, tightness or clicking in the dominant arm’s shoulder, one of your hip flexors is tighter and shorter than the other, your abdominals shortened or the lower back stiff. This is a great “aha” experience for you. Your goal is to get all the muscle groups equally loose and comfortable during the stretch.
Lie down on your back, bend your knees, and bring your feet close to your glutes, hip-width apart. Place your hands with palms down by your ears, near your shoulders. The fingers should be pointing toward your shoulders, which will make the elbows point up. Breathe in a deep breath and while breathing out, lift yourself powerfully up on your hands and feet, pushing your hips high up. You can have a transitional position, where you first put the crown of your head down on the ground and from there you push yourself up entirely, supporting yourself on your hands and feet only. If this is impossible, you can stay where you are—on your head, hands and feet—and over time you will lift yourself fully. Push your hips high, keep the heels on the ground, get a good arch in your lower back, and hang your head between your arms. Breathe deeply and try to relax all the muscles in the front of your body. The longer you stay in the position, the easier it gets. Return slowly and carefully to the starting position. Lie on your back, bring your knees to your chest, and hug them while taking a few deep breaths. Repeat the back-bend stretch one more time. It will become much easier the second time and you will truly enjoy it this time.
If this stretch is extremely difficult and impossible to do, you can use the exercise ball to support your body weight while getting the benefits of stretching your front side. Ultimately, you want to become flexible enough to be able to master the regular back-bend.
Performing the back-bend stretch will make you feel energized and rejuvenated. With this great feeling, you will be highly motivated to practice your racquetball game and racquetball fitness more, and as a result, you will become the best and fittest racquetball player that you can be.