USA Racquetball’s Athletic Trainer and Massage Therapist Shares Expertise on Athletic Injuries, Stretching, and Recovery
Not surprisingly given the title, GOAT Sports Performance is all about finding ways to improve performance. I love learning, and even if it’s not directly within my areas of expertise, I look for ways to grow and improve outcomes for my clients. To that end, I asked USA Racquetball’s athletic trainer and massage therapist, Brent Huff, to share his insights on a variety of health topics.
Can you tell me a little about your background and what you do?
I’m a certified athletic trainer with the National Athletic Training Association (NATA). I’ve been certified for 17 years, and I’m also a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the National Association of Strength and Conditioning (NSCA). Three years ago I became a holistic lifestyle coach with the Chek Institute and more recently a massage therapist with the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).
So where do you work?
I work as a personal trainer and massage therapist at HealthTrack Sports Wellness in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and I’m the owner of Holistic Ultimate Functional Fitness (HUFF). My clients comprise of everyone from kids to professional athletes, schools to clinics, and even onsite at companies administering injury prevention programs. I’m also the current athletic trainer and massage therapist for the U.S. National Racquetball Team. I’ve been doing that for the past six years.
Okay, let me ask you a question that I hear a lot when it comes to stretching. Some people swear that static stretching, where you stay relatively still and stretch, is the best way to stretch. Other people say that dynamic stretching, where you stretch while doing movements, is better. Which one do you recommend, and why?
A lot of research has been done trying to find the optimum stretching approach: when, how, and for how long. I follow the general rule of thumb that you should use dynamic stretching before activity (e.g., practice, games, or training), and static stretching after activity. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. I might use static stretching during injury rehab or if there is need for corrective exercises such as improving hip alignment, for example.
Dynamic stretching should be done first in order to get the blood pumping, to increase tissue temperature and elasticity, and to begin progressively moving the body through motions that will be used during activity. Static stretching post-activity should be used in order to try to elongate the muscles since this is when they will be most ready to promote change in length and to help slow/cool the body down.
You work with a variety of sports and athletes. What are the most common injuries you typically see?
Generally speaking, the most common injuries I see are knees, low back, shoulders, and elbows (in no specific order). With that said, they are usually not the cause; they are the result of other issues. For example, I generally see low back pain due to hip issues (i.e., hip flexor, glute med/min, and/or piriformis). The result of these hip issues may result in pain in the low back extensors, quad lumborum, and or sacrum region.
As for shoulder or elbow issues in racquetball, I hear so many people talk about vibration dampeners (a band or something similar placed on the strings of the racquet to reduce vibration). But there are too many other variables to say the issues are due to vibration. Consider all the biomechanical variables in addition to all the racquet variables, like weight, balance, handle size, stiffness of frame material, string type, string gauge, and string tension: these can and usually do cause shoulder and elbow issues. Biomechanically, I tend to look at scapular mobility and trunk rotation, for example. Plus, we haven’t even mentioned swing mechanics and footwork as potential causes as well. The body is a very complex machine, and there are very few simple solutions to injuries.
Many athletes have to train and compete when they are not 100% or at full health. What strategies could you give that might help cope with these little niggling injuries?
I would suggest investing in themselves. What I mean is this: if they’re going to spend time and money traveling and competing, they should also spend time and money learning how to care for themselves better. So many people like to compete yet don’t know how to train or don't understand the importance of the different parts of training. Utilize a physical therapist or athletic trainer, invest in personal training, and learn high performance nutrition/hydration.
Probably most importantly, learn how to recover! Implement the use of heat and ice for pre- or post-activity treatment. There are also foam rollers, vibration plates/balls/rollers, portable electrical stimulation units, compression units, salt baths, etc. Combinations of these things, if used properly, can be very beneficial to recovery and even injury prevention.
Lastly, I would say they need to learn that sometimes less is more. So many people over train. Learn to train with a purpose! Get to the gym, do what you have to do, and get out. Don’t just go through the motions. I would use Kane Waselenchuk as an example in professional racquetball [#1 player on the International Racquetball Tour; considered the GOAT by many]. I see him walk onto the racquetball court with the purpose of winning as quickly as possible so he can get off the court, recover, and begin preparing for his next match, both mentally and physically.
Brent, as always thanks for your time and expertise, and I hope those reading will consider and apply your advice. I loved your last comment about being efficient, which is Core Value #7 of GOAT Sports Performance and one that all my clients agree to: “Whether training or competing, I am efficient and effective.”
If you’d like to learn more from Brent or work with him, he can be reached at HUFF Wellness & Sports Conditioning (520-234-2136; firstname.lastname@example.org).
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