Water Polo Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

Water Polo stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with water polo injuries for good.

by Brad Walker | First Published November 15, 2010 | Updated August 12, 2017

Water Polo Stretches and Flexibility ExercisesWater polo is played as a six on six game with goalkeepers. There is a mad scramble to get control of the ball. Playing with just one hand, each player tries to get the ball into their opponent’s goal without submerging it.

Each quarter lasts seven minutes. If a team cannot play six swimmers in the water, they lose their goalie for that quarter. Substitutions are allowed throughout, just like hockey.

Water polo started out as a version of rugby played in lakes and rivers throughout England in the 1800’s. By the late 1800’s, rules were put in place to cut down unruly scenes in the game.

By the 1908 Olympic Games, rules were set to put strategy over sheer brute force. Medal winning male swimmers played the game till the turn of the millennium. Women’s teams were first allowed to compete for medals in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

Anatomy Involved

The calf muscle group (gastrocnemius and soleus); provide most of the lift needed to drive the player through the water after the ball. They join at the ankle, adding stability to the movement of the feet through the water at the bottom of the pool. The peroneal muscle group, on the outside of the lower leg, helps to stabilize the body during motion. The peroneal tendon, Achilles tendon, and extensor tendons add strength and stability to the ankle during play.

Charged with providing springing motion to player movement, the knee is one of the most commonly injured joints in sports today. Even though the water does cushion the body against some force and jostle, the knee still bears the brunt when it comes to launching oneself to get the ball and make a play.

The arms and shoulders take second seat as far as the most used muscles during play. With the legs providing the power to lift the player out of the water, the arm muscles, biceps and triceps, work with the deltoids to grab, throw, and score the winning goals.

Most Common Water Polo Injuries

Like all competitive sports that can become intense, bumps and bruises from contact are common, even in water polo. Three others, that are common to anyone who participates in water competitions, are swimmer’s ear, muscle cramps, and side stitches.

Swimmer’s ear is a common ear infection caused by the presence of water within the inner ear. If the water is not removed or the ear is not dried properly, a bacterial infection can develop, causing fevers and problems with balance.

Muscle cramps and side stitches generally occur through the overworking of muscles, as well as improper warm ups and stretching before play. If you get a muscle cramp or side stitch, simply relax and take yourself out of the action until it subsides.

Other, more minor injuries that may occur during play can include stubbed or sprained toes, twisted ankles, muscle pulls and strains as well as blows to the head. All of these generally occur during play and are usually the result of players colliding in the water, because it is so easy to lose track of where everyone is during the heat of play.

Injury Prevention Strategies

Water Polo Stretching ExercisesThe easiest way to prevent swimmer’s ear is to wear good ear plugs while in the water. They must form a tight seal to prevent water from entering the canal containing the inner ear. If you can hear clearly through them, they are not tight enough. Make sure that you clean them thoroughly after every use, removing all wax or other debris from them before putting them into your ears again.

Preventing muscle cramps is a simple affair if you rest between matches and perform the correct stretches. If you do get a cramp while in the water, stop all movement immediately and try to float vertically in place for a few minutes, until the cramps subside. If you try to swim past the pain, you may cause more cramps or force the cramping muscles into a full blown spasm.

Side stitches can occur on both sides of the abdomen and cause an intense, stabbing pain under the lower edge of the ribcage. When play gets fast and intense, you may be breathing too fast or too shallowly, and your lungs may be suffering for it. If you get a side stitch, stop swimming and just float for a minute or two. Try taking deep, slow and measured breathes for that minute, or until the side stitch subsides.

Since water polo play can get like rugby in the water, with arms and elbows flying all over the place, try to stay aware of everything that is going on around you, to avoid taking hits to your head, face, and torso. If you do take a hard blow, get yourself out of the action as soon as you can, signalling to your coach or ref as you do. Blows to the face should be seen to as soon as possible, and if you lose your breath from a blow to the chest or abdomen, take yourself out of the game completely.

Here are a few other tips that you can use to lower the risk of injuries during water polo training and competition.

  • Warm Up: Always warm-up properly prior to training and especially competition.
  • Cool Down: Allow an adequate cool-down period and perform after training or competition stretching.
  • Strength & Conditioning: Strength training leads to reduced potential for injury as it increases the strength of the muscles as well as that of the supporting joints and tendons. Agility training is particularly helpful as it works to improve the ability of the body to quickly adapt to a change in direction, motion and velocity.
  • Stretching: Stiff joints and muscles will ultimately lead to injured joints and muscles so improving the flexibility of the body will also work to decrease the likelihood of injury. Stretching is a key ingredient to any warm up routine and plays an important role in improving flexibility as it increases the range of motion in joints and the elasticity of muscles.
  • Stay Hydrated: Stay well hydrated by drinking water every 20-30 minutes even if you do not feel thirsty. Dehydration leads to fatigue, nausea, and disorientation, all factors that can result in injury.

The Top 3 Water Polo Stretches

Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for water polo; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.

Water polo shoulder stretch

Bent Arm Shoulder Stretch: Stand upright and place one arm across your body. Bend your arm at 90 degrees and pull your elbow towards your body.

Water polo core and side stretch

Reaching Lateral Side Stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, then slowly bend to the side and reach over the top of your head with your hand. Do not bend forward.

Water polo upper calf stretch

Single Heel-drop Calf Stretch: Stand on a raised object or step. Put the ball of one foot on the edge of the step and keep your leg straight. Let your heel drop towards the ground.

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Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.