Hockey is the greatest sport on earth. Finally recognizing this, the number of youth hockey programs in the U.S. continues to grow rapidly. Characterized by rapid high-intensity movements, high velocities, and full-speed collisions, it’s not hard to see why off-ice training would be advantageous. With injuries such as “groin” pulls, hip flexor strains, sports hernias, and shoulder separations plaguing the sport, it’s not hard to see why off-ice training is a NECESSITY.
Whether or not to train for hockey is not a question. It’s a no brainer. Hockey players that train excel and dominate. Players that don’t fall behind and are at an increased risk of injury. Almost all coaches and players recognize that much. The question I receive the most is, “Where do I start?” That’s the right question to ask and the question I’d like to address. In this article series, I’m going to walk you step-by-step through the process of creating an effective off-ice training program.
Where to Start
Without a doubt, the best place to start is by adding a dynamic warm-up before every training session (off-ice AND on-ice sessions) and game. Trash the old jog around the rink and stretch as a team routine. Despite popular belief, stretching before high intensity activity doesn’t decrease injury risk. In fact, research suggests that it actually INCREASES the risk of injury! Believe it or not, stretching before high-intensity activity also leads to decreases in speed, agility, balance, and muscular strength and power. The jog and stretch may warm-up the body a bit, but it does nothing to increase functional range of motion around the joints you use during training or playing hockey. It simply isn’t effective in preparing the body for what is to come. The solution: dynamic warm-ups.
Things to Consider
A dynamic warm-up is a series of exercises designed to increase body temperature, blood flow, joint range of motion, and neural drive to the working muscles. Sound better than decreased performance and an increased risk of injury? When putting together a dynamic warm-up, you’ll want to consider these things:
1) Skating takes the knees and hips through a full range of motion in all directions (flexion and extension, abduction and adduction, internal and external rotation).
2) Stickhandling and shooting take the shoulders through a full range of motion
3) Hockey involves both linear, lateral, and diagonal movements
4) Hockey is a high-intensity, high-velocity sport
5) The hip musculature and scapular stabilizers (muscles around the shoulder) are important problem areas to address to decrease injury risk
6) Core training should be performed during the warm-up, ensuring that athletes put maximum effort into it and that the appropriate muscles are activated for the training to follow.
7) The dynamic warm-up should last around 10 minutes
Taking these 7 things into consideration, let’s take a look at a basic program I’ve used with high school and college players in the past.
Every one of these exercises should be performed for about 15 yards.
1) Walking Knee Hug with High-Knee Hold
2) Walking Lunge with Overhead Reach
4) Walking Inverted Reach
5) Diagonal Walking Lunge
6) Butt Kickers
7) High Knees
8) Side Shuffle RIght
9) Side Shuffle Left
10) Carioca Right (Quick feet emphasis)
11) Carioca Left (Quick feet emphasis)
12) Carioca Right (Long stride emphasis)
13) Carioca Left (Long stride emphasis)
14) Straight-Legged March
15) 50% Sprint from Push-Up Start
16) Back Pedal
17) 75% Sprint from Push-Up Start
18) Back Pedal
Let’s take a look at how this warm-up addresses all the things I mentioned earlier.
1 & 2) The knees, hips, and shoulders are taken through a full range of motion throughout this warm-up (notably in the lunging, cariocas, and inchworm).
3) Forward, backward, side-to-side, and diagonal movements are all incorporated.
4) The warm-up involves higher intensity movements and increases in speed.
5) The psoas, a hip flexor commonly problematic in hockey players, is isolated and activated during the walking knee hug with high knee hold as you’ll hold the knee against your chest, then let it go, holding it using your hip flexors as high as possible for a second before moving into the next step. The other muscles around the hip are activated through the side shuffling and cariocas. Lastly, the scapular stabilizers and other muscles around the shoulder are activated during the inchworm.
6) When performed correctly, inchworms should effectively warm-up the abdominal musculature, and the walking inverted reach should activate the glutes. While this is far from sufficient core work, it’s a good starting point.
7) Lastly, this program can easily be performed within 10 minutes.
There are an infinite number of dynamic warm-up exercises you can perform. While I prefer moving warm-ups, it’s entirely possible (and sometimes better in the beginning) to sufficiently warm-up an entire team using stationary (not progressing over a distance) movements. Performing a dynamic warm-up before practices and games will save you valuable ice time as you won’t have to spend as much time on the ice warming up. Follow the guidelines in this article to design your own warm-ups and/or use the sample warm-up I’ve provided before every training session, practice, and game and you’ll be making the first step towards improved performance
Stay tuned for part two of this series, where I’ll go into why most of the core training incorporated into off-ice training programs does nothing to improve performance, and show you the most effective functional core training for hockey players.