For many hockey players, the off-season is a time to do one of three things: 1) relax; 2) train at high intensities; or 3) play more hockey. Unfortunately, the latter two are the most common, often sending players one step closer to the trainer's bench if not accompanied by work focused specifically on improving hockey skills. Luckily, there are ways to do both.
It's important to remember that as training camps, tryouts and pre-season arrive, fitness and strength levels should be ramping up but not at their peak. It's difficult to maintain peak level over the course of what is, for many players, a seven- to nine-month season. One of the most important things a hockey player can learn is to take care of himself or herself to maximize force production and minimize the probability of injury.
This involves keeping a watchful eye on the intensity and volume of training sessions; the amount of time spent on ice during the off-season; scheduling appropriate recovery periods; and including exercises in your training program that counterbalance the repeated movement patterns you perform regularly. Here are three exercises that should be used by skaters of all ages and abilities.
1. Single-Leg Sliding Lateral Squat
With a few adjustments, this version of the Lateral Squat addresses several needs of a hockey player in one movement. In contrast to a regular Lateral Squat, this version keeps the weight over a single leg while the opposite leg extends out laterally.
It closely resembles a Single-Leg Squat with lateral support. By keeping what skating coaches refer to as "the balance point" (nose, center of chest, knee and toe in a line), it emphasizes strength, mobility and balance through the lower body, on the standing leg, in a manner that is transferable to the ice. A player's skating stride comes from a variation of this movement. The support leg extends and engages the mobility and flexibility of the hip and groin on that side.
To increase the load, add a weight vest, a kettlebell in the goblet posit, or a bar in a front rack position; but aim for full range of motion before adding significant weight.
2. Single-Leg, Straight-Leg Deadlift
This can be performed while holding a bar to increase the load on the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, etc.) or with a weight in the opposite hand to increase the anti-rotational work of the core, which is just as important for a player's hockey skills as the rotational strength used in stick handling and shooting.
- Assume a tall, pillar-like posture at the top/beginning of the movement.
- Start by pushing your non-standing leg back as if to reach the wall behind you. This will help keep your heel, hips, back and head in that pillar position as the upper half of your body comes forward.
- Slowly and with control, lower the weight. Stop when your hamstrings reach their end range of motion. Resist the urge to round your back forward to get the weight closer to the ground.
- Forcefully squeeze your backside muscles and pull back up to the start position.
- Keep your hips square the entire time. If your body turns towards the ceiling as the movement progresses, your hips are opening into an externally rotated position.
- Focus on keeping your hips down and internally rotated. Working the hip's internal rotation is important for hockey players to maintain healthy hip movement and to avoid the externally rotated position becoming too dominant.
3. Medicine Ball Rotational Tosses
- Start sideways to a wall that can tolerate repeated slamming of a medicine ball.
- Load the side away from the wall with the ball and shift your weight to that side.
- Push off with your your back leg (the one away from the wall), shift your weight to your front foot, turn your hips, and fire the ball at the wall with both hands, swinging from the hip. The move is similar to a golf swing or a baseball swing. Imagine your belt buckle pointing in the direction of the toss.
- When receiving the ball off the rebound, shift your weight into your back foot and back to the starting position. Immediately repeat.
Besides the obvious hockey skills such as shooting, this movement encourages a good loading and shifting of weight, which is used in skating strides, lateral starts, changes of direction and even puck protection and checking.
These three exercises cover three planes of motion—frontal, sagittal and transverse—and two prominent lower-body movement patterns—knee dominant movement and hip hinge. They also assist in working mobility of the hips and ankles, flexibility in the hamstrings and adductors, and core anti-flexion, anti-rotation and rotational movement. A lot of important ground for hockey players looking to use their time in the weight room to improve their hockey skills, and not simply their 1-rep max in the Bench Press.
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