3 Off Season Mobility Drills For Hockey Players
With my first year of working in professional hockey ending last month, I must admit that the amount work that goes into game day from not only the players, but the staff is incredible. A game day consists of morning workout, meetings, morning skate, pre-game treatment, more meetings, off-ice warm up, on ice warm up and finally the actual game. Multiply that by 76 for the regular season and throw in travel time on the bus or plane and practice days. It is no question that by the time May comes around these athletes have put a significant amount of stress on their bodies, coupled with the fact that hockey is the fastest sport on the planet with extreme contact.
Other than normal healing from the demands of the sport there are a few things to focus on in the early off season that are specific to hockey players that should be addressed in your summer programming. At SPI/RMPT we are fortunate to have hockey players of all ages and talent from professional to youth levels. With this comes the ability to see what has worked for a variety of different athlete’s over the stages of their career. One of our professional athletes who just started his off-season training recently spoke about how his mindset towards preparation for the season has changed. Earlier in his career he would have already been on the ice preparing for training camp, currently he doesn’t see himself on the ice until at least mid-June. This will allow for him to address some lingering issues he has from the previous season.
For hockey players it is common to have decreased ankle mobility at the end of the season. Their foot is locked in a somewhat neutral position for 9 months out of the year. Running, Jumping, Gymnastics and even going up and down stairs requires you to have full and sometimes excessive range of motion in order to perform. Normal range of motion of the ankle is 20 degrees of dorsi flexion (DF) and 50 degrees of plantar flexion. It is not uncommon to see my hockey athletes sitting at anywhere between 5-10 degrees of DF. Ankle mobility is an important functional movement for all aspects of life and very important for strength and conditioning. Reduced ankle mobility can hinder the ability to squat properly. It is important to address this early in the off-season so that other areas of the functional chain are not limited during their training sessions. Testing for dorsi flexion limitations can be easily performed by placing the athletes toes 5” away from the wall. Instruct the athlete to lean in and touch the wall with his knee, without having the heel of the test foot lift off the ground.
The thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae located in the area of the spine that connects the neck and low back. I would also argue that the t-spine is one of the most underappreciated areas of the body when it comes to sports performance. In hockey thoracic spine mobility is very important for shooting, especially slap shots. Like most rotational sports, increased mobility equates to increased power production, however, many fitness professionals completely ignore the thoracic spine as an area that is included in their programming. For a righthanded hockey player by the end of the season we tend to see an increase in right thoracic rotation and an imbalance to the left. Programming thoracic spine mobility into your early off-season regimen will allow you to later add a strengthening component without risk for injury. If someone is lacking in thoracic rotation but is still able to contort their body into positions necessary for athletic performance, it usually comes with a price and the first thing that comes to mind is unnecessary torque on the lumbar spine. Moral of the story: Early off-season, address the imbalances with left and right thoracic mobility work, mid to pre-season add a rotational power component such as medicine ball tosses or landmine variations.
The mechanics of skating require the lower extremity to be in two phases, the stride phase and the load phase. The load phase is when the leg is directly under the body with the hip and knee flexed. The stride phase is when the leg is then fully extended and pushed to the side (abducted) to create force on the ice. Due to this the hip flexors are sitting in a naturally shortened position. I find the majority of athletes I assess are lacking hip extension in some shape or form due to their sport, or if they are student athletes, sitting for long periods of time in classes.
One of the most common hip stretches (that are performed poorly) is the half kneeling hip flexor stretch. Often without proper cueing the athlete is merely in excessive lumbar extension without addressing the hip flexor region. A simple cue that can be given is to make sure your athletes keep their trunk tall, do not lean back and contract their gluteal muscles while holding the stretch. Additionally, the aid of a power band, stretch to the capsule can be achieved. Along with the hip flexor group, the adductors are put under a significant amount of stress during the season with both concentric and eccentric forces placed upon them with each stride. To improve this there are two stretches that we perform as part of our athletes’ warm-ups, especially our hockey players.
At SPI Fitness we pride ourselves in the individualization of our programming for our athletes. Sure, it would be significantly easier to just put a workout on the board and have everyone come in and do the same thing regardless of their sport or body type, but that is not true sports specific strength and conditioning. Our assessment process is geared to find our athletes 1) strengths and 2) areas for improvement so that when we design our client’s program it is truly a benefit to them. A multifaceted assessment coupled with our knowledge of training a wide variety of athletes sets us apart from other facilities in the area.