In this article, I’m going to convince you how important your specific core strength is for hip mobility, and how improving it will boost your skating speed and help with mohawk skating techniques.
When you’re looking at the structure of the body from a functional and anatomical perspective, it doesn’t take much convincing to see that there is deep interplay between core stability and hip mobility.
How your body experiences its internal environment is going to determine how you move in the external environment.
In the case of hockey athletes, the hips are a crucial element here.
The spine needs to have stability in order for it to move properly. Essentially, stability sends the signal to the body that it’s safe to move the spine because we are well-protected.
But if the core isn’t stable enough for the job, the spine will change position and try to use something else to provide the stability needs.
When the spine has to do this, it typically means the hip, hamstring, and mid-back will “turn on” and become tenser during movement to try and give stability to the area.
You know those chronically tight hip flexors you’re always dealing with?
Yeah, those unsurprisingly attach to the spine – and if you have a weak core you’ll get your hip flexors trying to hold your spine together.
They will stay as tight as possible for as long as they need to in order to maintain that stability – your body is going to prioritize spine safety ten times out of ten.
Think of it this way.
A spine with a weak core is like a goal-scorer with no puck handling skills.
Sure, he can score a goal, but he’s going to need his teammates to set him up every single time in order to actually make it happen.
But, without that set up, he’s useless on the ice. He needs to find a man to set him up every single time.
This is actually a really great way to think about the body.
No matter what happens to it, it will always find a way to compensate (or, always find another muscle group to “set them up”).
We have all seen someone limp, have a forward head lean, or have terrible posture, and we instantly think:
“Jeez that can’t be comfortable”
But, these are ways in which the body reduces pain/strain on one joint in the body to get the individual to feel the least amount of pain and be as efficient as possible, even if it’s not ideal.
This is compensation at work.
Compensations are very simply the most efficient, least painful way to get things done.
Enter: Hip Function
Diving specifically into the hips, there is no reason hockey athletes should be suffering as many restrictive mobility issues as they do.
Structurally, it’s an open ball-and-socket joint and it can go through a massive range of motion before it ever reaches its actual end range of motion to a bone or capsular ending.
The ease of motion is aided further by synovial fluid to reduce friction, thick cartilaginous lining, a strong but flexible labrum, and positioning on the side of the pelvis to allow the greatest range of motion through multiple planes of movement compared to if it were simply in a hinge formation like the knee or elbow.
To be perfectly honest, hockey athletes should be able to do the splits – or at least get really close to the floor.
The splits shouldn’t be some unknown land that only gymnasts and dancers can enter, the hip joint as a ton of available motion in it – provided it’s not purposefully holding tension in the hopes of compensating for somewhere else in the body.
So What Can Help My Tight Hips?
Well, it’s a multi-faceted question.
Tightness normally means a couple of things:
- If I were to move your hip around through a simple passive assessment, you should have no restrictions in any direction because there isn’t any muscle tension holding it back, or at least there shouldn’t be any muscle tension.
2. If you’re tight in only one or two specific directions, that shows that there may not be any specific structural limitations, but most likely a stability restriction.
Let’s say you can perform a standard Thomas test, where you bring your knee to your chest and let the opposing leg hang down, checking to see what kind of available hip motion you have through the sagittal plane.
If you can hold your knee to your chest and have your opposite knee/lower hamstring comfortably touching the table – you’re good to go.
Now comes the alternative part…
Let’s say you pass the Thomas test with no problem at all, but, you have a serious problem with your rotation.
The ability of your hips to rotate is very important for optimizing your athletic ability both on and off the ice.
It will aid you in all aspects of your skating technique, speed, and agility out on the ice.
Now, the Thomas test is a pretty decisive test as far as measurements go to determine hip tightness – so, there really shouldn’t be any restrictions coming in the form of poor rotational ability.
If there are rotational restrictions it means that whatever is holding your hip mobility back is not a structural issue at the hip, but instead, the issue lies elsewhere in the body and the hip is compensating for it.
For those of you who have spent years stretching “tight hips” and have had zero improvements, you’re running the wrong track here.
You spent time working on something that was compensation, and not the root cause of the problem.
Seeing The Bigger Picture
If your muscle was actually tight, it should have been able to become less tight by now from all of your stretching efforts – and those gains in flexibility from stretching should be permanent if it was the appropriate move to make in your program (and if you actually did it every week).
But most likely, if you have had tight hips forever and have stretched them frequently with no success, they are likely hanging on tight to support your lumbar spine.
Enter: Plank Variations
The muscles that are going to resist internal rotation of the hip are found on the lateral aspect of the hip.
These muscles play the primary role in providing lateral stability of the spine along with the obliques, psoas, lats, and serratus anterior.
To make things more simple, this is where side planks come in.
Side planks stimulate and force these muscles to work together to help stabilize the spine in a lateral position that doesn’t allow for compensation mechanisms to kick in.
Therefore, resetting your hip and core in unison to work together and not in isolation.
Hanging leg raises are also good for this, but the side planks take the cake.
Furthermore, the muscles that resist external rotation are found in the medial and anterior portions of the hip – and these muscles are directly correlated to anterior core instability – which then forces the hips to compensate if they are weak.
Or to make things more simple once again, this is where normal planks come in.
When you do a plank with proper technique, your hip flexors will be held in a stretched position while your abdominals are working in unison with your obliques and glutes to provide quite literally the best spinal stability possible.
Pro Tip: To get the most out of your planks, contract your glutes throughout the entire duration of the set so that you force the hip flexors into extension which makes this whole process work so much better.
I’ve Been Saying This Forever
I wrote a blog on core training in 2015 telling everyone that they need to work on their “inner-core” first before they do any of the fancy stuff because it’s your inner-core muscles that stabilize the spine to optimize movement and prevent injury.
In that blog, I recommend everybody do plank variations for entire phases of training before moving on to new progressions.
I stand by those statements and they remain as true as ever today, and yet this is still being lost on so many coaches in today’s hockey strength and conditioning environment.
Knowledge is power, use these tools wisely and you’ll become the best player out on the ice.
The hip should always be mobile, structurally speaking it has an incredible range of motion in comparison to other joints.
So, when there is a mobility restriction, it typically comes down to a lack of stability elsewhere in the body – most often the core.
It’s a tricky rabbit hole you go down because the low back pain is caused by hip tightness, but the hip tightness is usually due to core instability.
But once you figure that out, you’re away to the races.
When you fix this issue, the hips should open up immediately because the spine has deemed that it is safe to do so.
From there, you can skate to your true ability and not your restricted ability.
Hip Mobility Training Program
If you liked this article and you want more content just like this to take your hockey training to the next level, check out the Hockey Skills Accelerator because it contains all of the workouts and mobility drills you will ever need to reach your true potential in this sport.
Or if you only want a hockey hip mobility program we have you covered with our Hockey Hip Fix program.
This program includes hockey-specific and specially designed hip mobility routines to unlock your hips and improve your hip stability so that you can start dominating every shift you step out on the ice for.