Welcome to the Hockey Mobility Training guide. This is a comprehensive guide teaching you why mobility is important for hockey performance, and how you can integrate mobility training into your hockey training.
Whether you are a hockey player looking to increase your performance on the ice or a coach of any kind looking to help out hockey players, this is a guide you will want to take the time to read.
Because this Mobility guide might be tough to finish in one sitting we’ve included a table of contents that you can use to come back to resume your reading. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
- What is Mobility?
- Why Focus on Mobility?
- Getting Started
- Identifying our Target Anatomy
- Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
- Using Yoga for Hockey Mobility
- Where Do Hockey Players Have the Most Issues?
- Incorporating Mobility Work into Your Weight Training
- Incorporating Mobility Work into Your Conditioning
- Incorporating Mobility into Your Warm-Up
- Incorporating Mobility into Your Cool Down
- Sample Hockey Mobility Routines
Hockey Mobility Introduction
When building hockey athletes up to an elite level, you would be hard pressed to try and argue against the fact that movement quality is #1.
How you move is the foundation of everything. It doesn’t matter what your strength and power potentials are if you’re movement quality is so poor that your technique suffers. In many cases, movement quality will make an otherwise good athlete appear unathletic.
Put another way, you can be a naturally immobile person but work to fix those issues and become an elite athlete – but the reverse isn’t true, elite athletes never come in immobile packages.
Technique and skill development is just too important when you reach a certain level, strength and power are only ever going to get you so far. Even if you’re the enforcer.
For these reasons, it’s imperative that hockey athletes work to enhance their mobility. Doing this will enhance your strength, power, and athleticism – and not detract from it.
Flexibility, stability, and coordination make up your movement quality.
Can you move and control all ranges of motion in all your joints?
Then you have excellent movement quality.
Do you chronically suffer from movement quality issues in certain areas of your body?
Then you would benefit from a hockey-specific approach to your mobility programming.
The idea for your movement quality is to get it, then keep it.
Flexibility and mobility is a topic that I have personally covered on many occasions, that many other experts have covered on many occasions, and that has been the subject of literally thousands of research studies.
Many coaches claim they have “the” answer to your problems, but the truth is, on a very simple level, most of them are just regurgitating what they read in a textbook or in their certificate course and are not actually properly applying it to the hockey population.
Hockey players have certain issues in certain areas that only require a certain dose of movement in order to get the desired response. The principle of Specificity applies to mobility as well, meaning, there is a point of diminishing returns. And in some areas of the body, plenty of hockey players don’t even need any work done, and yet coaches still seem to want to apply “their answer” to the hockey athletes.
That’s ego, that’s not knowledge.
What’s most important is that hockey athletes perform hockey-specific mobility routines consistently and progressively over a long period of time (sorry, shortcuts don’t exist here, I’m going to need you to pull out your old-school hockey work ethic).
If you don’t do this, you will probably end up immobile and frustrated.
If you do this, you will probably end up stronger, faster, more explosive, and less prone to injury.
A no-brainer if you ask me.
You see, the mobility game isn’t very different than anything else in strength and conditioning. You need to understand the sport, understand the physiology behind the sport, and identify trends within the movements that may lead to enhanced performance or decreased performance.
For example, you probably sit a lot. Yes, I’m excusing you of sitting down a lot, we all do. Most all humans sit down for much more time per day then we are designed to. In fact, if you look at the research, most developed countries spend over eight hours per day in a chair – and this has obvious negative consequences to movement quality.
If you were to break down the seated position in a simple manner, here’s what you would get:
- The hips are in constant flexion
- Glutes are completely turned off
- The thoracic spine is caved forward for hours on end
- The head and neck are pitched forward for hours on end
- The pecs and internal rotator cuffs are overly tight and pulled together
Rather than look at each office worker, truck driver, or article writer (dang it) individually, we can identify these trends in their positioning and apply specific mobility work to anyone looking to improve their movement quality who fit this criterion. This could be a good start:
- Deep lunges with rotation and prying
- Bodyweight hip thrusts
- Tabletop hip thrusts
- Thoracic bridging
- Supine leg whips in both directions
- Deep squats with prying
And there you have it, a perfect mobility routine for anybody who is in a seated position for too long of a duration on a daily basis. Performing three rounds of that, three times per week, would create massive differences in an athlete’s movement quality on the ice if they were seated for too long every day.
Why did I use a seated example?
Well, it’s probably applicable to pretty much everyone reading this.
But more importantly, I used it to articulate the main point that understanding movement dysfunctions and correcting them is going to give you a tremendous bang for your buck when it comes to improving your hockey performance.
If all of that stuff happens just when you’re seated…what happens when you play hockey for six months every year?
Just like we can identify trends in all people who do a lot of sitting, there are very clear trends among all hockey players that we can work on to improve their mobility, and thus, their movement quality and performance.
That’s what I want to explore with you today.
I want to provide you both the “why” and the “how” behind hockey mobility and provide you the most comprehensive hockey mobility guide available anywhere today. If you read and follow my instructions below, I can guarantee that you will be a better hockey athlete for it.
Let’s get into it.
What is Mobility?
Mobility as an overall category has become something that goes in and out of trend. The strength and conditioning industry is funny that way, it goes back and forth on things all of the time.
You HAVE to stretch 24 hours a day.
Stretching ruins your performance and you will never be good at hockey.
Mobility and stability are the ONLY things you should focus on.
Mobility and stability are overrated, just lift weights and skate.
Of course, nutrition coaches make the problem worse by saying that everything is both healthy and unhealthy, everything is either good for performance or terrible performance, and you better bet that EVERYTHING gives you cancer.
Man, this industry is something else.
Like always, the truth is found somewhere in the middle – you find it when reviewing data, and not while watching documentaries or listening to “that jacked guy from the gym”
I think something that has caused mobility to go back and forth in its importance in this industry is the overall lack of definition behind it. It’s kind of a tough thing to define though, isn’t it?
Everybody seems to have a different definition of it, and when asked most people will just say something very simple such as “Well, it’s like flexibility, right?”
Beyond this, everybody seems to have a different idea of what mobility should represent. There are people out there who make money based on mobility work alone, so they want you to think that everybody should be as mobile as a gymnast – when in many cases the stuff they want you to do will have no impact towards your on-ice performance at all.
When you break down mobility to identify it for what it truly is, it is the intersection of three different qualities:
Flexibility is a part of the equation because you need to have the proper flexibility in order to perform the joint/muscle’s full range of motion through a given task. Therefore, if you have flexibility issues it can either positively or negatively affect your mobility due to your lack of ability to achieve the full range of motion for the intended movement and/or muscle group.
Technique is a part of the equation because a person’s technical skill may be poor enough as to present itself as an issue of mobility. For example, many people when in the hole of a squat (below parallel) tend to also bend over at the upper body and come out of the hole kind of in a squat/goodmorning motion – like they are doing both movements at the same time. Coaches who exclusively make their money from mobility work will jump all over this and look for tightness’s in the posterior chain when all the client might need is some proper technical coaching to brace the core, distribute the weight evenly on the feet, and posture up.
Lastly, strength plays a large role in the topic/definition of mobility because it is strength that is allowing you to remain stable throughout a range of motion. If you’re not strong enough to keep a fully postured back throughout a deep squat then that is a strength issue, not a flexibility or technique issue. In another example, if you can’t lie on your back, extend your legs perpendicular with the ground and touch your toes this may be a weakness in the abdominals in order to bring your upper body up off the ground – and not a tightness in the back preventing you from moving through that range of motion.
So, as we make our way through the rest of this guide, keep in mind the triangle of mobility (flexibility, technique, strength) and ensure that you are challenging your own thought process to identify where the real mobility issues in your life preside.
The worst thing that you would want to happen is to put hours, months, or even years of your effort into the wrong section of your mobility problem and find out it was another issue all along.
Put another way, if your foam rolling and flexibility routine hasn’t worked for the 100th time in a row now, why do you think it’s going to work any different on the 101st?
Find your issue and make a plan to resolve that issue. The definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over but expect a different result.
Why Focus on Mobility?
I’m sure you have already gathered reason enough from the explanations above, but there’s more to discuss than that. Much more.
Most people overlook the importance of including mobility work into their hockey training system. Since mobility itself represents a limb working through its full range of motion in a controlled and stable manner, I don’t think anybody could deny its importance, I think they more-or-less just ignore it because it’s something that may not be fun to them.
To clarify once again, mobility is much different than flexibility.
Flexibility is the ability of a muscle, or group of muscles, to passively lengthen through a range of motion. Stretching works on lengthening these tight muscles to improve their flexibility, whereas mobility involves much more than just tightness.
Mobility includes all elements that may limit a hockey athletes movement and performance such as their joint capsules, fascial tissue, range of motion dysfunctions, strength, neural damage, and plenty others.
When you improve your mobility and not just your flexibility (although flexibility is a part of mobility), you:
- Reduce injury risk
- Improve conditioning levels through energy efficiency
- Improve speed through enhanced stride length and stride frequency
- Improve strength and power through being able to work muscles through a greater range of motion
- Improve agility through improved fluid movement
- Reduce pain
- Improves structural balance and structural integrity
- Reduced stretch-shortening cycle effectiveness which reduces explosive strength and acceleration
Among many other things, and combinations of the above as well.
Beyond this, mobility work is also a great way to get some active recovery in. In this fashion, you can create mobility circuits (to be discussed in more detail later) to target hockey specific conditioning energy systems but simultaneously perform movements that act as methods for rehabilitation, pre-habilitation, and athletic enhancement.
Before we start getting really deep into the exact science behind how mobility works in the body to drive hockey performance, I want to first quickly share with you some simple equipment options you might want to have on hand so that you can get the most out of your mobility workouts.
Foam Roller and Lacrosse Ball
Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) is a very simple and effective way to improve recovery, mobility, and overall prepare the muscles for upcoming workouts. SMR techniques with a foam roller or specialized foam roller help to release what you can simply refer to as “knots” in your muscle tissue.
This type of release can help improve blood flow, which in turn helps deliver nutrients to your muscles cells and improve the rate at which you recover.
A good foam roller is moderately dense. If the foam is too soft, you can’t apply enough pressure for it to be effective; but if it’s too hard, you can wind up bruising yourself and causing too much trauma to the trigger point areas.
When choosing which implement you should use, keep it simple. Foam rollers are great for larger muscle groups like the legs and back – a standard high-density foam roller I feel is your best bet when first starting out to get used to the feel and effects.
Then, if you need to graduate to a specialized version, you can pick up either a Rumble Roller or the “The Grid” Trigger Point Performance roller. Both of these options contain unique structures that allow you to apply different amounts of types of pressure on your trigger points, which can sometimes be a little tricky to get with your standard foam roller.
A lacrosse ball has the same SMR technical idea as the foam rollers, but it can be more effective for reaching those smaller trigger points in your chest, shoulders, feet, and glutes.
The ball is absolutely great at nailing very knotty muscles and targeting very specific areas that you can’t quite dig into with an implement as large as a foam roller.
If you’re going to get anything, I would start with the bands.
A good, strong rubber band is a really versatile mobility tool that can do wonders for mobilizing certain parts of the shoulders, upper back, and lower back.
As you will notice in some of the exercises below, I like using a band quite a bit and it’s for a good reason; it allows you to stretch muscles in ways that just otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
Although it’s possible to practice yoga without a yoga mat, it is a much more effective workout if you do have one. In most cases, it’s safer as well.
There are plenty of different yoga mats out there on the market today, don’t feel like you need to go ultra-fancy here, and don’t buy in to the idea that “the more expensive it is, the better it must be!”
Let’s not forget that it’s still just a mat.
Having said that though, there are different types of mats for different types of yoga, and some mats are designed in unique ways or have unique features that may or may not appeal to you. Simply have a look at the yoga mats available and pick the one that suits you best.
From a coach’s perspective, I would tell you that I want you to have a mat, but I don’t really care which one you get.
Using a yoga block can really help you decrease the range of motion of a mobility exercise in a safe and comfortable way. It’s not always easy doing some movements (for example, dropping back into a shrimp squat or skater squat), but, we still need to train that movement if we are going to get better at it.
This is where a yoga block can really come in handy as it allows us to decrease the range of motion and gently touch the block in a safe way before we return back to the top position and reset before another rep and/or stretch.
Identifying Our Target Anatomy
We have already discussed a lot between both flexibility and mobility and how these things might begin to represent themselves as major “anchors” to our performance out on the ice.
But, like everything in sports science, there is always more research to go through and more corners to turn when determining what the best possible strategies are for your hockey athletes and how they need to approach each and every area behind their training, sleep and nutrition.
And, lucky for you, I am OCD beyond control, so I need to include every last detail in my articles – as you got a clear glimpse from in my massive speed, conditioning, and agility articles that have been released over the past few weeks.
The purpose of this section will be to discuss flexibility and mobility for hockey athletes but under different anatomical circumstances.
Essentially, by the end of this section you will have a much better understanding of mobility and what is the main cause behind your personal inability to become more mobile and efficient with your movement.
In most cases when working with hockey athletes, I’ll come across two different scenarios. The first one involves the coach saying:
“Hey! You are too tight, you need to stretch more!”
The other option I come across is when you finally say to yourself:
“Man, I need to stretch more. I always feel tight in (insert X area of the body, usually the lower body)”
Those are normally the two stories I hear before athletes start asking me questions about how to correct this issue as conveniently and quickly as possible. Because you know those things just ALWAYS go hand-in-hand…
From here, the athlete, or coach, or well-meaning (but misguided) personal trainer will determine flexibility by measuring certain physical screens and then use these screens as a key performance indicator for hockey and/or injury-risk measure.
Yet, the literature behind the topic can be really contradicting, and when asking around (and avoiding the research) it can be even more contradicting from one coach to another. Science says different things and so do coaches, so it leaves athletes scratching their heads.
Some literature says it prevents injury due to greater mobility (because you were too tight before), while other literature says it increases injury risk due to that very same increased mobility (when you’re too flexible, you can move your muscles/joints in unsafe positions, especially if you are in a contact sport).
To make it more confusing on you, some literature states performance decreasing effects, while other research claims performance enhancement. Coaches advice bounces all over these walls as well – although they normally don’t really know what’s going on at the cellular level, they are normally just believing what someone else told them.
I personally always want to evaluate programming with a critical eye and ensure we are doing everything correctly for the maximum progress possible within the shortest possible time frame. When you have literally thousands of people reading your work like I do here at HockeyTraining.com – and even more importantly, when you have thousands of people running through your training programs, you better know what the heck you are talking about.
So, it really leads myself to asking my own question:
Does flexibility programming actually have a place in hockey specific training?
The answer without a doubt is, yes.
To make the reading more digestible for you, I have found defining some terms first to help a lot towards fully understanding the concepts being discussed below (some of them will be a recap from above).
I don’t want you to get lost, and neither do you – so read these terms over multiple times if you have to as I will be using them throughout the rest of this entire project.
Flexibility: Flexibility is a reflection of the absolute range of motion of a joint. This includes the capsule and tissues surrounding it.
Instability: Abnormal movement of a joint that will not allow it to support a normal load.
Stiffness: Tension increase per unit of change in length of the muscle.
Hypermobility: Above normal movement for a joint. Lots of times people dub this as “double jointed”
Hypomobility: Below normal movement for a joint.
Now that that’s out of the way, I want to further define flexibility for you. Over 90% of the time when I hear coaches and athletes talk, the term flexibility is thrown around just as a blanket statement referencing all types of mobility.
The reality is that this goes beyond my above simplified reference of the intersection between strength-technique-flexibility.
Truth is, there are many factors that contribute to the term “flexibility” (speaking now from a more anatomical standpoint) including your joint capsule, ligaments, muscles, tendons, neural tissue, fascia and the interactions these all have between one another.
It’s important to care about this because identifying where exactly you have an issue is the first step towards solving that issue. For example, if you think all flexibility issues are muscle-based, you could always be wrong and never actually improve your hockey mobility.
For example, ever stretch for what seems like forever and never see an increase in flexibility?
Well, here you are obviously targeting the tissues that don’t need any help or are not the actual root of the mobility problem. Like I said above, if your flexibility/mobility routine didn’t work the first 100 times, why do you think it’s going to work the 101st?
Get out of that mindset, the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. With that in mind, let’s have a look at where your individual issues may lie.
One of the largest factors contributing to your movement is the flexibility of your joint capsule, which depends mainly on the integrity of the capsule itself and the ligaments that surround it.
Of important note, the capsule will adapt based on the athlete’s activity and is often a necessary change in order to move efficiently out there on the ice or in the gym.
An easily visual example of joint capsule adaptability comes with baseball pitchers. If you ever watch a pitch in slow motion and witness the external rotation they have in their shoulder it looks almost unreal.
This is joint capsule athletic adaptation being played out in real life – this is not natural, it is an adaptation to improve performance. A very important distinction to make.
The relationship between your ability to effectively contract and relax a muscle contributes towards flexibility while optimal muscle contraction ultimately depends upon the length-tension relationship of the muscle and muscle cells.
Of important note, static stretching has been shown to result in decreased power output by effecting this relationship, making static stretching a poor choice prior to activity such as hockey or resistance training.
Perform all static stretching work on its own day, or, post-workout. More on this later.
Nerve Tissue Damage
The neurological system plays a great role in flexibility as well but will not be discussed in this article due to its extreme complexity and inapplicability to most readers.
For example, nerve tissue damage in the back can cause muscle spasms elsewhere in the body as a protective mechanism in order to prevent you from performing a given movement that may further stress the spinal cord.
This requires medical attention and a full assessment – which brings it far beyond the scope of an article even of this size.
Fascia is a type of surrounding tissue that holds all other tissues together. You can think about it sort of like a cocoon.
It is made up of collagen fibers, elastic fibers, and fatty tissue. Fascia plays many comprehensive roles in the body, so much so that it has created its own field within sports recovery/rehabilitation in that you can become certified as a Fascial Massage Therapist (FMT).
It plays a critical role within flexibility, stiffness and even proprioception (body awareness/coordination). Fascial work is relatively new in the field, but, is highly scientifically relevant and is an area for enhanced mobility/flexibility that is worth your time and money if you have never considered it before.
Now that you understand the above areas for improvement, you have set yourself apart from over 99% of the trainers out there. Most simply fall in the same two examples I provided above about both the athlete or coach thinking they just “need to stretch”, yet, it’s much more isolated than that.
This doesn’t need to be complicated, it just may be new to you (or not, depending on who you are). It’s not different than training for strength, power, muscle mass, or endurance. You do different things in order to get a different result.
Likewise, in the flexibility and mobility world, you do different things to get a different result. Except, instead of talking about Type l and Type ll muscle fibers, or energy systems, or rep ranges; we are talking about joint capsules, fascia, muscles, and neural tissue.
Don’t make it more complicated than it is, even if it may seem that way.
If you do, you can build belief systems about what you do, and that’s the worst thing an athlete or coach can do.
Belief = emotion, and emotion eliminates logic.
Flexibility is one of those topics in the field to where people for some reason get emotional about it.
Coaches just make these bold claims and statements and straight-up insist they are right without taking in any opposing schools of thought. As a field, it’s pretty much cut up into two sides with respect to its use.
Probably most of this argument is spawned due to the contradicting research and/or complete ignorance of it.
From what I’ve seen, there definitely is lots of confliction, but there also are some consistencies as well. Some of its common sense, some of it’s not so much.
First of all, when we talk flexibility most people are referring to creating pain-free movement.
But does improving flexibility actually improve on-ice performance?
The research says no on this one, surprising as that may be to some of you. But it only says no beyond a certain point.
Going beyond what is necessary for your sport, there is zero advantage to be had by being more mobile and in fact, too much mobility can actually decrease your performance and increase your risk of injury. To put it simply:
Does a hockey player need to be more flexible than a couch potato?
Does a hockey player gain any advantage at all by being as flexible as a gymnast?
There is a very clear point of diminishing returns. There is no prize for those who can do the splits. Who cares? Seriously?
Now from a broader perspective of flexibility on athletic performance, Shier et al examined 23 studies on the topic of the acute effect of flexibility on performance.
22 of these studies showed no benefit towards isometric force, isokinetic torque or jump height. Four of these articles were specifically on running speed (which I feel has an excellent carryover to the ice).
Of these four articles, 1 found stretching decreased performance, 2 were inconclusive and 1 found an increase in performance.
Overall, the research here is leaning heavily towards one of two scenarios:
- a) Performance decrease
b) Neutral effect
Not a good use of time if you ask me.
Within the same review, 9 of the studies were actually done using habitual stretching routines over time, and not where it was not done immediately prior to exercise. Seven of the studies found positive benefits towards performance and two of them were neutral.
Now we are getting somewhere.
This data suggests that stretching can benefit the hockey athlete over time, so long as it is not immediately prior to exercise (where we saw negative effects).
But when choosing which type of stretching to do, should it be static or dynamic?
Awesome question, let’s examine that in the next chapter.
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
Let’s start off here with static stretching.
It was originally suggested that static stretching improves range of motion, recovery from exercise (decrease DOMS), performance, and it also decreases your risk of injury.
Although as it stands today, the scientific reviews on injury prevention are very much hit and miss. Additionally, I don’t know about you, but if I squat 10 sets of 10, static stretching isn’t going to do a darn thing for my soreness. We’ve seen this is the data as well.
Back in the older days of research, it was believed at one point that heavily exercised muscles would spasm and therefore reduce their blood flow—and we could reverse this effect by stretching out the muscle and increasing the post-workout blood flow in order to reduce soreness.
Although this theory was technically abolished in 1986 within clinical trials, our good bros at the gym are still making sure it kicks around and confuses everybody today.
Fact is, evidence of stretching having no impact on muscle soreness reduction is readily available. As an example, the University of Sydney did a review on 10 studies involving stretching and soreness and concluded that it has no reduction effect.
Beyond this, the University also published a study demonstrating it did not aid post-game recovery from sports either, allowing for some application to be extrapolated into our hockey performance world.
I’m not necessarily saying static stretching is bad, but I am saying it won’t make you less sore. Although, beyond the soreness issue, there is a much bigger questionable performance issue.
The biggest factor in this mix is the fact that as of now hundreds of studies have been done on measuring performance in 1-rep max, running speed, reaction time, isometric torque production, jumping, throwing and most studies, but not all of them, report decreases in performance from a combination of both neurological and muscular factors.
It is also important to note that this performance decrease seems to have a linear relationship with how long you hold the stretch. Meaning, the longer you hold it, the greater negative effect it can potentially have on your performance.
So, the very statement of “getting a good stretch in” may be the exact thing you do to reduce your performance.
Here’s a quick breakdown on a meta-analysis performed in 2012 compiling 104 total studies on stretching performance:
- A very likely negative effect of performance from static stretching on explosive muscular contraction
- A likely negative effect on maximal strength
- A likely negative, although inconclusive effect on muscular power
(A. D. Kay and A. J. Blazevich, “Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: a systematic review.,” Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 154–64, Jan. 2012.)
In addition to the above, many of the studies deemed inconclusive have neutral performance effects, meaning no better or no worse.
So, in a game like hockey where how strong you are plays such a huge factor to your performance and how explosive you can move will be factors in that make or break 0.5secs, eliminating all potential negatives is a must.
Where does that leave us?
Static stretching is to be kept in the post-workout and/or post-game window.
But hold on a second before you abandon static stretching forever. It’s not all bad.
Static stretching has been shown to effectively improve range of motion, not to mention it is very easy to learn for anybody at any level.
So as a coach I have to take in all the current research and anecdotal evidence I can and weigh the cost-benefit analysis.
The positive benefits are there for static stretching, although they are small and from a negative standpoint, it also is more than likely to compromise performance if done prior to a workout or game.
So, the best case scenario for a hockey player would be to incorporate any and all static stretching after games and workouts, hold each stretch for no longer than 15 – 30 secs, and use the static stretches on the areas of the body where hockey players so often create the same tightnesses.
Beyond this, it shouldn’t ever be used in excess. More is not better. Just like you don’t need arms the size of a bodybuilder’s arms to be a world-class hockey player, you don’t need mobility like a gymnast either.
For hockey players, this means working the static stretches most often for the:
- Calf / Achilles tendon
- Lower body in general
Dynamic stretching is a type of functionally based stretching modality that incorporates more sport-specific movements to prepare the body for activity.
Dynamic stretching, AKA mobility drills, place an emphasis on the movement requirements of the sport or activity rather than on individual muscles. Meaning, you are going through a much more athletic-based movement in order to achieve your flexibility goals here, rather than just stay put and “stretch” a muscle.
In this realm, you have both dynamic and ballistic stretching methods. Dynamic and ballistic stretching may appear similar on paper, although a number of factors separate the two from each other, most notably the fact that dynamic stretching avoids the potential negative effect associated with ballistic stretching; such as bouncing in the stretched position.
Dynamic stretching is performed in a more controlled manner than ballistic stretching which results in a slightly shorter range of motion, but a much safer movement overall for athletes to perform on a regular basis.
The big bonus you get with dynamic flexibility is it improves range of motion in a joint more effectively than does static stretching alone while also being far more sport specific than a static hold. This is the best of both worlds.
Additionally, dynamic stretching has not been shown in the research to have any negative effects on performance while also being shown to have a positive effect on running performance. This is major and is in complete contrast to the negative of static stretching.
The combination of sport specific movement, improved range of motion, improved performance, and no drawbacks make dynamic stretching a no-brainer for a solid option in the pre-game / pre-workout windows.
The degree to which an athlete needs to stretch prior to game time is dependent on the sport. Sports in which flexibility is a make or break in determining who is going to win, such as gymnastics or diving, demand the best possible range of motion the athlete can deliver and thus require a thorough stretching routine.
Although other sports with high demands for the stretch-shortening cycle of the musculature during high-intensity movements such as fighting or volleyball, are much more likely to require more stretching than those at low intensities such as jogging or cycling.
This places hockey right around the middle. Nothing that consumes too much time, but also doing some is going to be better than doing none.
In addition to the aforementioned benefits to dynamic stretching; the sport specific movement and range of motion you go through will also help increase the core temperature benefits of a warm-up (something static stretching does not and can actually lead to a reduction in temperature) and activate the central nervous system for proper recruitment of muscle fibers.
I also recommend athletes use this time in the dynamic stretching window to not only focus on technique but focus on getting “in the zone.”
The warm-up is the time and the place to get your game face on and bring that killer, competitive attitude to the ice or into the gym. Once the warm-up begins, it’s time to go both mentally and physically.
When assessing the movement mechanics, range of motion, and stretch-shortening cycles for hockey, a dynamic warm-up would serve an excellent purpose here. We’ll get to some examples at the end of the article once we have gone through all of the “why” behind the “how” of optimal hockey mobility.
For now, all you need to know is that as far as bang for the buck goes, the definite winner between static and dynamic for hockey players is dynamic stretching.
Although you can’t always say that, given that they bring their own specific elements to the table and every athlete should be placed on an individual needs-analysis basis. But if you only had the time or the effort to only perform one, I would say go on ahead with dynamic flexibility.
Dynamic differs from static due to the fact that a number of joints can be integrated into a single stretch which opens the doors to multi-planar movements similar to those that occur in hockey. Making dynamic stretching much more time-efficient which can be very important when training time is limited (I.e. during a busy schedule or during the in-season).
From a physiology perspective, dynamic stretching is unlike static stretching in a sense that the muscle does not relax during the movement but is instead totally active throughout the range of motion; this is why I keep repeating that it is more specific to sport.
The muscles are constantly activated during the game of hockey which is why it is much better replicated through dynamic movements during the warm up as opposed to static holds.
Last but not least if you are going to attempt to create a dynamic flexibility routine on your own keep these thoughts in mind:
- Careful analysis of the game of hockey and the major movement patterns
- The range of motion required for these movements
- Exercise selection to best replicate these movements not from a purely “what it looks like” standpoint, but from a joint and range of motion perspective
- You can perform the warm-up in repetitions (example jumping jacks x 10) or in distance covered (A-skips for 10 yds). Repetitions are usually easiest when performing by yourself, distance covered is usually best if working with the whole team
- Each drill should start slow, and gradually increase the range of motion, speed, or repetitions
You won’t have to worry about these details if you follow my example dynamic routines later on in this article, but, if you plan on making your own routines then you’re going to want to keep all of those in the forefront of your creative and strategic thinking.
One thing we haven’t covered yet is the question of: Does being inflexible make you more susceptible to injury?
The research here is inconclusive (again…) towards the relationship between stretching and injury/injury prevention.
But, lots of studies have shown that increasing range of motion beyond what is needed for your particular sport (as discussed above) can actually contribute to hypermobility AND instability.
It is difficult to reach a research consensus on this particular subject due to the variety of study design, but it is of my belief that this theory makes perfect sense and that time will validify it.
Hockey doesn’t require a ton of flexibility, making it a priority in your plan doesn’t make the most sense unless you are devastatingly stiff and run like the tin man. Some people can benefit from enhanced mobility, everybody has played hockey with that one player on the team whose terrible athleticism can even leave you almost in confusion at times.
Think about these players, mostly all super-unathletic people are also totally immobile. This is the population who would actually benefit from having a flexibility program as a priority as opposed to an afterthought.
Their movement quality is so bad that they need to improve it first before anything else – thus, it becomes their top priority. But for most people most of the time, it’s not a top priority, and those people who have no mobility are the ones playing Dungeons and Dragons in their Mom’s basement.
Alright, enough research and Dungeons and Dragons talk for now. Let’s talk about what methods and strategies you can actually use to enhance your flexibility.
What do we know now that can guide our direction?
- Static stretching immediately before a hockey game or training session is a bad idea. But, over the long term is has been shown beneficial if it’s not performed pre-game / pre-workout.
If we move this static stretching to its own day, the end of the day, or awhile after our physical activity, this can be a very good thing. But only if you need it.
- Static stretching before physical activity alters the length-tension relationship of a muscle which can contribute to decreased performance and give us a greater reason to perform dynamic stretching in this window instead.
- Your muscles become stiff for a reason. This stiffness is the body’s way of protecting itself due to instability. If you begin to stretch an area and take away that stiffness but do not replace it with adequate strength to support the area you can increase your risk for injury.
Ask yourself, “why is this muscle stiff?”
You may have a weak agonist/antagonist relationship here which originated the imbalance where it’s nothing about just being tight and is instead the body’s way of protecting you from a neural perspective.
- Dynamic stretching has actually been shown to increase performance when done pre-exercise. Using this in your warm-up is a smart and effective way to both warm-up and increase your overall sport-specific mobility.
- Long-term stretching improves isometric force production and velocity of contraction, but only when done properly and only when done within the confines of your sport-specific demand. Just like a weightlifting routine for tennis wouldn’t improve your hockey performance, neither would a generic mobility routine.
To recap this section, I want you to always follow these four golden rules of hockey specific mobility so that you are always using both static and dynamic flexibility tools to the best of their applicability.
- If you’re going to static stretch, it is best done on its own day altogether, or, long after your workout is done.
- If you’re going to dynamic stretch, it is best done pre-workout / pre-game.
- If you’re going to do any form of flexibility, make sure you actually need it! There is no prize for being super mobile and you learned here today that can actually be detrimental.
- If you’re going to give greater flexibility to a muscle group that is tense, make sure you’re doing total body (intelligent) strength training alongside side that so that you are creating strong enough stability to decrease any risk of injury-risk you may have gained by loosening up that area.
Using Yoga for Hockey Mobility
I answered the question of whether or not yoga should be practiced by hockey athletes very thorough in this blog post recently – so I don’t want to repeat myself too much here and say all of the same things over again.
Long story short, yes, hockey players can and should be doing yoga.
I articulate many reasons why they should be in that blog and cite about a dozen scientific references to back up my claims along the way.
What I want to make clearer in this section is the difference between teaching yoga to athletes, and teaching yoga for athletes. These are two very different things.
Would you take a super flexible yogi and throw him/her right on the ice in the NHL playoffs?
No, of course not. There would be way too much injury risk for someone that flexible to be out on the ice with those beasts, especially since he/she is also unskilled.
The same applies for yoga.
When someone is very strong, whether in an absolute or relative sense, that person tends to also have various tightnesses as well – this becomes compounded even further when they are hockey athletes since hockey is a unilateral and contact sport.
Because hockey players are naturally tight in several areas, yoga can actually pose a great risk for injury to hockey players if the instruction is done by an amateur.
That might be a controversial opinion to some, but I don’t really care because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Just like anything else in life, when something is not applied properly is can do more harm than good.
For everybody who comes home saying they feel amazing after yoga, there are also people who come home with shoulder strains, hip pain, and groin stiffness. Something as simple as a proper downward dog can be difficult for those who aren’t ready for it yet, even if they are an elite hockey athlete.
This is a tough balancing act because so many of you have the tough-guy mentality where you will do “whatever it takes” – but when it comes to being a newbie at something, you have to take a logical progression.
Put another way, I want you to do what you need, and not what you think you need.
You have to step back, honor your current ability, and allow yourself to understand what the actual purpose is behind you being on that yoga mat. Hint-hint, it’s not for a grueling workout!
You are there to improve your mobility (among many other benefits as well) – leave the tough-guy crap out of the studio. What you need the most is probably what you want to do the least, this is a guiding principle for most things in life.
Hockey athletes need to relax and focus on doing yoga movements to improve the hockey specific tightnesses that they have on their body. You’re not there to become a yogi master, you’re there to improve your hockey performance.
This is why we created the Hockey Yoga Workout program to completely eliminate the confusion behind what hockey athletes should be doing in respect to their yoga routines. Like I said earlier, you can gain TONS of benefits here, but only if you apply the tools at your disposal appropriately.
You work hard to develop peak performance in your body for gameday. Don’t throw it away just so you can get sweaty in yoga. Train smart and get hockey-specific results.
Where Do Hockey Players Have the Most Mobility Issues?
Now it’s time to move into the topic of specific tightnesses hockey players run into due to the natural movement mechanics of playing a unilateral sport.
I have already alluded to some of these tightnesses already, and if you have been paying attention to my work you will know that a unilateral sport is one where you are normally only ever using one side of your body to execute movement.
- You’re only ever shooting on one side
- You’re only ever receiving passes on one side
- You’re only ever rotating your torso in one direction for slap shots
- You propel your body forward by stringing together multiple unilateral skating strides
- You are always holding the stick on the same side of your body
…you get the point here.
Of course, there are some exceptions to the above examples, but the point is the same. Unilateral dominant movement creates imbalances in both strength and structure. And when you have a structural imbalance, you have an accompanying tightness – that I can guarantee you.
Tightness plays a large role in athletic development and athletic performance. Think about the people in your life; the ones who are super inflexible are also usually the worst athletes.
I can’t think any anybody I have ever met in my whole life who was reaching their athletic potential while still being very tight. It doesn’t happen.
When you’re tight, you can’t move properly. When you can’t move properly, that is the first domino that knocks over many dominos from a performance perspective.
It doesn’t just limit your range of motion either. It limits your agility, starting speed, top speed, puck handling ability, high-velocity direction change, stretch/reflex potential and power potential. All major factors that need to be working in sync in order to have you perform at your best and reach your potential in this sport.
One of the biggest reasons why I address tightness so often through our content here at HockeyTraining.com is the fact that it goes unrecognized in a lot of the hockey world as a legitimate performance potentiator.
Normally people pass it off as “I’m just inflexible”, or the coach will say something like “You have to work on your stretches” without actually giving a well thought out approach to addressing the issues that the athlete presents.
Targeting and improving tightness is a way to improve performance without even changing anything else. Yes, it is an independent regulator of performance.
This means you could be training the same, eating the same, sleeping the same, and executing your entire routine the same you always have. But then if you corrected your tightness’s, even though you’re essentially still the same player, you will perform better on the ice directly because you will be able to move better.
An enhancement in movement quality will result in an enhancement of performance every single time. It doesn’t matter how strong and powerful you are if you can’t move.
Luckily for us, muscle tightness in hockey is honestly pretty universal. 80% of the players present a lot of the same issues in my experience.
If you’ll remember to the introduction of this project, you’ll recall that in these scenarios we can utilize governing principles for mobility regulation, and not need to look through the microscope at each individual’s movement.
Hockey players almost always have:
- Tight hips/hip flexors
- Tight Achilles tendon and calves
- Tight vastus lateralis
- Tight hamstrings (specifically the biceps femoris)
- Tight lower back
- Tight shoulders.
There are certain exercises and ways to address all of these issues, but keep in mind I am talking to a large audience so the exercises and routines I suggest, although they will help, may not be 100% appropriate for your body type based on limb length, height and issues presented.
Remember, these are principles we are using – not prescriptions.
Hips and Lower Back
Let’s first have a look at the hips.
If you look at a hockey player’s posture and movement throughout the game, he/she is bent over at the waist for pretty much the entire game.
During a face-off, when taking a shot, when skating, and even sitting on the bench. They are in constant hip flexion (as opposed to extension, which would represent a straightening of the hips, or, “thrusting” motion).
This chronic hip flexion shortens and tightens the hip flexors which can lead to a whole host of postural issues including pain in the hips during movement, tightness in the hips, rounded shoulders, shoulder impingements, low back lordosis and a forward lean in the neck.
These are issues that have to be addressed as soon as the offseason training begins because during the season it is tough to get the necessary work done while fighting the competitive season schedule at the same time.
Not to mention, it’s a lot tougher to fix a structural issue caused by playing hockey while they are still playing hockey 3-5x per week. Structural programming works much faster in the off-season when ice time is at a low frequency or gone altogether.
In addition to the above, chronic hip flexion causes the pelvis to rotate forward, creating that low back lordosis (when I say lumbar lordosis, think about what girls do to stick their butts out in Instagram pictures. It’s an inward curvature of your lower back) which can cause postural and structural issues globally within the body.
Beyond this, lordosis and chronic hip flexion lead to the core muscles inability to fire properly.
Core strength is critical in transferring the power from your lower body to the upper body. All power originates from the ground up, and if your core is not up to par your ability to express power takes a massive negative hit.
Starting to see how everything has a ripple effect to different facets of the game when tightness isn’t properly addressed?
It’s not as simple as “I’m tight” – is it?
My favorite “catch-all” exercise out there to address hip tightness for hockey players is the Bulgarian split squat.
You won’t like doing it, but you have to do it.
If the Bulgarian split squat is too hard for you, normal split squats, front foot elevated split squats, and various forms of lunges all help the situation as well. It’s no mistake why you will see variations of all of those in the example routines below.
If you find Bulgarian split squats are great and you want another even more difficult challenge to implement once in a while, try front foot elevated Bulgarian split squats. This gives your hips an even greater range of motion to work through which will lead to greater flexibility and movement.
Remember, the hips connect both your upper body and lower body musculature, if you have tight hips you throw off all movement mechanics. Breaking this tightness will also really help the low back tightness and pain throughout the process as the low back tightness in hockey players is normally originated through chronic hip flexion.
The Achilles Tendon and Calf Muscles
The combined Achilles tendon and calf tightnesses pop up in tons of hockey players, and I believe it is mainly due skating mechanics in comparison to running mechanics.
When running you have a much greater ability to fully extend the foot (pointing the toe downwards) in a straight-on movement.
Whereas in hockey, the foot is pointed slightly sideways and there is much less overall extension; but still a ton of tension which can create tightness over time. Tension plus no extension equals a lot of force that gets “stuck” in one joint and surrounding area.
It also doesn’t help the issue that hockey players feet are completely stuck in a right angle for 6-8 months out of every year in the skating boot. When you’re locked in like that, in comparison to a running shoe which is very free movement, you’re bound to run into localized tightness.
This calf/Achilles tendon issue is a problem that is corrected much faster than the hip issue and is also relatively simple. First and foremost, allowing your knee to go past your toe during split squats and lower body unilateral work helps stretch the calf and Achilles tendon out and improve its mobility.
Before you ask me, yes, it is 100% fine for you to allow your knee to pass your toe, despite what your personal trainer or gym teacher told you. That is one of the oldest myths in the game. There is only one rule to this, you can allow your knee to pass your toe, but only if your heel remains in contact with the ground.
If your heel leaves the ground, too much force is being placed on the knee. But, if your heel is on the ground and strong, your knee is in a safe spot. Additionally, this knee gliding forward can really improve the localized tightness around your ankles, it’s a real “go-to” for me in program design.
In addition to allowing the knee to travel beyond the toe, another great option is allowing yourself a 2-4 second pause in the bottom stretched position during a calf raise (seated or standing) to drastically speed up the process of breaking up these adhesions.
Between these two tactics, I find athletes improve flexibility around their calves and ankles in as little as 4 weeks.
The Hamstrings and Vastus Lateralis
The biceps femoris muscle of the hamstring in combination with the vastus lateralis muscle in the quadriceps both get tightened for the same reasons, they are prime movers in the force generated during a skating stride.
One of the biceps femoris main jobs is to point the foot outwards, which is the position hockey players feet are in whenever they are skating. The vastus lateralis is that big quad muscle on the outside of your thigh, its job to apply force down on the ice to propel you forward.
Both of these muscles get overused during hockey due to the volume of skating performed over the course of the competitive season, which leads to both of them slowly becoming tight as a rock.
For most hockey players when it comes time for the offseason training to begin, I have noticed they have biceps femoris and vastus lateralis muscles that resemble steel rods. Way too tight in order to function properly.
Beyond this, you want to deal with tightness issues before you load a muscle with a heavy barbell. Your movement quality needs to be excellent before you do any heavy strength training.
That doesn’t mean you can’t lift any weights at all while you work on these issues, but it does mean that it’s likely a bad idea to heavily load a muscle that is both tight and not functioning properly.
An important thing to note here is that the vastus lateralis connects to the knee, and when it tightens it is also more susceptible to bring the knee out of place. You can think about your kneecap like it’s being pulled by a cable cord that is slowly getting tighter and tighter.
This can cause not just acute injury, but long-term injury. Anything that pulls your patella out of place is something you need to concern yourself with immediately – and since this is a common hockey issue, it shouldn’t surprise you why so many hockey athletes run into knee issues.
Certain strength training exercises can help with the biceps femoris and vastus lateralis, but this is really an issue that could benefit greatly from manual work, much more so than either of the above issues.
Although if you can afford to get manual work done on all of them that is the best option for any of these. When I say manual work, I mean foam rolling, massage, myofascial release, active release, etc. Whatever fits your schedule and wallet.
Again, it’s not totally necessary to get professional help for your manual work, as the routines I have included below target these areas effectively, but I can just tell you from experience that manual work for the hamstring and IT band can’t be compared to any other strategy. It’s excellent.
Last but not least, the infamous forward rounded shoulder posture. Also known as the “guy trying to look big while walking around the gym” posture.
When you’re standing in a relaxed position, your shoulders shouldn’t be pulled forward. They should be at your side.
Also, in a relaxed position they should be symmetrical in height. One shoulder should not be higher or lower than the other. This type of tightness usually results in a forward head and neck lean as well.
Addressing shoulder tightness with hockey players is extremely important for puck handling ability, shot power, and shot accuracy. The internal and external rotator muscles work together to create a lot of this motion and hockey players normally have a bigger issue with their external rotators, and specifically their scapula retractors (muscles that pull your shoulders blades into a “flat” position with the back, as opposed to having them stick out like bat wings).
To strengthen these muscles up to par and also increase their flexibility along the way (provided you use proper technique), I find Powell raises, DB power cleans, BB Cuban press, L-lateral raises with external rotation, Trap-3 raise, wide pronated grip pull ups, horizontal shrugs, and rope face pulls to be the best.
Getting stronger in these exercises throughout the initial phases of the offseason are going to improve your game, posture, and rotator strength/flexibility – while simultaneously decreasing your risk for future injury.
To wrap this section up, here are a few major points:
- Tightness in any area of the body can affect entirely different tissues separate from the origin of the problem. Put another way, a tightness is normally a compensation due to a problem elsewhere, so where addressing tightnesses, make sure you get stronger at the same time or else you may be opening yourself up for injury.
- Tightness in hockey players is almost always in the hips, low back, vastus lateralis, biceps femoris, calves/Achilles tendon, and shoulders. When looking to improve your mobility, seek these areas out first as they are directly connected with the movement mechanics of the game.
- Direct manual therapy is the best option if you can get it done, but should never be done without also addressing it through strength training. You need both.
- Strength training plus some basic mobility exercises alone can solve most if not all of the problems when done properly, but is still not as effective as when it’s combined with manual therapy.
- Static and Dynamic flexibility program design in combination with the above makes for the ultimate mobility approach for hockey players.
- To play to your potential and be the best hockey player you’re going to be, you have to address tightness in the offseason. If you don’t your movement quality will suffer, and if your movement quality suffers you will decrease your performance and open yourself up for injury risk.
Incorporating Mobility Work into Your Weight Training
“Hey Coach Garner, I saw your stuff on Hockey Training and I think it’s great! I’m looking to really make some improvements this year and I’d like your help, but are you sure we should be doing some of these powerlifting/bodybuilding type movements? Won’t they make me less athletic?”
If I had a nickel…
Designing training and nutrition programs primarily for hockey athletes in my career, I’ve heard this one come up many times from both the athletes themselves and from their parents, but usually from their parents.
They seem to somehow understand sports science training theory better than the strength and conditioning coaches themselves. As I typed that out I was joking, but honestly, that’s actually sometimes the reality. *sigh*
It comes naturally to think that being a gigantic bodybuilder will impede your performance in just about every sport that you take part in, and this is absolutely true. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns here where size is no longer beneficial, or else bodybuilders and powerlifters would be the best athletes in the world—and we all know that isn’t true.
But, research has demonstrated that weight training by itself, when performed with proper technique and through a full range of motion, can effectively increase flexibility.
NOT decrease it.
The University of North Dakota put this to the test taking 25 subjects and diving them into three groups. One group did nothing (control group), one group did static stretching, and the third group did weight training.
After 5 weeks, there was no difference in improvements in flexibility between the static stretching and resistance training group (mobility measurements conducted included hip extension, hip flexion, shoulder extension, and knee extension).
But, you can assume the resistance training group got stronger at the same time, which can translate into dozens of benefits towards hockey performance including shot power, being stronger on the puck, speed development, and injury prevention.
Another study that was conducted in a University in Brazil (Castelo Branco) demonstrated that 8 weeks of resistance training was actually superior to static stretching for improving flexibility.
When weight training properly, you’re repeatedly taking your joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments through full ranges of motion that over time improve your mobility. Some sample exercises that are fantastic for this include split squat variations, stiff-legged deadlifts, chest flies, DB rows, overhead press work, and deep squats.
Not even mentioning the hockey specific mobility routines that are included at the bottom of this massive article.
When we weight train, we do improve our mobility and we back that mobility up with a decreased risk of injury due to now being stronger within those ranges of motion.
Although, even when presented this data, it’s still commonplace in the strength and conditioning industry to make the claims that performing powerlifting or bodybuilding exercises causes you to lose your athleticism or “function” in hockey.
This couldn’t be more untrue.
In reality, bodybuilding or powerlifting exercises won’t make you unathletic, but, ONLY doing bodybuilding or powerlifting exercises likely will. Put another way, these movements can and should be a part of a complete hockey performance-based plan, they just shouldn’t be the whole plan.
You will 100% NOT lose your athletic ability if you are regularly doing athletic-based movements.
It’s insane to promote the idea that the nervous system is so fragile that just because you did some isolation exercises within this phase (for example, biceps curls) that you now only have the ability to move in that range of motion and you have effectively offset the years of practice you have put into the movement skills you have acquired out on the ice.
A coach who barks these types of ideologies hasn’t done a single course in fundamental sports science or exercise physiology. If he/she did, they would know much better.
Rotational exercises, power work, energy system specific conditioning, playing hockey, and hockey specific speed work IN ADDITION to your bodybuilding/powerlifting movements will ensure your newfound muscle still has the neural networking and contracting ability it needs in order to function at top athletic capacities.
No sacrificing of athletic ability at all, and in fact, you are much more likely to be a better athlete now than before due to partaking in more effective strength programming.
Just like doing a few biceps curls won’t give you arms like Arnold, doing a few sprints won’t make you run like Usain.
It always comes down to the big picture, the body will always adapt to what it is exposed to most over a given period of time (not a single event or single phase of training). How client-centered and hockey specific the program is in the “big picture” will determine your success.
In many cases, using powerlifting and bodybuilding movements can be dramatically helpful due to their ability to improve total body power, improve mobility, bring up lagging body parts in size/strength, and get your musculature to the point where it needs to be before you reach the point of diminishing returns.
The sooner you can get there, the sooner you can maximize your potential in this sport. Not to mention the standard dialogue of coaches marketing themselves…
“Hip extension work for explosive movement” – Athletic coach
“Glute and hamstring work for that muscle tie-in” – Bodybuilder
“Accessory lift to get stronger on the deadlift” – Powerlifter
Oh, you mean a stiff legged deadlift?
See how function and purpose can change also just by how you say it?
Many of the so-called bodybuilding/powerlifting exercises are also proper sport-specific strength exercises as well, some people like to just repackage them to sound smarter than it actually is.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the big picture of your yearly hockey training periodization. Laying foundational hypertrophy work in order to later be transferred into power, strength, and athletic function is incredibly important to incorporate and it is a complete disservice to the industry to claim silly movements on a BOSU ball should be the exclusive methodology a plan is organized and created from.
This is not function. I couldn’t stress this enough.
Instability-only movements can be effective tools at certain times of the year, but they are also like paint on a house. Hypertrophy work is in many cases the house, and if you don’t have a house, why are you already buying the paint?
Don’t be afraid to utilize powerlifting and bodybuilding movements within your program. In fact, this is something you should be doing on a regular basis.
My favorite weight training exercises to improve overall mobility in the main areas hockey athletes have issues are as follows.
Resistance training exercises to improve overall shoulder mobility
- DB power cleans
- Barbell Cuban press
- L-lateral raises with external rotation
- Rope face pulls
- Elbow on knee, DB external rotations
- Wide pronated grip pull ups
Resistance training exercises to improve overall hip mobility
- Front foot elevated Bulgarian split squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- Split squats
- Front foot elevated split squat
- Lunge variations
- Unilateral reverse hyperextension
- Single leg / both leg hip thrust variations
- Box jumps
- Cossack squats
Resistance training exercises to improve lower body mobility
- Front foot elevated Bulgarian split squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- Split squats
- Front foot elevated split squat
- Lunge variations
- Romanian deadlifts
- Cossack squats
- Good mornings
Resistance training exercises to improve calf + Achilles tendon mobility
- Any form of calf exercise with a 2-4 second pause in the stretched position at the bottom of the movement.
- Allowing your knee to pass your toes during unilateral leg work. Examples: split squats and lunge variations. Yes, it is ok for the knee to pass the toe during these movements. But you must have good, controlled technique and your knee is only allowed to pass your toe if your front leg’s heel is still on the ground. If that heel creeps up, you need more mobility before you’re allowed to do this.
- Cossack squats
Incorporating Mobility Work into Your Conditioning
A very effective way you can hit two birds with one stone is to tackle both your conditioning training and your mobility training at the exact same time.
Now, I don’t recommend trying to do mobility exercises for your lactic and alactic work (high-intensity explosive stuff) as it would be you at a major risk for injury to try and be explosive and work on your mobility at the exact same time.
But, it is very doable to work on your aerobic conditioning using your hockey specific mobility exercises if you structure them into a circuit. The pace of the circuit keeps your heart rate in the aerobic training zone, but the movements you’re doing allow you to improve your mobility while you’re at it.
As discussed in length within the free conditioning guide, having an aerobic base is extremely important for hockey players. But, a big problem I come across with a lot of athletes is that they are always pressed for time.
This could be due to school, due to work, or due to their frequent hockey schedule. Put another way, life just gets in the way sometimes and we don’t have a never-ending number of hours we can dedicate to hockey training each and every week.
Instead of doing tempo runs plus a flexibility routine, you can combine them into one to save time but still get results.
Aerobic mobility circuits are made up of exercises most often found within a dynamic warm-up, which as you learned previously, increases your heart rate and improves your range of motion. If you perform these dynamic movements with minimal rest, these exercises form the foundation of a hybrid mobility plus aerobic conditioning workout.
This is a particularly awesome tool to use on hockey athletes who are just coming off the competitive season because they are tight, beat up, and deconditioned. They can’t go heavy on anything yet, but they need structural work to get them back into a position where they are moving correctly again – and they also need some decent conditioning before they start increasing their weight training volume in the offseason.
And because hockey players (and everyone for that matter) hate distance running, aerobic mobility circuits fit perfect in this regard. Not to mention, distance running is tough on the joints all by itself, so it’s not exactly correctly placed here anyways, even though lots of coaches advocate it.
How it works is you’re going to want to string together 8-12 exercises that are mobility specific to hockey, perform each exercise for 20-30 secs without rest, and repeat the circuit 3-5 times which makes it a 20-30 minute workout.
Additionally, you should only ever be working at about a 50-60% effort level. This is because we want it to remain aerobic (so it has to be lower intensity), but we also want you going through the movements at a safe and controlled pace. You should be able to hold a conversation during this workout and have just a very light sweat on.
You could perform this on its own entirely, or, you could also perform it after a dynamic warm-up to make it a super mobility day. An example of this kind of workout is found below in the example mobility workouts section, but here is a list of some of the best exercises you can use to create your own mobility conditioning session:
- Quadruped extension rotations
- Supine shoulder slides
- T-stab push ups
- Dead bug
- Yoga push ups
- Bird dogs
- Walking Spiderman with overhead reach (this is more like total body)
- Mountain climbers
- Leg swings in both the frontal and sagittal planes
- Supine leg whips
- Iron cross
- Hip circles
- Single-leg reaches
- Cossacks squats
- Rollover into V-sit
Incorporating Mobility Work into Your Warm-Up
It’s all too common to hear of both coaches and athletes dismissing the importance of the warm-up, as if it is somehow not important to the big-picture process of what they are there to accomplish that day.
I am here to remind you that the warm-up is a key component of each training session and it is your job as an athlete or coach to respect that. As an athlete, how you perform in your warm-up gives you key information about your physical health on that day, your energy, your focus, and what skill you’re bringing to the session.
This should be key information for your coach as well, and it’s a shame when they let it slide or under-respect how insightful that data is.
Coaches, each day throughout the warm up you should be monitoring your athlete’s posture and movements of the key anatomical landmarks such as the foot/ankle, knees, hips, thoracic rotation, neck, and shoulders.
The warm-up also serves as a highly functional kinesthetic screen for the athletes themselves to determine how they feel that day and how well their perceived operation is going to be.
The introduction and teaching of proper movement mechanics during the warm-up also serves as a key motor re-education opportunity for the days when you are doing your higher velocity speed and conditioning work.
For example, while sprinting the actions of the feet, knees, hips, and shoulders are paramount to the level of success the hockey athlete can achieve; these actions – as well as sprint related concepts, including vertical force production, horizontal force production, and the plant-phase can be discussed and explored during the warm-up.
While it is true that drills may not directly develop the ability to sprint, context and understanding about the desired postures and actions can be provided through appropriately designed warm-up activities. This type of stuff helps the athlete’s technical prowess immensely, especially in comparison to most coaches who just tell their athletes to “go sprint”
Performing these warm-ups and providing the correct cues over weeks and months can play a significant and positive role in shaping motor patterns, and therefore, improving speed and/or conditioning levels of the hockey athlete.
These short and precise screens from both the athlete and the coach are just like a pit crew inspecting the race car before allowing it back out on the track. Once the athlete has warmed up his/her key joints and tissues for the required workout that day and has done so in while maintaining optimal mechanical efficiency – the athlete and coach wave the checkered flags and it’s go-time.
At the end of this document you will see warm-up examples we use here at HockeyTraining.com – when you have a firm grip on the scientific literature, you will see there is nothing new about these exercises.
And if you have gone through our programming before, you will already be very comfortable performing them. I want to make it super clear here that warm-ups aren’t about flashy moves or gimmicks, they rather depend on flawless execution of the basics.
The famous scientist and inventor, George Washington Carver, was noted saying:
“Learn to do the common things uncommonly well.”
This is what it’s all about. Performing the basics with perfect technique. By doing this, you are in a way “starting with the end in mind” – as you are preparing the body for what you’re about to do, but you’re also improving your mobility all at the same time.
Improved mobility + Improved coordination + Increased body temperature = A REAL warm-up.
Here are some of my favorite exercises to use during a warm-up to both warm up body up for improved performance, but also enhance your sport specific mobility at the same time:
Dynamic Flexibility Exercise Options for Warm-Ups
- Leg Swings both in the frontal and sagittal plane
- Mountain Climbers
- Donkey Kicks
- Dog on hydrant
- Supine Leg Whips
- Alternating reverse lunges with knee hug
- Hip Circles
Dynamic Flexibility Exercise Options for Warm-Ups If You’re Going to Sprint
- Walking reverse lunges with knee hug
- Lateral shuffle
- Butt kicks
- Backpedaling with arm pumping emphasis
- Scissor bounds
- High knee march
- High knee run
As a final tip, if you’re going to make your own warm-ups, make sure you address mobility at the ankle, knees, hips, and thoracic spine. Even if people just worked on these three areas (and didn’t include anything else) and then moved on to the rest of their strength training and/or speed workouts, the world would be a much healthier and high-performance place. Don’t miss these.
Incorporating Mobility Work into Your Cool-Down
In all reality, cool-downs are very often unnecessary for the hockey athlete to partake in. It was originally believed that static stretching reduces muscle soreness, so athletes would very commonly do stretching post-workout to reduce soreness, but then as the research continued to come out this turned out to be a myth.
Then it was proposed that if you hit the bike for awhile or went for a nice walk, this aspect of the cool-down was what reduced muscle soreness. Then, once again research ruined the party and disproved that theory as well.
So, what purpose does a cool-down serve?
Well, it can still be a way to kickstart the recovery process – whether that makes you less sore or not is irrelevant. You can:
- Have your post-workout shake ready-to-go
- Initiate a deep breathing routine to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to start the recovery and repair process sooner than later
- You can do your foam rolling work here
- You can go for a light walk to reduce lymphatic pooling – this helps push fluid from trained muscles back into circulation which helps manage inflammation levels to expedite recovery processes
And, of course, as you learned previously, this is the ideal zone where you should do your static stretching routine.
Does it need to be done post-workout?
No, but most people like to do it post-workout since they are already warm and are already in their training gear. It’s a convenience thing more than anything else, but it works and works well.
Static stretching is likely the best thing a hockey athlete could do during their cool-down, especially when coupled with self-myofascial release techniques (via lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or foam roller) on the same tissues.
Stretching in this post-workout and/or post-game window allows more of a pliable neural response to tissues due to increased amounts of local blood flow and lubrication on active and adjacent joints in the chain.
Now in English for those who aren’t familiar with those terms, more contractile muscle tissue will be targeted with these static stretches since tendons and non-contractiles are usually the limiting factor in any longer duration stretch being practiced on “cold” tissues. Being warm helps, a lot.
Holding various static stretches on your problem-areas for 20-30 seconds while maintaining tension and proper technique throughout the entire stretch can be a great way to optimize mobility, but, also activate the parasympathetic nervous system as well (in a similar way that deep breathing does).
It’s important to note that more is not better here, a couple sets of 20-30 seconds is going to be enough, there’s no benefit to going crazy with this. Then, if you follow these up with your self-myofascial release techniques, you will be covering all of your bases.
Here are some of my favorite static stretches that hockey players can do in the post-workout or post-game window:
- Groin frog stretch
- Hip flexor stretch
- Seated piriformis stretch
- Seated glute stretch
Achilles Tendon + Calves
- Calf/Achilles stair stretch
- Lean forward stretch
- Lean forward stretch with object under the distal part of the foot
- PNF stretching
- Single/double leg toe reach (standing or seated)
- Step up stretch
- Iso-hold split squat variations
- Standing or lying quad stretch
- Iso-hold split squat variations
- Lying, manual internal rotator cuff stretch
- Posterior shoulder stretch
- Anterior shoulder stretch
Now that you have a library of static stretches you can use in your post-workout or post-game cool-down, here are the self-myofascial releasing techniques you can do once you’re done those stretches:
- Lacrosse ball on glutes
- Foam roller on glutes
- Lacrosse ball on anterior hip muscles
Achilles Tendon + Calves
- Lacrosse ball on calf
- Foam roller on calf
- Foam roller on hamstring
- Lacrosse ball on hamstring
- Foam roller on quadriceps
- Foam roller on IT band
- Lacrosse ball on IT band
- Lacrosse ball in the deep part of the shoulder
- Foam roller on upper back
Sample Hockey Mobility Routines
Aerobic Mobility Circuit for Hockey
A1: Single leg balance and reach x 15 secs
A2: Supine shoulder slides x 15 secs
B1: Cossacks squat x 15 secs
B2: Clams x 15 secs
C1: Bird dogs x 15 secs
C2: BW squats x 15 secs
D1: Horizontal Leg swings x 15 secs
D2: Vertical Leg Swings x 15 secs
Each letter represents a superset. Repeat all supersets 3x before moving on. No rest in between supersets, roll right into the next one.
Click here to see the video demonstration of this circuit.
“Unlock Your Hips” Hockey Stretching Routine for Better Agility
A: Seated Piriformis Stretch x 20-30 secs/leg
B: Seated Glute Stretch x 20-30 secs/leg
C: Rear Foot Elevated Hip Flexor Stretch x 10-12 per rep
D: Iron Cross x 10-15 reps/side
Click here to see the video demonstration of this stretching routine.
Game Day Hockey Warm-Up with Dynamic Flexibility Movements
A: A-Skips x 10yds there and back
B: B-Skips x 10yds there and back
C: Bodyweight explosive pause squats x 10 (1 sec pause at the bottom)
D: Hip Circles x 10 in each direction
E: Cossacks Squats x 8/leg 6: Iron Cross x 8/side 7. 20 Jumping Jacks
Click here to see the video demonstration of this warm up routine.
Five Stretches to Improve Your Speed Out on The Ice Through Stride Length
A: Groin Frog Stretch
B: Grounded Glute Stretch
C: Seated Piriformis Stretch
D: Hip Flexor Stretch
E: Calf Stretch
Click here to see the video demonstration of this stretching routine.
Hockey Static Stretching Routine
A: Groin Frog Stretch
B: Seated Piriformis Stretch
C: Seated Glute Stretch
D: Hip Flexor Stretch
E: Calf/Achilles Tendon Stretch
F: Anterior Delt/Pec Stretch
G: Posterior Delt/Lat Stretch
H: Lying Rotator Cuff Stretch
I: Lying Quad Stretch
J: Seated Hamstring Stretch
Perform each stretch for 15-30 seconds, and we will run through the stretches for 2 rounds total.
Click here to see the video demonstration of this static stretching routine.
Hockey Speed Warm-Up
A: Jog for 3-5mins (change your pace here, really try and loosen up)
B: Jumping jacks x 10
C: Body weight squats x 10
D: Leg swings forward/backward x 10 per leg
E: Leg swings laterally x 10 per leg
F: Hip circles x 10 each direction
G: Arm circles x 10 large circles in each direction
H: Arm circles x 10 small circles in each direction
I: Cossacks squats x 5 per leg
J: A-skips 10yds there and back
K: B-skips 10yds there and back
Click here to see the video demonstration of this speed warm-up.
Static vs Dynamic Stretching Video
In this video, I quickly breakdown Static vs. Dynamic Flexibility Training For you
Click here to check it out.
Hockey Mobility Training Conclusion
It’s been a heck of a process going through all of this mobility information with you, but you and I aren’t done right. I need you to commit to the “better every day” concept because this mobility game is a lifelong pursuit.
Just like one training program won’t make you strong, one stretching routine done for a few weeks won’t suddenly turn you into a forever-mobile hockey athlete.
I strongly believe that if you give someone a fish, they will eat for a day, but if you teach them to fish, they will eat for a lifetime.
That was my intention with this mobility project, to teach you how to fish for yourself. To give you a framework and a set of ideas that you can use for a lifetime, no matter where your mobility issues and/or progressions may lie.
It is my sincerest hope that the information you have learned across these pages with me has not only helped you identify things that will improve your hockey performance but will also lead to an increase in confidence, ability, and overall quality of life.
I’m going to leave you with one final piece of advice:
Enjoy the process.
Too many people skip their mobility work, but your daily commitment to the process will be what separates you from the day. Little by little, day by day. You will be amazed at how much enhanced mobility can improve your speed, agility, conditioning, and overall athletic ability.
Get out there and get it done.
Thanks for reading the Hockey Mobility Training Guide. What are your next steps? For starters I would highly recommend picking up our Hockey Yoga Program. You can also find more mobility routines in our hockey training programs – if you are a hockey player 14+ years old I would recommend our Off-Season Domination Program, and if you are a youth hockey player or hockey parent I would recommend our Youth Hockey Training Program!