Hockey players are mobility nightmares, to be perfectly honest.
Most other athletes are as well, but hockey players on the whole share the same set of movement issues.
The game is just different than every other sport due to surface, equipment, body motions.
When we look at the position that hockey players spend the most time in, we get hip and knee flexion with extension of the spine. This is the hockey “ready position.” At rest most players are in this position so that they can make their next move, as opposed to standing up too tall. Standing tall would be disadvantageous.
90% of other team sports are played with running as the primary way to get around, but the hockey stride is completely unique.
In order to create a good, powerful stride the lower body must get into a specific position.
One leg needs to support all of the body weight on it and the position resembles a lateral lunge. This means knee flexion, hip flexion, and spinal extension while the ankle angle does not change. This is an isometric action because the muscles are firing to hold the position.
The other leg needs to be the mover that drives the hockey stride. This leg needs to propel the body forward by moving in external rotation, hip/ knee extension, and hip abduction. Again the ankle angle does not change here either.
A less powerful stride takes place with less of a degree of hip flexion.
Hockey players experience mobility issues because of the stride, the equipment, and the normal resting position.
The ankles experience zero mobility in hockey players. The hockey skate is a boot that completely covers the ankle, which does not allow much motion. As a result hockey players typically lack ankle mobility in both dorsiflexion and plantar flexion.
A lack of ankle mobility is associated with foot and knee problems and may even work its way up to the rest of the body.
To increase ankle mobility we can stand 3 inches from a wall, with one foot forward, and drive the knee over the toe trying to reach the wall. This will work to increase range of motion in dorsiflexion.
Since hockey players spend a ton of time in hip flexion, the hip flexors are naturally going to become tight.
(On a side note, tight hip flexors oppose the glutes and can potentially inhibit that muscle group. Loosening up the hip flexors can pay dividends in increasing glute strength in order to skate faster.)
In order to increase range of motion in the hip flexors we can use different mobility drills with a glute activation.
One of my favorite drills is the foot elevated hip flexor mob. This mobility drill is accomplished by getting a stretch on the hip flexor, squeezing the butt, and holding for a couple seconds before repeating. Elevating the foot also gets a great stretch through the quads.
When we skate, the glutes get a ton of work but often not through a good range of motion. It takes less energy to stay more upright than to get low in an optimal skating position. When someone does not need to get real low, they won’t.
This can really lock up the glutes. Overuse through a shortened range of motion will really make these muscles tight.
For this particular muscle group I prefer that the athlete perform tons of soft tissue work. It seems to be the most effective method for improving glute range of motion.
I will also have them perform the pigeon stretch because most hockey players have truly short glute musculature. Having them get into this position is typically a challenge in and of itself.
Three of the main areas of mobility that I look at with hockey players are the ankle, the hip flexors, and the glutes.
When we can improve mobility in these three areas, the skating stride will improve.
A lot of athletes want to get faster but they do not even have the right setup to get faster. Someone cannot improve speed if they are too tight to get into an optimal skating position.
Mobilize these areas and performance will improve and the risk of injury will decrease.