Muscle Imbalances in Hockey

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Anyone that has worked with any hockey players knows that most of them do not move well off of the ice.

Some of the best on-ice players do not exactly have great mobility when asked to do basic movement patterns.

It’s almost as if asking them to hinge their hips is like asking a right handed shot to play lefty.

The hockey stride is unlike any other movement in sport. It creates unique demands on the body that are not replicated in most other sports.  

The lower body of most hockey players tends to be a breeding ground for overuse and imbalance. When we take a look at the different muscle groups, most will fall into these two categories.

The volume at which these players skate on a yearly basis requires them to perform dedicated performance training to help reduce the effect the game has on the body.

Mobility and strength in the corresponding areas will be very beneficial to the health and success of the player/team.

Quads and Hamstrings

In this pair of muscles, the quads will get the overuse and the hamstrings will primarily get the underuse. This imbalance can result in direct knee pain or hip/low back pain.

Every stride requires knee extension which will require the quads to get a ton of reps in, meanwhile hip extension is incomplete. Even when hip extension is complete it does not involve all of the hamstring musculature.

The hamstrings are made up of 3 muscles, and only the biceps femoris attaches on the lateral (lateral) part of the knee. This muscle assists with external rotation, or a clockwise swivel of the hip. The other two muscles help with internal rotation.

When we stride, the leg that is fully extended is pushing out at an angle and is rotated externally. This shifts the focus away from 2/3 of the hamstring muscle group.  It also puts the medial hamstrings under constant stretch from lengthening, while the lateral hamstrings are always activated and tense.

Is there any real surprise why hockey players complain of tight hamstrings?

The muscle imbalance in these opposing muscle groups actually exists on two fronts. The first is the quads compared to the hamstrings, and the second is the lateral hamstring compared to the two medial hamstrings.

Work such as RDL’s and deadlifts will help to build strength in the hamstrings to help level the playing field. Soft tissue work and mobility for the quads is essential to minimize the negative effects of the overuse pattern.

Glutes and Groin

Hockey is one sport where the glutes actually get a ton of work. Most sports that are primarily played while running do not receive this development.

This is a good thing from a pure strength standpoint but it is at the cost of the groin/adductor group.

The glutes become overdeveloped pretty easily and the groin will then become comparatively weak. When a weak groin has excessive demands placed on it, pulls/strains become commonplace.

Building up strength in the groin will be helpful in preventing these pulls. The only issue is that the groins are a difficult group to activate unless you want to look like this:

adductor-machine1

Instead I like to use lateral lunge variations and the slideboard to create stability through the groin.

slideboard rev lunge

Performing a reverse lunge on the slideboard forces the groin to stabilize or else there is no getting back up from the bottom position. It is a great way to build the proper strength in the appropriate muscle groups.

We need to take care of the hip musculature. If we are not working to improve the tissue quality of the hips, then skating will soon become a chore.

Using lacrosse/tennis balls to release the glutes is almost mandatory with all of my teams now. It is funny how tight hips are magically fixed when we reduce the tension in them.

No one likes lying down on a hard baseball but it is a necessary evil to improve mobility.

Spinal Erectors and Abdominals

Hockey is played in spinal extension/hyperextension. The spinal erectors are constantly shortened as a result.

A lot of hockey players will display back pain, and most of the time it is unrelated to the structures of the spine. More often than not their spinal erectors have been chronically overused for 10 years.

Sometimes it is as simple as lying on a peanut to reduce the tension in the back. If that relieves symptoms, then we have found the simple way to address the problem.

 peanut

We still need to make sure we are not being too short sighted and missing extension-based structural issues, but taking care of the tissues is the first step. Release the tension in the muscles first and then we can move on to the bigger problems.

That brings up the abdominals. Hockey players need their abs to resists hyperextension. This is displayed when the rib cage flares up and the arch in the back becomes larger.

Anti-extension core work is needed to train this movement. Exercises like OH Pallof presses, rollouts, and fallouts are all good for this. If not careful, the ribs are going to shoot right up. With good attention to the process we can train that rib cage to stay neutral and get good abdominal activation.

These are the most common imbalances in hockey players. The most common ailments with these athletes are often tightness in the back, hamstrings, and hips.

If we can take care of the overused tissues and build up strength in the right places, we are setting the athlete up for success. They will be able to play better and for longer.

A healthy team is a successful one and combating these overuse/underused areas is the best strategy.