Lower Body Training for Hockey Players

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Training hockey players just seems different than training other populations.

Hockey is a unique sport that causes all sorts of tightness in the hips, back, and legs. It is also the most common sport that isn’t based around running.

As a result, we see some different patterns in these athletes.

Unfortunately, we also see some injury mechanisms in hockey that need to be addressed. Most of these painful areas are not specific to hockey but they are more common amongst hockey players than in other groups of athletes.

A few observations from training hockey players from a potential injury perspective:

  1. Their hips are a mess and FAI is common among athletes who have played the game long enough.
  2. They will display tightness and pain in the low back due to extension
  3. Knees are often a site of discomfort.
  4. Most hockey players have separated, dislocated, or suffered some kind of shoulder injury.

Points 1, 2, and 3 are all due to overuse. Sometimes taking the steps to foam roll, massage, or otherwise take care of those areas is all that is needed to help. Other times we need to provide strength in the opposite muscle groups to provide balance for the joint.

Point 4 is an acute injury mechanism from getting hit or falling on the ice and can’t really be avoided. We just need to be aware of it.

When it comes to lower body training for hockey there are some guidelines that will best benefit the athlete.

  1. The player needs to qualify to squat

Squats are a staple in most training programs. There are 2 reasons why I am very cautious about squatting hockey players. The first is the back pain issue and the second is the FAI risk.

Hockey players are usually skating around with their hips back and their chest up. This will often increase the arch in the low back which turns on the spinal erectors and shuts off the glutes and core. This is a position that is ingrained in them since they are in it so often.

Over time this tension held in the low back can be very uncomfortable and can even lead to spinal injury.

Hockey players often default to this position on squats which can lead to even more stress on the low back. Anyone that suffers from low back pain after the squat needs to prioritize other lifts when training the lower body. Single leg and hip dominant work will be extremely beneficial here.

FAI is a change in the bones of the hip joint over time. From constant contact with each other the femur (thigh bone) or the acetabulum (hip socket) will add bone for protection. This bony overgrowth will decrease space in the joint, rip apart the labrum, and be very painful.

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This is a common injury in hockey players. An athlete with FAI cannot squat to full depth. You cannot stretch out bone to bone contact. An athlete with FAI that squats a lot will be on the surgical table in just a matter of time.

In order for a hockey player to squat, they must have full range of motion in the hips and not suffer from extension based back pain. When this is the case, squatting is not the ideal exercise choice.

  1. Train the hamstrings and glutes

Hockey is a quad dominant sport. The hamstrings get nothing since the body does not have to decelerate itself, the skates provide all of the stopping needed.

Building up the hamstrings will help reduce the overuse of the quads and also allow for a better skating position.

When hockey players get into a good skating position, the hips should be back and the knee bends. This position requires strength in the posterior chain. Skating too high decreases the amount of force that can be put into each stride.

My new favorite exercise for training the hamstrings has become the glute ham leg curl. This is very tough on the hamstrings and takes the load off of the back.

It also provides a constant reminder that the athlete is not rolling out their quads well enough when they come off complaining of pain in the front of the leg.

For every squat or lunge in the program, hockey players should be doing double the amount of posterior chain exercises.

  1. Hockey players need lower body mobility just as bad as they need strength

If they are a strong athlete they still might not be able to get into a good skating position if their hips are locked up.

They should focus on foam rolling the glutes, quads, groin, IT band, and calf. They should also hop on a peanut to release the back.

They can then work to improve mobility in the ankles, hips, and upper back.

I like the groin rockback and t spine extensions on the roller for hockey players.