I could sit here and it would probably take me all day to list out the unique demands that hockey places on the body.
It is just a different sport in terms of the way that it is played and the movements in the game.
There are a ton of people in the world that are not even eligible to play the sport because they do not know how to skate.
We can then mix in the amount of people that do not know how to skate well and the number decreases even more.
Skating and shooting are where hockey players can experience significant back pain.
Normally someone thinks about hurting their back by picking up something heavy off of the floor or at least an event related to that. More realistically, a lot of people hurt their backs by spending too much time sitting and picking up a pencil is enough to hurt it.
This is due to flexion in the spine. When the spine starts to round over, pressure gets put on the front of the vertebral disk. This is how most disk issues have started.
Hockey players have the opposite problem. They are stuck in extension all day.
The ready position for hockey includes the knees bent, hips back, and chest up. This will increase the curve in the low back, which extends the spine.
Over time this can be really painful. The muscles will usually be in rough shape and there can even be damage to the structure of the spine.
When we shoot, we are adding rotation into the pattern. This can open up a new can of worms.
The key to reduce the risk of injury from something like this is done in a few ways.
- Get your shooting and skating technique addressed
One of the biggest issues in golf is early extension or setting up to swing in extension. Hockey has to be in similar boat.
Before I recommend a bunch of things we have to make sure that they have a chance to succeed. A hockey player that has bad technique and back pain needs to get rid of the bad technique before we can address the back pain.
Remove the issue first.
- Let the ribs fall down
This is something we use in the weight room all of the time. Our athletes that try to do their exercises with a huge arch in the back need to change that.
We tell them to think about letting their rib cage fall down and breathe out. This should bring the spine closer to neutral and will help them brace with their abs.
This actually makes an athlete stronger because they will create more whole body stability without a broken link in the chain. Rib cage flare is the broken link.
- Core stability
Core training for hockey players should be geared towards resisting the movements that they do during normal play. That almost seems like a backwards mentality but they must be able to control movements when they play so resisting in the weight room will be highly beneficial.
The two biggest areas to reduce back pain in hockey players are anti-extension, resisting an arch in the back, and anti-rotation, resisting a turning of the torso.
When we train anti-extension exercises it is easy to slip into a bad compensation. Careful attention needs to be placed on keeping the core tight and not letting the ribs go up. It is not enough just to get through the exercise, it has to be done right.
If you want to train anti-extension, I like the overhead Pallof press and wall press leg lowers. The Pallof press forces an athlete to get overhead but it is not as hard as a rollout. The leg lower is also very challenging.
A couple of anti-rotation exercises that I like are anti-rotation chops and high to low chops. They are similar exercises but teach the body to stay still while the arms are moving.