Over the last 12 years I have done hundreds of Advanced Athletic Assessments on hockey players at all levels. As with any sport, hockey players develop several muscular imbalances throughout the season that must be properly addressed in the off-season. Failure to address these problems will lead to nagging injuries down the road and will limit the athlete in reaching their full athletic potential. In this article I will discuss just a few of the common problems that I have seen primarily in reference to muscle imbalance, muscle elasticity and joint flexibility, as well as core strength issues.
One of the most common problems we find in hockey players is an imbalance within the quadriceps muscles. Almost all hockey players have an overdevelopment in the Vastis Lateralis (outside muscle of the quadriceps) in relation to their Vastis Medialis Oblique (inside muscle of the quadriceps). If you look at any professional speed skater they have huge quadriceps, almost a half moon shape bursting out the side of their pants. These athletes have made it to that level because at some point in their career “usually after they get injured” they where told how important it is to train the weak muscles to keep up with the muscles that become overdeveloped from skating. Hockey players also need to spend a lot of time performing specific self-massage techniques on their Vastis Lateralis and IT Bands to help prevent overuse injuries. When a muscle like the Vastis Lateralis becomes overdeveloped from constant use (skating) it becomes tight. A good number of hockey players we see their outside portion of their upper leg from the hip to the kneecap feels more like a solid piece of steel than muscle. If this issue is not treated properly early in its stages it can cause the kneecap to be pulled out of alignment and can cause serious long-term problems.
Another common problem we see in hockey players is their glutes are much stronger relative to their hamstrings. As you might know, the fastest sprinters are almost always the fastest skaters. Great sprinters have phenomenal hamstring development that is equal in proportion to their glutes “we are talking sprinters not wimpy joggers”. In order for Hockey players to become faster and more powerful skaters they need to strengthen and improve the function of the hamstrings early in the off-season. Unfortunately most hockey players only do hamstring curls to strengthen them, which is not going to solve the problem.
Much like the quadriceps the hamstrings also consists of three different muscles: the Biceps Femoris (outside muscle), Semitendinosus and the Semimembranosus. In hockey players the Bicep Femoris becomes much stronger than the other two. The Biceps Femoris consists of two heads: the long head and the short head. The long head crosses both the hip and the knee joint and is therefore involved in extending the hip and flexing the knee. The short head only crosses the knee joint and thus is only involved in flexing the knee. Both heads of the Bicep Femoris assist in turning the foot outward. STOP!! – think about how many times you push off the ice with the foot turned outward, now you can easily see how the Bicep Femoris becomes out of balance with the other two hamstring muscles. The Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus both cross the hip and the knee joint and are therefore involved in extending the hip and flexing the knee. They also assist in turning the knee inward. Furthermore, recent anatomical research points out what track and field coaches have known for years: hamstrings are connected as a chain to the glutes and back extensors. Therefore in order to increase performance and decrease the risk of injury we must train the hamstrings in knee flexion “bending the knee” and hip extension “kicking the leg back in a sprinting motion.”
#2 – Muscle Tightness
if you watch a hockey player they spend a majority of the game bent over at the waist. This position causes the hip flexor muscles to become shortened and tight and will force the pelvis to rotate anteriorly (forward). Since the upper and lower body musculature is connected to the pelvis it can cause many problems above and below the waist: lower back pain, lordosis (increased curvature of the lower spine), kyphosis, forward head posture, rounded shoulders, shoulder impingement, etc. In plain English “forward rotation of your pelvis will reduce speed, power and acceleration.
You will also never find one of our hockey players on a stationary bike. The position of your legs on the bike is very similar to skating and will cause further tightening of the hip flexors
Another common problem that we already talked about is tight muscles in the glutes and bicep femoris muscles. Tight glutes and hamstrings are caused by overuse of these muscles during the push off phase where your feet are turned out. A combination of specific strengthening exercises along with stretching, stick rolling, foam roller massage and myofascial releasing techniques is needed to fix these issues. Bystol Performance teaches every player how to properly perform these techniques, as it’s critical they utilize these for recovery during season.
#3 – Core Issues
Another common problem we find in hockey players is a weak core. Although most players train their abdominals, they train them wrong. We already know that hockey players have tight hip flexors, lordosis and rounded shoulders. Performing sit-ups, crunches, etc. will only make these problems worse. Hockey players must have a strong core to generate power. They must also be able to shoot either right or left and therefore must have a proper balance in the internal and external rotators to produce power and accuracy.
Hockey players also have poor lower abdominal strength and coordination. This is usually caused from improper training and/or muscle tightness causing inhibition of these muscles. The lower abdominals aid in proper pelvis alignment and stability and are important muscles for transferring the power from the lower body to the upper body.
In this article we have discussed just a few of the common structural problems we see on hockey players. We know that for many athletes it’s hard for them to realize the importance of fixing these issues and how dramatically these issues can affect speed, power, acceleration and coordination. Every single NHL player ends the season with many of these issues, they are almost unavoidable do to the amount of time they spend on the ice “which is actually very little compared to younger levels of hockey”. After the first year training with PPC, they quickly realize the importance of structural balance training and the enormous effect it has on staying healthy and getting strong.
Look at it this way, would you hire a contractor to build you a house on a weak foundation? I would expect not. You would fix the foundation and then build the house.
Coach Mike Bystol:
Bystol Performance Center BPC