When it's all tied up late in the third period, you need to be at your best or you might cost your team the game. While conditioning with sprints is important, endurance isn't the only factor affecting late-game performance. Lower-back issues that commonly affect hockey players are a lesser known, but serious, issue, which can degrade your late-game play.
When skating, you are in a bent-over posture with a semi-rounded lower back. This puts you in a position that allows you to take powerful strides, control the puck and maintain balance when opponents are trying to knock you down. However, your lower back is under constant tension in order to keep you upright. If your lower-back muscles lack strength, your speed and power will be compromised as the game progresses.
To make matters worse, the bent-over skating position may cause tightness in your hip flexors, creating a tug-of-war that forces your lower back to work even harder. (Check out this hip flexor stretching sequence for hockey players.)
Preventing lower-back-caused performance issues is not difficult; you need to simply strengthen your lower-back muscles and ease hip flexor tension. Add these exercises to a training program that includes Squats and Deadlifts to help maintain your speed and strength in the third period.
The most common method of performing a hyperextension involves using a roman chair to hold the feet down and hips up. Focus on the top part of the movement; pause at full extension to emphasize the lower back. Don't bend too far when lowering to prevent your hamstrings from taking the brunt of the work.
- Assume position on roman chair so upper body is slightly below parallel ground
- Raise upper body until body is in straight line
- Lower to start position with control
- Repeat for specified reps
Good Mornings is a more advanced low-back exercise that closely resembles Back Hyperextensions, but places you in a more athletic position.Use only your body weight or a broomstick to start, and advance to a loaded barbell as you get stronger.
- With bar on back, assume athletic stance with slight bend in knees and feet at hip width
- Bend forward at waist and drive hips back until chest is nearly parallel to ground; keep back straight and maintain slight knee bend
- Return to start position through same motion
- Repeat for specified reps
Lunges indirectly reduce low-back muscle workload by easing hip flexor tension. Keep your chest up and back perpendicular to the ground to get a stretch through the front of your hips. These can be performed as part of a dynamic warm-up with no weight or as a strength exercise with dumbbells.
- Hold dumbbells at sides with palms facing inward (optional)
- Step forward toward midline into lunge position
- Stay upright with head up and back straight
- Lower until back knee almost touches ground; front knee should bend to 90 degrees
- Without changing position of torso, push off front heel to starting position
- Perform on opposite leg
- Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 2-3x10-12 each leg
Learn more of the best exercises for hockey players through STACK's Hockey Workout Guide.