Most hockey players sit orderly on the bench, taking a breather between shifts while watching their teammates on the ice. But sometimes, you may see an entire team standing up on the bench, actively cheering their teammates throughout the game.
What is the best option? Opinions differ. We spoke with two high-level hockey experts to get their thoughts and help you choose what’s best for you.
Rick Bennett: Why You Should Sit on the Bench
Rick Bennett is the head hockey coach at Union College, whose team won the 2014 NCAA National Championship.
We’ve come full circle with this. We used to be a stand-up team, but now we mostly sit on the bench. I learned that from my pro hockey experience, where all the guys sit down. You rarely see NHL guys stand up, unless maybe it’s in the last few minutes of a game.
You can focus on taking in some deep breaths and relax after a tough shift. Plus, you can clearly see the entire ice, which is especially important for line changes so we can be organized, see who’s next up and not take any too-many-men penalties.
Everyone can see each other sitting down and there is a bit of camaraderie. The players can talk about what they did last shift and how they are going to improve next shift, which is critical for chemistry.
From a coach’s perspective, it’s definitely easier to get your point across when the guys are sitting down. You can kneel down so you’re at their level and go over things quickly on the dry-erase board. They only have to turn their head a bit, instead of completely turning around and potentially getting in the way of someone changing.
For the fourth-line guys, or someone who’s not getting a lot of playing time, I always tell them when to be ready for the next shift. If there’s a TV timeout or a break in the game, they may stand up or quickly skate around near the bench, but that’s it. They’re not doing Push-Ups or Lunges.
Every team has a different philosophy. For example, Boston College was a stand-up team, and they’ve obviously had great success. And, at times our guys do stand up, but for the most part, we find sitting to be the better option.
Doug Crashley: Why You Should Stand Up
Doug Crashley, owner of Crash Conditioning (Calgary, Alberta), trains several NHL elite players, including Duncan Keith, Jordan Eberle and Mike Green.
If you think about a guy on the fourth line, he may play for five or eight minutes. So for 52 minutes of that game (assuming it’s 20-minute periods) and intermissions, you’re sitting down and not on the ice. Obviously, top guys spend more time on the ice, but they still likely sit for more than half of a game.
Sitting on the bench is intended to allow you to recover, but you may be worse off. It puts you in an anterior pelvic tilt, which shuts down your glutes and tightens your hips flexors. If you go onto the ice after you’ve been sitting and your glutes don’t fire and are tight, then you won’t be able to skate at full speed.
Also, having players sit causes all the toxins created by their muscles to pool, which can impair recovery. Standing allows for optimal blood flow and helps flush the system. I think one of the things you’ll see in the future is integrating technology that helps flush out the body between shifts with the click of a button.
We know that we warm up to prepare muscles and improve performance. Obviously you need to rest between shifts, so doing exercises is probably not ideal. And if you’re a fourth liner and aren’t necessarily concerned about recovery, you still don’t have space on the bench.
Standing isn’t a true dynamic warm-up, but it’s better than sitting on your butt. You’ll perform at a better level, skate faster and quicker and will theoretically have less chance of injury.
To take it a step further, there are actually some instances in Europe where they have a small rink behind the tunnels, so guys sitting a lot can get out there and move around a little bit. And the guys coming off the ice can flush out their system and loosen up before the next shift.
From a physiological standpoint, it seems like a no brainer to stand on the bench. But as Bennett points out, this isn’t always practical within the inner workings of a team and can cause more harm than good—why most NHL teams sit.
Both Bennett and Crashley say there’s no definitive right or wrong answer, and it comes down to what works better for the players and the team.
If your team sits, be mindful of your body and take time to move around if you feel tight or haven’t been on the ice for awhile. If you stand, stick to your coach’s system and pay attention to the play on the ice to avoid getting in the way of a line change or interfere with communication between players and coaches.