Every hockey player hopes to stay healthy for the entire season.
But we all know how aches, bruises and more severe hockey injuries add up over the course of a strenuous season. Even the luckiest of players cannot escape stitches, ice packs, visits to the hospital and, worst of all, missed games.
That's why you need a plan for the times when you get sidelined with an injury.
As soon as the team doctor clears you for off-ice training, you'd better go after it. Every day you spend resting on your laurels is a day your competition gains another step on you.
Here are three typical hockey injuries that players incur on the ice and how to train around them in the gym.
1. Shoulder Injuries
From separated AC joints to broken collarbones, the shoulders take a beating during hockey season.
With an existing shoulder injury, barbell benching and overhead pressing are big no-no's.
Weighted Push-Ups on the floor or on gymnastic rings are my favorite upper-body pushing movement for athletes with shoulder issues. Eventually they move on to Flat or 15- to 30-Degree Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses, provided that these movements don't cause discomfort.
Another great exercise is the Landmine Press, which can be performed in a half-kneeling or standing position. Since the bar moves upward at an angle instead of straight up as in a regular Overhead Press, less stress is placed on the shoulder joint, and most guys can perform it without pain.
When it comes to power exercises, your options are limited. Jerks, Snatches and Med Ball Throws go out the window, since high-velocity movements done overhead usually make matters worse. Furthermore, some athletes experience pain in the catching position of a Clean or even during Clean or Snatch High Pulls. You may need to drop the Olympic lifts for awhile.
For power work, stick with jumps—Box Jumps, Vertical Jumps, Squat Jumps or Split Squat Jumps.
Coming back from a shoulder injury is the perfect time to focus on pulling exercises and upper-back work, which most athletes tend to neglect in their press-laden training programs.
Vertical pulling movements like Chin-Ups or Pull-Downs may cause discomfort, but Rows most likely won't. Ring-Inverted Rows, Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows and V-Handle T-Bar Rows are all great for strengthening and building the lats and mid-back musculature.
2. Knee Injuries
Knee injuries can range from debilitating yet short-lived—such as those caused by blocking a shot on the penalty kill—to serious issues that require months of extensive rehab following MCL surgery.
After an athlete has been cleared to start training in the gym, it's important to realize that in the early stages of recovery, anything involving knee flexion under load tends to cause pain. Thus, most squat variations should be limited.
One exception seems to be the Single-Leg Box Squat. At first, you may only be able to go down a few inches before experiencing pain in your knee. But over time, you should be able to increase pain-free active range of motion, which can easily be done by lowering the height of the box you're squatting onto.
Once you have gained sufficient range of motion to break parallel, you can start loading the movement with a barbell in a front squat position or a dumbbell in the goblet position in front of the chest.
On the bright side, limiting squatting movements in your training program makes room for attacking the hamstrings and glutes with lots of volume to transform your pancake backside into a real hockey butt. For that, focus on exercises like Romanian Deadlifts, Hip Thrusts, Back Extensions and Valslide Leg Curls. You'll pack enough back to make Sir Mix-A-Lot proud.
3. Hand Injuries
Broken wrist from a vicious slash. Fractured fingers from getting struck by a shot in front of the net.
With a hand injury, you can't use the injured limb to grip training implements, so barbell exercises like Cleans, Squats, Bench Presses, Deadlifts and Rows, as well as movements requiring simultaneous use of both arms (Chin-Ups, Push-Ups, etc.), are out of bounds.
For the upper body, your best option is to perform unilateral exercises with a weight in the healthy hand. Here are some I recommend:
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Single-Arm Seated Cable Row
- Single-Arm Lat Pulldown
For the lower body, you can do unilateral and bilateral movements, such as:
- Contralateral Rear-Foot Elevated Split-Squat (dumbbell in healthy hand, opposite leg on the ground)
- Contralateral Single-Leg, Stiff-Legged Deadlift
- Single-Leg Glute Bridge off Bench (upper body elevated on one bench and feet placed on another bench)
- Back Extension
- Valslide Leg Curl
- Glute Ham Raise
Some people oppose this approach, arguing that strengthening one limb while not training the injured one until it has healed will cause muscular imbalances.
Research has shown that the injured limb can make up 35 percent of the strength gains experienced on the working limb due to an effect called "cross-education." Simply put, if you break your left wrist and can't train with your left arm for a month but manage to get your right arm stronger during that time, your left arm will also improve because of neural adaptations.
Knowing that you can still make progress when you're injured, would you rather train hard on the healthy side and experience some strength gains across your entire body or skip the gym and get weaker all over as a result of detraining?
The answer is obvious to me.
Munn, J, Herbert, RD, and Gandevia, SC. "Contralateral effects of unilateral resistance training: a meta-analysis." J Appl Physiol. 2004 May; 96(5):1861-1866.
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