Good core training is important for hockey players who want to skate fast and reduce back pain. The problem is that too many hockey players are doing Sit-Ups, Crunches and other poorly designed exercises. These choices put a lot of unnecessary compression on the spine and do not teach good positions to transfer to the ice. The goal should be to choose exercises that teach stability to allow for improved performance and pain alleviation. We have much better core exercises for hockey players to reach that goal.
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Hockey players need a lot of hip mobility to skate fast. They must be able to sink their hips back and bend at the knee to be in a good position. The only problem is that the hockey stride will cause overuse and tightness in the glutes when not addressed.
To improve hip mobility, we have to address core stability. Extension is usually displayed as a larger arch in the back and a flaring up of the ribs. This position causes the core and glutes to shut off and the low-back muscles to fire. This is not only painful, but it makes for an incomplete skating stride.
When a hockey player is skating down the ice, the leg performing the stride wants to fully extend and use the glutes to create the most powerful push. When the spine goes into extension and that large lower-back curve exists, he cannot extend the hip completely. The athlete will not skate as fast as possible because of this.
The glutes are hip extenders. They are also the biggest muscle in the lower body. If you want to skate faster, it is essential to use this muscle group. When the core is weak and the low-back muscles fire, the glutes shut off. Starting with a better position means you can properly use your glutes to skate faster.
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Skating and shooting are where hockey players can experience significant back pain. This is because they are stuck in extension. 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 add rotation into the pattern, which can open up a new can of worms. The best way to counteract extended posture is through good core training.
How to Increase Core Strength in Hockey Players
Core training for hockey players should be geared toward resisting the movements they do during normal play. That almost seems like a backwards mentality, but it will allow them to better control their bodies on the ice.
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.
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When we train anti-extension exercises, it is easy to slip into a bad compensation. Careful attention needs to be paid to keeping the core tight and preventing an increased arch in the back. The key is to let the ribs fall down. This is something we use in the weight room all the time to activate the core and give a more neutral position for the spine.
Use the following exercises to improve your core stability.
Half–Kneeling Pallof Press
I like this one because it is an anti-rotation movement. The reason for half-kneeling is to get a stretch on the hip flexor and quad. Remember not to arch your back.
Wall Press Leg Lower
This is an anti-extension movement. The goal is to keep the low back flat on the ground. Those who struggle with this movement will feel their back arch and come off the floor. The Leg Lower also provides a little bit of hip mobility.
Thread the Needle
With this exercise, you resist lateral flexion, or side bending, of the spine. Activating and strengthening the lateral core will improve hip internal rotation. This helps the leg recover in the stride.
This exercise poses an anti-extension challenge in a different position than the Leg Lower. Too many athletes let their hips drop toward the floor when they do this. Your whole body should stay in a straight line while moving. (If you do not have a sideboard, simply put a towel on a surface that slides.)
Stir the Pot
This is one of my favorites. It challenges anti-rotation and anti-extension at the same time. Start with your feet on the floor. To make it more challenging, put your feet up on a box or bench.