When Not to Try Unstable Hockey Training

Learn where balance training fits in—and doesn't fit in—for different types of hockey training.

Balance training on unstable surfaces has become very popular in hockey workouts. Yet there are some instances when you need to train for other things while working on a stable surface. Let's take a look at where balance training fits in—and doesn't fit in—for different types of hockey training.

In general, use unstable surfaces for:

  • Lower-body rehab
  • Core stability training
  • Shoulder stability training/ injury prevention

When it is time to get strong and powerful, choose movements that are:

  • Ground-based
  • Compound
  • Relatively heavy

Stable Training

Strength Training

With strength training, instability can cause muscles to contract, which is counterproductive. For example, in a Glute Bridge, we want the glutes to work and the hip flexors, hamstrings and low back to shut off. The point of the exercise is to train the glutes. If we were to do the exercise on a balance pad, other muscles would be activated, thereby de-emphasizing the glutes. So stick to a stable surface for strength training.

Power Training

Power is the ability to display strength quickly. It is often trained with jumps, throws, and other fast movements.

When we train for power, we need a solid surface. Most power exercises require a countermovement, like in a vertical jump. First we hinge the hips back and lower the arms. If the surface lacks stability, we will lose force into the ground and jump a lot lower.

That is one reason why Olympic lifting shoes are so effective for Cleans and Snatches. They have a solid heel, often made of wood, so no force is allowed to be lost into the cushion of a sneaker.

When performing strength and power movements, you need a hard, solid surface from which to move. This ensures you will not lose any force into the floor and will be training the targeted muscle groups.

Doing Squats while standing on a ball might look cool to some people, but it is not very safe or effective.

Unstable Training

Core Training

Core stability training has been performed on unstable surfaces for a long time with good results. When you train to resist motion, you want as many muscles as possible to fire in conjunction to develop stability.

Core training cannot be done by targeting individual muscles. No one greatly benefits from attacking their multifidus. Getting the obliques, abdominals, transverse abdominis, and low-back muscles to fire together is what greatly resists motion.

Stir the Pot, Pallof Presses, and Single-Sided Presses are good core exercises that involve instability.

Rehab/Post Rehab

Unstable surfaces have been instrumental in knee and ankle rehab. When a joint is injured, muscular activity around it decreases. To get these muscles activated again, you must train them.

Just like with the core, instability causes all the muscles surrounding the joint to contract together. This provides stability for the joint, something you need after a joint injury.

Shoulder Stability

Creating shoulder blade stability involves contraction of the rotator cuff, lower traps and serratus. This is an area where unstable surface training can be beneficial.

One exercise I really like for shoulder stability is the Wrist-Banded Push-Up on a slideboard. To perform it, put slideboard boots or towels on the board and a mini-band around your wrists. The band wants to pull your  hands toward each other, but your shoulders won't let it. Then, just do regular Push-Ups with that set-up.

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