We are into the swing of hockey season for kids and weekend warriors. I often get questions from clients that are coaches or players asking for some warm-up exercises. Most people are focused on warming up their lower body to prepare for skating. However, many people often ignore an upper body warm up which is just as important for hockey.
You can do the following stretches in the locker room or during the initial skate around.
Neck rotation: This stretch simulates the actual neck movements required to see both sides of the ice. Stand upright with body facing straight forward, look as far as you can over the right shoulder (don’t turn shoulders). Gently push with your left hand on your cheek and hold for 10-15 seconds and repeat. Then switch sides and repeat.
Posterior shoulder stretch: This stretch increases the flexibility in the back of your shoulder (the rotator cuff and joint capsule) which is involved on your left side during a slap shot (if you are right handed) and on the right side as you rotate through the shot into your finish. Standing upright, reach across your body and hold the back of your elbow with the opposite hand. Pull that arm across your body and under your chin as far as you can. Hold 10-15 seconds and repeat. Then switch sides and repeat.
Chest stretch: This stretch will help with your posture as you are often in a position where your shoulders are rounded forward and your hands are out in front (sitting on the bench, reaching for the puck.) If your chest muscles are tight your upper body movement is limited and you will stay in a poor posture position. Standing or sitting upright, clasp hands behind your back (or hold a stick if you can’t reach hands together). Then try to raise your arms up while squeezing shoulders together and stick your chest out. Inhale to increase the stretch. Hold 10-15 seconds and repeat.
Trunk rotation: This stretch works the sides of your abdomen and the trunk rotators (small and deep muscles parallel to the spine). Sit down to keep the lower body from moving. Rotate your upper body around so that you grab the back of the boards while on the bench. Try to look over your shoulder as you stretch and increase the stretch by gently pulling around a little further with your hands. Hold 10-15 seconds and repeat. Then switch sides and repeat.
If you are standing, back up to the boards. Rotate your upper body and grab onto the edge of the glass /boards without moving your feet. Try to look over your shoulder as you twist. Increase the stretch by gently pulling yourself around a little further with both hands. Hold 10-15 seconds and repeat. Then switch sides and repeat.
Trunk side bend stretch: A hockey shot requires a combination of horizontal rotation and side bending. This stretch will improve your lateral flexibility and reduce the risk of strains in your rib cage and trunk. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your right arm elevated over your head. Lean to your left side so that you can put your left hand on the side of your lower thigh. You can support some body weight with your hand. Hold 10-15 seconds and repeat. Then switch sides and repeat.
Warm-up: Once you have stretched your joints and muscles, you will want to prepare your body by using a faster, more dynamic routine before the game. A couple of practice shots on the goalie do not work all the major muscles group through their full range of motion, or prepare you for a balanced shot.
The following warm-up drills can help to improve shoulder back range and improve your balance and tempo.
Trunk rotation with stick: Stand up straight and place your feet together. Put the butt end of your stick in the middle of your chest and extend both arms out to grab the shaft of the stick. Slowly rotate your body to the left and pause at a comfortable range. Repeat the same motion to the right. Repeat five-six times in each direction, gradually increasing the range you rotate each time. Keep your balance and rhythm throughout the exercise.
Around the clock: Keep your feet together, then take your normal grip on the stick and bend forward to the puck. Picture that your stick is pointing down to the 6 o’clock position on the face of a clock. Take your stick back to the 8 o’clock position then move it forward to the 4 o’clock position. Repeat this slow and controlled motion for four-five times in each direction. Without stopping, increase the range of your shot from the 9 to 3 o’clock position four-five times then up to the 11 to 1 o’clock positions four-five times. Focus on tempo and balance throughout this exercise to help with warm-up.
If you tend to be a slow starter, it could be because you have not warmed up and stretched prior to playing. While stretching can’t guarantee you a shot at the NHL, it will improve your chances of a better game and reducing your risk of injury.