5 Key Movement Variations for Ice Hockey: At the Gym or at Home

Motivation & Inspiration

In these uncertain times, it is growing increasingly difficult for ice hockey players to stay on top of their craft both on and off the ice. With gyms and hockey arenas facing potential shutdowns, ice and gym time may be limited. Being an athlete is a year-round commitment, so this article is to help players improve their craft and stay on top of their game during this period of uncertainty. Here are five key movements all athletes should be incorporating into their daily workout plan.

I will list exercises that we would prescribe in a gym setting and at home variations for each of the movements. It’s all about what you have available and how creative you can be with what is around your home.

Hip Hinge Variations

The hip hinge is arguably one of the most important movement patterns, not only for sport but for activities of daily life. Being able to lift objects from the ground without hurting your low back? Seems like a no-brainer.

To keep it simple, it’s “using your legs, not your back.” It’s hinging at your hips and dissociating hip flexion and extension from lumbar (low back) flexion and extension. This pattern, done correctly, loads the posterior chain, or back of the body through the glutes and hamstrings.

AT THE GYM: Some key variations of this we would use with our players are a trap bar deadlift, kettle bell swing, staggered stance deadlift, single leg Romanian deadlift, and a banded or cable pull through.

AT HOME: If you’re at home, the single leg RDL and staggered stance deadlifts can be great choices. Depending on what you have available, you can use a water jug or backpack to load these movements or substitute for a kettlebell to do swings.

Lunge / Split Squat Variations

Ice hockey is a unilateral sport that involves a good amount of hip flexion and extension during the forward stride. During the majority of the lunge and split squat variations, you get very good ankle, knee, and hip flexion in the front leg and hip and knee extension in the back leg. These movements allow a player to strengthen their lower body in a variety of ranges and planes of movement, which closely translates to their on-ice performance.

Ice hockey isn’t played just in a straight line, so we need our players to be efficient backwards and laterally. To check all of our boxes we use a large variety of lunge and split squat variations to strengthen the hips and lower body in all directions and ranges of motion.

AT THE GYM: Where do we start? There are almost endless opportunities with these movements. Vernon Griffith really says it best, “be an explorer.” This means train in all the different planes, add rotation, add deeper ranges of motion and variety. For our lunging patterns we would prescribe forward, reverse, lateral, and curtsy.

For our split squats we would use front foot elevated, regular stance, rear foot elevated, lateral split squat, or a cossack variation. Then from there we can “explore” further and make these movements from a deficit or change where we load the movement. We can front load, goblet load, safety bar, DB, KB, off-set load, or even just band resistance. It all depends on your goal, but leaves endless options for yourself to “explore” these movements.

AT HOME: These are probably some of the easier movements that can be taken from the gym to the house. If you don’t have anything to add load to these movements at home, add more reps, add more range, change up your tempo, or pair two, three, or four of these movements together in one set to really “explore” your hips.

Anti-Extension, Side-bend, and Rotation Core Exercise

Unlike most of the in-home workout programs where you blast your core with flexion and side bend exercises, we tend to use the opposite approach to training the core. The core is the keystone between the lower body and upper body, and if you have a weak keystone here that can’t maintain rigidity and transmit force during athletic movements, your bridge is going to break. These movements for us are all about creating and maintaining a neutral spine, with posterior pelvic tilt and being able to control the extremities above and below without losing that tension.

AT THE GYM:

For our anti-extension exercises we would use hollow body holds, hollow body rocks, reverse crunches, and even front-loaded lifts and carries to challenge the anterior chain during different movements.

Our side bend exercises would commonly consist of different farmer carry variations, like an off-set trap bar carry, single arm KB carry, single arm Chaos carry. We would also use side plank variations, like a Copenhagen plank or side planks with a row.

For our anti-rotation exercises we would commonly use exercises like the pallof press and all the variations: tall kneeling, half kneeling, split stance, over-head movement, figure eights, etc. Some other options could be bear crawls, tabletop pull throughs, and plank shoulder taps.

AT HOME: At home all of these movements are fair game. You can get a very good bang for your buck with most of these movements using just body weight. For your farmer carry variations, get creative and fill a grocery bag with books, use your 5-gallon water jugs, use your kids school bags, and lug them around the house.

Bounding and Landing Variations

Hockey is an explosive sport. Being able to absorb force after you jump is just important as producing it when you jump. Just like walking up and down the stairs, you have to produce force to climb them, but also have to control your body weight to travel down them. For our landing training we use a lot of jump and stick, depth landings, and over speed/height landing variations. We get our athletes to start jumping and landing on level ground, focusing on a good arch and knee over pinky toe position during the land. Then we would progress them to a depth landing. They will fall off a platform and catch themselves in that same ankle and knee position.

For over speed/height landing, we would use bands to propel our athletes either higher than they would normally jump or pull them into the ground faster than they would normally fall. All of these train the athletes to absorb the forces of landing. Once they are proficient at landing we could add bounding and jumping, and then pair it with landing.

AT THE GYM: We would use variations in all planes of movements for all our exercises here: straight line, lateral, medial, and skater jumps while sticking the landing. We would use single leg and double leg depth landings. Band assisted double leg, single leg, and split stance jumps. On days when we’re just working on bounding, we would use medicine ball weighted bounds.

AT HOME: Aside from banded jumps, everything can be performed at home. Be creative, use a couch, use a step and don’t be afraid to “explore” and jump in all different directions.

Upper Body Pulling Variations

I’m sure everyone was looking for an easy one here, such as bench press or squats. Unfortunately, hockey is a unilateral, contact sport where shoulder injuries are common. Don’t get me wrong, pushing exercises are important for shoulder health and stability, in a day and age where upper-cross syndrome and “cell-phone neck” are common, pulling is more important than pushing for shoulder health. Our goal is to focus on posterior chain strength and endurance. We want to make sure our shoulder blades are moving well, the muscles around them are strong, and our shoulder joint are in a good position to hopefully decrease the chance of injuries. Just like the previous four movements, we’re all about variations, changing the athlete’s stance, hand position, the angle of the cable, band or bench, and what kind of weights we use.

AT THE GYM: We like to use a cable machine so we can change the angle of pull during single arm pulling variations. We use different body positions, such as half kneeling, split squat, full kneeling, and add thoracic rotation or external rotation to the end of the row. The possibilities are endless here; we try to “explore.”

To warm up our shoulder we commonly use bands for pull apart variations with a lot of volume to really activate our shoulders. We use different angles with the TRX, weighted and banded variations for pull-ups. Some common rowing variations we use are bird dog rows, DB or KB rows, and chest supported rows.

AT HOME:  These movements are probably the trickiest to do at home and require the most creativity. Without bands or weights, you’re going to have to be extra resourceful. Using a towel and a partner could be a great option for rowing, using that water jug, bag of books, or even doing isometrics are all good substitutes for what your gym normally offers.

Conclusion

These are the five movements I think are key for hockey players and athletes to master. Working proficiently in these patterns, in all planes of motions will make you a more efficient mover and athlete. Give some of them a try and see how your body feels next time you get a chance to compete.