Whether you are a hockey player looking to maximize your performance on ice or a coach of any kind looking to help out hockey players, this post is for you.
Restricted mobility is not a problem just for the ones with a sedentary lifestyle – also the highly active, even pro athletes, can easily develop tightness, imbalances and movement restrictions. Actually, due to high activity levels and repetitive movements, pro athletes usually have certain sports-specific issues.
We believe in numbers, which is why we analyzed the entire KHL team Jokerit to find out more about ice hockey players’ mobility. Keep reading to find out their results!
Why should hockey players care about body mobility?
Like in all athletic performance, mobility is required in ice hockey because it affects performance, recovery and injuries.
Ice hockey is a unilateral sport, which means you are usually using only one side of your body to move. Examples:
- Shooting on one side
- Receiving passes on one side
- Rotating your torso in one direction for slap shots
- Holding the stick on the same side of your body
Of course, there are exceptions, but unilateral dominant movement creates imbalances in both strength and structure. And imbalance causes tightness and increased risk of injury.
Now, let’s think about playing ice hockey. There are some specific target zones:
- Hips/hip flexors
Hockey players are bent over at the waist for pretty much all the time. Their hips are constantly in flexion – during skating, shooting and sitting on the bench.
This shortens and tightens the hip flexors, which can lead to issues including pain and tightness in the hips, lower back and shoulders.
- Achilles tendon and calves
If you think about walking and running, you can quite freely extend your foot and point your toes downwards. But in ice hockey, the foot is pointed slightly sideways inside the skate and there is less extension, but lots of tension that creates tightness over time. But where does the tension go?
Now, a pro hockey player wears skates from 6 to 8 months per year. Their feet are locked for the entire time, so there is a good probability there will be tightness.
The hamstrings and the quadriceps are the primary muscles used in skating. And ice hockey players skate a lot, which is why these muscles tend to get overused during the season and yes – become tight.
Hockey players’ shoulders are constantly rounded forward. This creates tension and affects eg. puck handling, shot power and accuracy. The internal and external rotators work together to create these movements.
How did professional hockey players do?
To see it for ourselves, we analyzed 17 players from KHL team Jokerit:
- 3 goalkeepers
- 6 defensemen
- 8 forwards
Their result averages were*:
- 0% hypermobility
- 54% sufficient mobility
- 46% restricted mobility
On average, the teams lower body mobility was really good, excluding hip internal rotation and quadriceps. We also noticed that the back side (ankles, calves, hamstrings, gluteus and lower back) of the players had been paid special attention to.
The part with most room for improvement was shoulders. They lacked mobility 19% in total.
“We in Jokerit are really interested in getting the best possible performance out of our players. Measuring mobility can help us find the weak spots of our players. For example tight hips can reduce the ability to do full-length skating strides (abduction) or reduce the speed when you are crossing over (adduction).” tells Hero Mali, the strength and conditioning coach and physiotherapist of Jokerit.
*Compared to reference values that have been gathered from anatomy, biomechanics and physiotherapy literature.
Recommended body mobility exercises for hockey players
LOWER BODY: Hip external rotators move
- Sit on the floor with straight legs.
- Lift your leg slowly up and bend it back.
- Push your knee lightly on the floor.
- Keep your back straight and pelvis balanced.
UPPER BODY: Shoulder external rotators move
- Stand in a stable upright position.
- Take a stick and put it at your shoulder level.
- Slowly move your hands up and down.
- Avoid moving your shoulders or chest up.
How can hockey players benefit from improving body mobility?
Improving mobility helps improving performance on ice.
“By incorporating sports-specific individual mobility exercises into our off-ice workouts, we hope to prevent injuries and get better performance out of every single player” tells Mali.
- more speed through improved stride length and frequency
- more power and strength through a wider range of motion
- improved agility through enhanced fluid movement
- less injuries and faster recovery through reduced tightness and muscle imbalances
It was the end of summer 2019, when our founders Ari and Jarkko had the honor to have dinner with the Finnish ice hockey legend Teemu Selänne in Los Angeles. Once Jarkko asked, if he had done something differently than others to have an exceptionally long career, the answer was mobility training.
“For that, I can thank my father because every time we were watching TV he said I should do some mobility exercises and stretch rather than sit still. We were always exercising, whether it was ice hockey or something else. The secret was to keep moving.”