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Why Strengthening Your Core is Key

02/24/2014, 10:00am CST
By Michael Rand

If you’re a hockey player, chances are you have heard this mantra from fitness experts: “Work your core. Work your core. Work your core.”

And if you’re a recreational hockey player, chances are you’ve thought to yourself, “Be quiet and just let me play. I just want to skate once or twice a week, pop in a few goals, and hang out with friends.”

But there is a connection. Those experts aren’t just telling you to exercise your core for your health. Here are some tips, advice and explanations from two of those experts that could convince you why working your core could make you a better hockey player.

What is your core, anyway?

Let’s start with the basics.

“There are some broad definitions of the core,” says Maria Mountain, who works as a strength and conditioning coach. “Think of it as running from the hips to the armpits. That’s the link, especially in hockey. You’re standing on skates, which are unstable by nature, but you score with your upper body.”

Why is the core important?

In addition to providing stability, the core is the center of your power.

“Without that strong linkage, you won’t be strong on your skates. But really the power of the shot, that comes from the hips and is transferred through the torso and steered through the arms,” Mountain says. “The power comes from the legs and hips, and you need to be able to facilitate that force through the torso to the stick.”

Roy Pumphrey, a Washington, D.C.-area Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who also has a master’s degree in exercise science, works regularly training hockey players. He notes that almost all hockey-related movements originate in the core area.

In addition to adding power, he says working on core endurance has been shown to prevent lower back injuries.

How should I work on my core?

In the past, hockey players trained on fitness club machines, but about 15 years ago the emphasis on core work came to the forefront, Mountain says. And the earliest core exercises were abdominal crunches.

But even that thinking has changed, Mountain says.

“I haven’t done any crunches with a hockey player in at least five years,” she says. “That’s not really how you use your abdominals on the ice.”

Instead, she says she trains hockey players on free-weight exercises, squats, planks, and single-arm pectoral flies. Side planks, Mountain says, can help reduce the risk of sports hernia injuries. (Click links for video examples of how to perform various exercises).

“Another one we do that’s really simple is have players partner up and have them hold a hockey stick in one hand while their partner moves the stick around in random patterns,” Mountain says. “The player has to fight and battle to keep the stick where it needs to be.”

Pumphrey recommends front squats, kettlebell carries and an exercise called “stir the pot” that involves kneeling while placing the forearms on an exercise ball and pushing outward in a circular, pot-stirring motion.

Not everyone has hours to devote to exercise, of course. Many adult recreational players have busy lives—kids, jobs, etc.—and for them, Pumphrey has some advice to maximize core time.

“If I had a half hour or under in a gym I would do one main lift that required a lot of core activation, like a squat, deadlift, pushup or body row variation and pair it with a core specific movement for three to four rounds,” he says. “If I was at home, I would pick two or three exercises each with a slightly different focus or feel and perform them in a circuit three to five times.”

What happens if I neglect my core?

Epic fail is the end result of a weak core.

Okay, that’s not always true, but chances are you will notice the difference.

“A weak core can translate to a weaker shot, weaker stride, being easier to knock off the puck and premature fatiguing,” Pumphrey says. “As power from the hips and shoulders is transferred through the body, a weak core will lack stiffness to transfer that force, resulting in energy being lost from the system and a loss of power or having to work extra hard to make up for the loss.”

So work your core before you get worked over on the ice.

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