Here are five exercises that are effective for hockey players at any level. They are also exercises that consist of using minimal equipment including barbells, dumbbells, and weights. These are also 5 “staple exercises” in our program. I would also classify these exercises as “Pareto Principle” exercises which are 20% of our exercises that give us 80% of our results in the weight room.
1- Front Squat – I really think that improving double leg strength is important for hockey players. Although hockey players do actually skate on 1-leg at a time, there is also plenty of time during a game when a player is in the gliding phase of skating. They may be gliding up the ice during a shift or may be battling in front of the net with 2 skates on the ice.
We front squat during the off-season once per week and will use it at the beginning of the in-season phase prior to transitioning to 1-leg variations. With front squats, we are able to get better, consistent technique across the board with an adequate load on the bar. In my view, this is unlike the back squat where you may see several variations being performed in a team setting. Examples of back squat variations would be the bar positioning on the back, depth differences, and torso positioning. With front squats, the bar is always held across the shoulders with the elbows up. The torso position allows the athlete to squat deeper because it is upright. If the torso isn’t upright, then the athlete will drop the bar.
One of the most important factors to consider is the load on the bar. Proper technique in any exercise needs to be established first and foremost. In my experience, what breaks technical proficiency down is too much load. Injuries occur as a result of the load being too much which causes form to break down.
2- 1-Leg Squat– the 1-Leg Squat and its variations are key exercises in our program. Although we still front squat (see number 1 above), we will always do 1-leg squats within our program during both of the off-season and in-season phases.
1-leg squats can be performed anywhere. In-season, we actually perform them in the visiting team locker rooms on the road when we don’t have access to adequate facilities. They are great exercises that really help us in the injury prevention process.
3- Hang Clean – Young hockey players need to be developing power. For us, the best way that has worked over time is Olympic lift variations. We will do cleans, snatches (both barbell and dumbbell), and jerks (also both barbell and dumbbell) from the hang position. Simply, we ask our athletes to move the weight as fast as possible with great technique.
The reason why we do them from the hang position versus the floor is that like the front squats, I consistently see better Olympic lift variations from the hang position. I have seen many different variations of pulls from the floor throughout the last 12 years or so. I have unfortunately seen too many back injuries both acute and long term. Too much can go wrong with pulls from the floor than with the hang position. Please ensure that proper technique is established before progressing. We are not training Olympic weightlifters.
In my coaching situation, I always need to look at what the perceived advantage of one exercise is versus another. I really don’t see the necessary advantage of lifting from the floor versus the hang but I do see a much safer variation that can give the same results.
4- 1-Leg Dumbbell S.L.D.L. – This is another staple in our strength and conditioning program. We call it a 1-leg DB S.L.D.L. when it may be more of a 1-leg slightly bent knee deadlift. We are able to get a good exercise for the posterior chain while balancing on 1-leg. The coaching cues for this exercise include having a flat back, sliding the dumbbell or kettlebell down the leg until either there is a stretch in the hamstring or the back can’t maintain its arch. Then the athlete will proceed to come back up.
Like the 1-leg squat, this is another exercise that can be done anywhere.
5- Pull up- Pull ups and vertical pulling variations have been in my programs ever since I started writing them. I see absolutely no reason to remove them. Athletes need more upper back strength and pull ups have shown to give you the most bang for the buck.
The inability to do pull ups is an indicator of weak upper back strength. People with weak upper backs are more prone to injury, especially at the shoulder joint(s) which is important for athletes in contact sports such as hockey. In my experience, the athletes who don’t (or in their mind can’t do pull ups) are the same athletes with bad shoulders. They could also be just plain lazy.
Pull ups need to be done correctly for the athlete to get the full benefit. Proper execution is when the athlete starts at full extension and proceeds to pull his/her chin up over the bar. Then they need to lower themselves under control to full extension before doing the next rep.
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