Courtesy of Peter Twist
Many players aim to be game ready where they feel athletic and skillful, fast and strong but also fluid and mobile. A player needs to enter the first shift ready to move with explosive power and rapid agility right from the puck drop. The pre-ice (and pre-workout) routine plays an important role in readying the player’s mind and body to exert best efforts skillfully. Historically, players would do a few brief on-ice stretches, however, the result is little more than a pre-skate ritual. Stretches are held in a static position like a statue. How can stretching like a statue prepare the mind and body to move explosively? It can’t. Research shows that in workouts following static stretching, strength and speed are actually lower.
To be game ready, static stretching is no longer the way to go. The goal of pre-ice exercise is to wake up the mind, warm the muscles, and link the mind and muscles to have a responsive body that is prepared to react quickly. A dynamic warm up is recommended pre-game, leaving static stretching for post-ice, when the muscles are tired and need recovery, the mind is also fatigued, and is ready to shut down and relax.
The more than 600 muscles in our body are the ‘hard drive’ with the brain and all of the nerves that connect the mind to the muscles acting like the body’s ‘software’. To prepare to move explosively and skillfully, both the software and the hard drive need to be turned on and warmed up. This is best achieved through balance, movement and strength exercises in a planned dynamic warm up that follows a number of progressive steps.
Use the dressing room, lobby, hallway, Zamboni bay, or any other location you can secure that provides space for movement. Players can warm up half dressed to minimize the time delay between warming up and stepping on the ice. A useful dynamic warm up should last at least 12 minutes and could be as long as 30 minutes. The end goal is for the player to be warm, a little sweaty, mind pumped up and ready to go. The whole body should feel awake and athletic but not fatigued.
The program starts with balance drills for a low impact method to activate many muscles and turn on the mind. These drills safely challenge the small stabilizer muscles key to reaction and physical confrontations. Balance brings focus. Players must think and concentrate to coordinate their bodies through each drill.
Next players go through specific movement skills where they move large muscle groups through slow, linear movements and progress toward faster, more dynamic multidirectional movements that require more thought. My athletes begin by walking up on their toes to wake up the calf muscles and ankles. Exercises move up the body until each muscle group has been worked. Add straight line movements, and then progress through angled patterns, lateral movement, and crossovers before advancing to multidirectional agility drills. This adds quick feet, stop and starts and reactive demands.
Finish with whole body strength exercises to help link the body together, activate muscles from toes to fingertips, and sequence the muscles in the order they will need to fire for shooting and body checking. It is valuable to step on the ice feeling strong and durable. Exercises could include wide body weight squats, standing partner stick pushes, standing stick pulls and standing partner ward offs. Initiate each rep from the legs and follow through with the upper body, engaging the trunk so the core is ready to be strong.
Coaches and athletes are encouraged to develop a dynamic warm up and use it before a practice to determine its effectiveness. A dynamic warm up routine gives players the confidence to jump into a game with a winning attitude.
Peter Twist, 11-year NHL Conditioning Coach, is now President of Twist Conditioning Inc., a company that provides franchised Sport Conditioning Centres, hockey training products and home study coach education. Check out www.sportconditioning.com