It was October 2006 outside the Kings locker room at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Anze Kopitar was kicking a soccer ball around with Lubomir Visnovski two hours before a hockey game and I looked at them and thought to myself, “this is another old school hockey culture that just doesn’t work.” Fast-forward over a decade and I promise you, veteran NHL players are still kicking soccer balls, warming up on bikes, and rubbing icy hot on every muscle of their lower body. The young players though – the players who are changing the game with flawless strides, perfect edges, and durability that closely mimics iron, well they are warming up differently. They are kinetically in tune with their bodies and warm up with purpose, precision, and passion. Your skill will bring scouts to a game. This article will keep them from leaving.
The single most neglected hip muscle in the body Is the glute medius. This small muscle is responsible for externally rotating the hip and more importantly, stabilizing the knee. Lateral mini-band walks with the band around your lower leg are a great first exercise to activate this muscle. It is crucial to place the band well below the knee versus above the knee. If you place the band above the knee, you are activating the TFL which is just an abductor. Because each individual hockey stride ultimately ends up in external rotation, our goal is to reduce the workload of your TFL by enlisting the activation of your glute medius. Additionally, as your progress laterally, maintain tension on the band through both the right and left strides. This will ensure you are activating one leg concentrically (explosively) and the other leg eccentrically (decelerative).
Secondly, it is my professional opinion that perfect walking lunges with tempo is the best way to activate the unilateral concentric/eccentric relationship of the quadriceps and hamstrings. By incorporating tempo, you also prepare your body to produce and dissipate lactic acid biproducts before the game even begins. You do not want your first shift to be the first time your body feels lactic acid. We’re not just waking up muscles. We’re waking up energy systems as well. Place your hands on your waist, keep your chest proud, and perform twenty yards of walking lunges. Be sure to touch your back knee to the ground each step. This will ensure you are not over-stepping, hyperextending your back, or overextending your hip. Lastly, to finish the movement completely, try your best to achieve full knee extension between each lunge in the standing position.
Now that your hips, quads, hamstrings, and energy systems have been activated, we can ramp up the intensity and incorporate some moderate injury mechanisms. Single leg deceleration happens to be a leader in most non-contact knee injuries. Skater hops promote single leg deceleration in the skating motion by replicating the skating stride with single leg external rotation. When landing, “become one with the earth.” Land softly, giving the floor energy and taking energy from the floor at the same rate. Allow your calf, hamstrings, glutes, and quads to absorb the forces and distribute the energy away from your joints. Be mindful and focus every stride. Skater hops are extremely beneficial for injury prevention.
Feeding off the momentum build-up, you can now progress to a more intense plyometric – the broad jump. At Stadium Performance we like to call these Perfect Landings. That is your true focus. To accomplish this, you will place your feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees to about 45 degrees, and explode forward. Your goal is to land on your entire foot – not just your toes. By landing on your toes, you distribute energy straight to your anterior knee. That is very bad. Alternatively, land on your heel, midfoot, and toe evenly. As with the skater hops, be one with the earth. Accept the energy and land softly but do not ever let your bum drop below your knees – ever. If the angle of the knee exceeds 90 degrees, you dramatically increase your chances of suffering an ACL injury. This warm-up drill focusses on concentric hamstring and eccentric glute and quadriceps strength which are the key components to lower body injury prevention.
Lastly, I think the most ignored warm-up component is they fast twitch activation. Remember, you have slow twitch, fast twitch, and fast twitch/endurance muscle fibers. You need to activate every muscle fiber in your body if you anticipate playing up to your maximum potential during any given game. Fire feet for your calves, wall cadences for your hip flexors and glutes, and lateral agility drills for change of direction and endurance to tie it all in.
Remember, lack of preparation will affect your performance, but more importantly, it will affect your team’s outcome. That is unacceptable.