Core training is typically an area where all hockey players/goalies do the same exercises.
This isn't necessarily wrong, while we promote individualized training as much as possible, the principles and methods used to develop a strong core are pretty much the same for hockey goalies, players, and athletes in general.
Despite saying this, there are adjustments that goalies can make in order to optimize their training to make it more "goalie specific." In this article we'll explore some of these adjustment and how goalies can train their core to specifically enhance their performance in the crease.
Before diving too deep on how to make core training specific for goalies, it'd be helpful to read our article "Core Training for Hockey Players" that explains our philosophy and approach to core training, and the principles discussed are much the same in this article. To summarize quickly, creating stability and control of the torso, regardless of body position/physical demands should be the fundamental focus of all core exercises.
Understanding this concept, we can begin to see the value of core training for goalies, where it's vital to maintain the position of their torso when keeping as square to the puck as possible, regardless of the position of the limbs. This creates the demand that the muscles of the core are strong enough and properly activated, as they are the key link between the upper and lower body.
While Coaches/Players often focus on core strength for the obvious carryover to making big hits, staying strong on the puck, or shooting - core strength & control might be one of the most under-emphasized physical attributes for goalies.
In this article we'll explore core exercises specifically for goalies to use in their workouts or at home.
Core Exercises #1: Half Kneeling & Tall Kneeling Exercises
The Half-Kneeling (one knee down) and tall kneeling (both knees down) are two great positions to help develop a strong core in the gym. While core exercises in this position are beneficial for all athletes, goalies may want to add extra emphasis on these exercises as there's a high carryover to the variety goalie-specific "down positions" that goalies spend a lot of time in.
Because doing any upper body movement (presses, rows, etc.) in this position requires the extra core activation, training in these positions is extremely valuable for goalies. Even when the focus of the exercise (such as a Half Kneeling Shoulder Press) may be gaining shoulder/upper body push strength, they also serve as core training so they are a great 2 for 1.
Here is a great example of a row done in this position that also creates a considerable core challenge:
Although this Half Kneeling Lat Pull Down isn't specifically a core exercise, the half-kneeling position creates an extra core demand that carries over to a variety of goalie positions.
Furthermore, we can exaggerate the demands of the core muscles in this position through core-specific exercises such as a Pallof Press or Cable Chops. Pallof presses are one of my favorite anti-rotation exercises, and when done in a half-kneel can teach a goalie the necessary core activation to keep their torso centered and stable over their lower body while in a slightly unstable position.
This Pallof Press is the perfect example of goalie-specific core exercise.
Tall or half-kneeling chops are great rotation-based exercise and are far superior to the classic Russian Twist that many people use for “Rotational Strength”. When we rotate, we want this movement to come from our upper torso (thoracic spine) instead of the lower torso (lumbar spine). The chop is a great way to teach this, as the lower torso is cued to stay braced as the hips should stay facing forward. Learning this braced lower torso position is essential for goalies.
The Half Kneeling Cable Chop is a great core exercise for goalies to train "rotational strength."
Learning the control of both of these mechanics is extremely valuable for goalies who are forced to make quick rotations of the torso to square up to pucks as the shoulders lead the motion. Learning to generate this movement from the upper torso and maintain core stability will make your movements more efficient, and keep your spine healthy for many more games to come.
Core Exercises #2: Bird Dog/Activated Bird Dog
We discussed the importance of the bird dog in the previous article on core training, and it is one of the movements that everyone should be doing regardless of position. The bird dog is one of the big 3 exercises recommended by Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the leaders in back health research and rehabilitation.
The activated bird dog is a progression of this exercise that makes it a little more challenging once the basic version is mastered. I cue athletes to imagine they have a bowl of soup on their back that they are trying not to spill, in order to keep their hips still.
While this exercise isn't a classic "strength" exercise, challenging trunk control and stability (especially in the low back) is essential for goalies looking to enhance their performance.
Here is a demonstration of the two versions of a bird dog, regardless of the version you use - performing with slow control is essential.
Core Exercise #3:Ab Wheel
The Ab Wheel is a phenomenal tool for goalies to target their core through anti-extension work.
This exercise is great for goalies because it is typically done starting from a kneeling position and the goal is to maintain the neutral trunk/spine position while returning to this position after extending. Being able to lock down the ribs and maintain a neutral spine are important skills for everyone to develop for spinal health, and general performance, however, they have a few key carryovers for goalies.
First of all, although the goal is to always stay in an ideal position, during unpredictable, scramble type plays the reality is that goalies will be forced out of this perfect position. The stronger your core, the easier it will be for you to maintain, and return to that ideal position.
Goalies can also benefit from keeping the ribs locked in place as avoiding getting overextended at the core will help maintain a tight position without pucks slipping through the body. Overall, this ab exercise has a ton of value for goalies enhancing the ability to control their trunk and their ab strength.
Exercises #4: Adductor Side Plank/Copenhagen Iso-Hold
This one is so important for both core stability and groin health for goalies.
Although the adductors (inner thigh and groin) are the primary muscles involved in this exercise, I still consider it a core exercise as it forces goalies to maintain a rigid midsection to connect the lower and upper body.
Furthermore goalies tend to spend a ton of time stretching these adductor muscles without ever considering ways to strengthen them, which often results in the classic groin strain. With this simple exercise we can not only challenge the core as an entire unit but also strengthen the adductors to help protect this muscle group.
This "Coppenhagen Iso Hold" is a high-level exercises goalies can use to enhance both core and adductor strength. Goalies should start with 10-15s and add more time each week.
Although your standard core exercises are probably sufficient for developing a base level of core strength for goalies, adding these goalie-specific core exercises to your program can help you enhance the strength you specifically need in the crease.
If you're looking for ways to take your goalie training to the next level, we've created a comprehensive article series exploring different elements of off-ice training for goalies here:
Kyle is a Hockey Performance Specialist who’s worked with hundreds of hockey players from Peewee to Pro. A former elite hockey player, Kyle earned his degree in Kinesiology before becoming a Strength Coach that specializes in hockey performance. Today, he runs Relentless Hockey where he works with players across the world, including pros in over 20+ leagues including the NHL, KHL, and OHL.