Foam Rolling & Active Recovery Workouts for Hockey Players

Recovery is one of the most essential for creating elite performance.

In Part 1 of “Recovery Strategies for Hockey Players” we explored why hockey players need to make recovery a priority if they’re serious about performance. A few simple tactics and practices, can not only help players stay healthy over the course of a season, but also unlock optimal performance for hockey player consistently.

In this article (and part 3-5), we’re starting to look at some of the strategies and practices that players can easily adopt to support y recovery.

We're going to start off with our two most recommended self-care practices: Self-Myofascial Release and Active Recovery Workouts.

We'll typically recommend both practices following a practice/workout/game to allow players to begin to down-regulate and slow into that parasympathetic state.

Both foam rolling, and active recovery workouts also support healthy tissue quality and prevent potential movement restrictions that build up over the course of the season (especially going from intense game to long bus ride!), spending 10 minutes post-game or practice is a game changer in maintaining performance late in the season.

So, let’s dive in.

Foam Rolling for Recovery

I’m a huge fan of foam rolling.

I think that if hockey players spent 10 minutes a day doing some sort of self-myofascial release with a foam roll/lacrosse ball/massage stick, they would have dramatically better tissue quality and less chronic tightness/restrictions. While sometimes trainers can overhype foam rolling (it doesn’t replace therapy or magically cure movement restrictions) – it’s undeniably a valuable tool for recovery.

At the end of almost every in-gym session my athletes will spend between 5-10 minutes doing some of the active release. Whether it be bar rolls, foam rolling, or spending time on a lacrosse ball – we have a lot of anecdotal feedback that player’s feel “refreshed” or “a lot better” after even some of our most intense workouts.

This isn’t strictly anecdotal though, there’s strong research supporting the use of foam rollers. While the effect of foam rolling on tissue quality is worth its own article, for the case of this article – we’ll focus more on the global recovery effect of foam rolling.

Without getting too deep into the science, research shows that foam rolling's relaxation effect is a result of stimulating the pressure receptors that are being “rolled.” Like how a massage causes relaxation, this results in increased vagal activity in the brain. Stimulating the vagal nerve creates a parasympathetic response that ultimately relaxes the body, slows down heart rate, and leads to reduced cortisol and stress hormones.

This response is the reason I’ll often recommend foam rolling before bed to my athletes, and why we traditionally spend extra time rolling out during high-stress phases of the season. This is also why foam rolling is super valuable post-practice, game, or workout. The teams I work with don’t just utilize foam rolling in the gym, but also 5-10 minutes after a skate with the objective to get the body out of that high-stress state and into a relaxed parasympathetic state.

Recovery Protocol:

  • Focus on long “strokes” the entire length of the muscle, the goal isn’t to find “knots” or trigger points but to relax the entire muscle group.  
  • Spend time on the big muscle groups: including quads, hamstrings, lats.  
  • Spend 3-5 minutes per muscle group, with a “one second per inch” pace along the length of the entire muscle.  
  • Take periodic “face checks” to make sure you don’t have a pain face. The goal should be relaxing into the foam roller.  
  • Consciously focus on slow, deep belly breaths – remember the goal is to slow down and relax.

Active Recovery Workouts

Active Recovery workouts can come in two forms, either: a) standalone workout performed on an off day (or earlier in the day); or b) post-practice, as I like to call “warm downs.”

Active Recovery Workouts are typically light workouts that include movement sequences and mobility. With most hockey players, we’ll typically spend about half the time (or less) on activation-based exercises such as mini-band or light resistance work, with the second half (or a majority of the time) spent on mobility-focused exercises aimed at restoring range of motion.

While we’ve found these mini-workouts keep players movement quality high, research has also shown that active recovery sessions improve blood flow and lymph circulation, allowing for better oxygen and nutrient delivery to cells and ultimately faster recovery of damaged tissues.

If you’re serious about performance, you should be serious about integrating active recovery workouts into your schedule. The majority of pros (across all sports) I have come into contact with have a commitment to some sort of active recovery practice.

These are two sample recovery protocols: one as a standalone workout (off-day or pre-practice/game), and the second is a “warm-down” workout. Traditionally the term “cool down” implies a passive stretching and athletes typically take this to mean sitting around chatting with some toe-touches and butterfly stretches mixed in. While I am a fan of the psychosocial element of post-game/practice warm down, these workouts have to be active, intentional, and movement-based.

Recovery Workout Protocol #1: Off-Day Active Recovery Workout

This is a non-gym workout, meaning it can be done at the rink or at home with minimal equipment. For our sake we use bands, but many of these could be easily alternated for bodyweight exercises. This should last between 25-30 minutes.

  • 5 minutes of light aerobic work (running, biking, skipping). With an RPE of 5-6 you should begin to work up a sweat without being out of breath.  
  • Full-warm up – the dynamic warm up you would typically do before a workout.  

Activation Series:  

Mobility Series:  

(Screenshot this save for next practice!)

Recovery Workout Protocol: Active Recovery Warm Downs

This is recommended post-game/practice and should take roughly 10-15 minutes (at least), and should be combined with the foam rolling protocol above.

  • Reverse Lunge with Overhead Reach  
  • Downward Dog Calf Peddles  
  • Heel Pull to Side Lunge (or Cossack Squats)  
  • Squat to Stand  
  • All 4’s – Palm to Sky Shoulder Extension  
  • Side-Lying Windmill  
  • Side-Lying Rotation  
  • Child's Pose Side Pull Lat Stretch  
  • 90/90 Hip Flow

While all these exercises can be found through a quick Youtube/Google search (I’ll eventually link them to videos – bare with me!), player’s can easily create their own series based on their favorite mobility exercises – or better yet, the exercises that are focused to their own individual needs.

Committing to a consistent recovery practice is more impactful than the individual exercises – but hopefully this creates some context of where to start.

For the rest of our Recovery Strategies for Hockey Players series you can find the articles here:

Part 1: Significance of Recovery for Hockey Players

Part 3: Temperate Changes – Using heat and cold for Recovery

Part 4: Meditation and Breathing

Part 5: Supplements and Nutrition

kyle kokotailo hockey training
Coach Kyle

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.‍

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