Should goalies be training differently than players? They're different athletes right?
Questions about training goalies vs players is something we hear all the time - and as we kickstart our series on goalie training, it's a great place to start.
For starters, I think that one of the reasons goalies have these questions is that while there's tons of information on training for hockey out there today - it's almost all focused on the demands of players. There are very few high-quality off-ice training resources for goaltenders available online from coaches who have played the position, coached goaltenders (both on and off the ice), and have a science-based background in Strength and Conditioning.
The goal of this article and our series on off-ice training for goalies (links at the bottom of this article) is to create a go-to resource for goaltenders who want to make sure they are training in the best way to specifically enhance their performance in the crease.
Before we get too deep into looking at the differences between training for goalies versus players, it's important to understand that the majority of off-ice training for goalies will look the same as for the players.
Why? Well one of our primary goals as Strength & Conditioning Coaches is to ensure that we are helping athletes develop the athletic base & physical prerequisites that they can then build skill/positional requirements on top of.
When we strip away the contextual position-specific needs - we see a lot of similar requirements that players and goalies needed to be successful. For example both goalies and skaters need to have the base levels of conditioning to be performed under the with the interval-based conditioning demands of hockey. Both goalies and players have intervals of intense demands whether it's a 30-45 second period where the puck is the offensive zone for a goalie or a typical shift for a player. They're not always identical demands, but stripping away context - we can see fairly similar energy system needs.
There are various examples of these similarities including having strong core stability, emphasis on the lower body strength, the need to powerfully change direction, and the agility/athleticism to react quickly to the sport.
While the demands on goalies are similar to players (and elite athletes in general) there are a few differences worth noting. In this article, we'll explore some specific demands that goalies can be training to enhance their performance in the crease.
Goalie Specific Focus #1: Mobility
This is likely the most obvious.
Goalies absolutely require extra mobility, not only to make those classic desperation stretch saves but also for the routine butterfly, VH, reverse VH and other various positions.
Goalies should actually start with the same stretch routines we'd give players to restore proper posture and function around key joints (hip flexor, t-spine, hip abduction, etc) - but this should be considered the bare minimum.
While our Goalie Training Series includes an entire article on Mobility for Goalies with a variety of specific exercise recommendations, most goalies have (hopefully) already adopted some sort of stretching routine for their groin and adductor muscles.
This is a great start, and obviously significant for goalies - but what's often missing is a focus on internal hip rotation. Internal hip rotation (knee rotated inwards, foot turned outward) allows goalies to effortlessly drop into a wide butterfly, seal the post and perform powerfully, pushes into saves without losing the seal of the ice. While both players & goalies should be spending a good amount of time focusing on their hips, the internal hip rotation has significant carryover to goalies specifically, helping goalies maintain almost all positions on the ice, along with avoiding compensating at other joints to get into these positions.
In general, mobility (and specifically hip internal rotation/abduction) should be considered an essential focus for goalies.
Goalie Specific Focus #2: Strength at Low Angles
One aspect that is often overlooked in most goalie's training, is strength at more extreme ranges of motion.
Mobility is great, and there is no denying its importance, but simply having mobility without having stability and strength in these extreme ranges of motion won't carry over to performance and is often a precursor for injury. In addition to this, whenever a goalie is down in a butterfly or nearly any position on the ice, they have to generate force in a variety of unique hip positions that are at the end range of motion.
Goalies need to be able to control these end range of motions more than any other athlete, and focusing on training strength & control, should be a significant focus for goalies off-ice.
Making sure you can achieve full depth and be stable at the bottom of a squat, ensuring you can control a low cossack squat, or completing active flow drills such as a 90/90 hip flow are great tools to train control and strengthen the end ranges of motion.
It's important that we don't neglect training in different ranges of motion off the ice if we want to control them on the ice.
Goalie Specific Focus #3: Lateral and Diagonal Power
While both goalies & players are often put through the same plyometric and athleticism drills, goalies should be placing an extra emphasis on off-ice drills that enhance lateral movement.
While players have more linear power demands, nearly all of a goalie's power demands are expressed laterally. Increasing "crease speed" is often a result of becoming more powerful and proficient in expressing power with each lateral push. Building on this, goalies should also focus on training power diagonally as cross-crease pushes are rarely strictly left to right, but rather include a pivot, and then a push slightly forward or backward.
Training to be powered off of a single leg, regardless of the angle, should be an essential training focus for goalies. While any good off-ice program will challenge a variety of athletic movements, this is one area where we can make things more "goalie-specific."
Goalie Specific Focus #4: Relative Strength & Body Composition
Both goalies and skaters need to have a great deal of strength to be successful on the ice.
Goalies however have an extra emphasis on strength relative to their bodyweight. This is because the primary physical requirements of goaltending involve moving your body as explosively as possible. Whether it's moving as quickly as possible throughout the crease or rapidly getting up and down from a butterfly position - the level of strength-to-bodyweight is significant to performance for goalies.
Let's explore this. For example, a goaltender who is 175 pounds and has a maximum squat of 315 lbs (1.8x bodyweight) is much more relatively strong than a goalie that weighs 215lbs and squats 350 lbs (1.6x bodyweight). While these are just "gym numbers," when we consider the requirement to move your body as explosively as possible - the first goalie is going to have a considerable advantage when it comes to moving their weight.
While goalies might have been misattributed to being the "chunky & out of shape" kid in the past - it's tough to find a truly elite goaltender who isn't lean and strong. This doesn't mean there isn't a place for larger goalies - but the argument for goalies staying lean & healthy is worthwhile.
While getting strong will go a long way for a goalie's performance, moving around the crease with a "spare tire" will quickly counteract that. Focusing on sound nutrition and staying lean should be an emphasis for all goalies.
So, while it's often a question if goalies should differently than players, hopefully this article shines a light onto a couple of special areas that goalies can focus differentiating their training from players.
As we mentioned, off-ice training should be largely the same for all athletes, but anytime that we can add positional-specific contexts to a program - we can really take it to the next level.
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.