Core is king for hockey players.
We constantly iterate the importance of a strong core for hockey players, and for good reason. Having a “strong core” is the prerequisite to creating a strong stable trunk, which is foundational to so many movements on-ice. Whether it’s fighting off a check, winning a corner battle, shooting, or even skating – core strength is one of the most important physical attributes for hockey players.
Most hockey players understand this and love doing extra core work. And while any heavy lift or unilateral exercise creates an intense core activation that could potentially be justified as "enough" core work – the importance of trunk stability for hockey justifies players adding additional isolation exercises that specifically challenge the core.
While there’s hundred of good core exercises, it seems that hockey players default to one common choice – the Russian twist.
The Russian Twist is not only one of the most overrated exercises, but it's also one of the exercises that’s performed the most poorly – even by players who know what they’re doing in the gym. For reference, to perform the Russian Twist you sit back into a “V-Sit” with your feet off the ground and take a weight from one side to another. In theory it’s an OKAY exercise – that challenges the ab muscles isometrically while loading the obliques.
This is a popular exercise among hockey players because it’s easy to “feel the burn”, but often breaks down poor and sloppy form. For hockey players, the V-Sit position often leads to stressing the hip flexors while the upright posture often breaks down to a rounded spine. This rounded back is a position we typically want to avoid and not a position we want to train in. Furthermore, the “rotational” element of the Russian Twist isn’t actually training the beneficial rotation movement that translations to shot power. This movement requires hip rotation, a braced core, and a thoracic rotation. Instead, the Russian Twist creates a lumbar rotation that typically just results in spinal shearing – which as it sounds, is not a good thing.
So to avoid stress on players spine and train the core, obliques, and the muscles associated with rotation – we’ve banned Russian Twists. Instead, we give players 4-5 alternative exercises that actually train that rotational-based objective. This should be mixed with other core exercises that challenge anti-extension or flexion like found in this article here.
Here’s a few alternatives that are 10x better than Russian Twists:
1) Pallof Press
This is the perfect exercise for targeting the muscles associated with rotation. This is an “anti-rotation” exercise that challenges trunk stability and specifically fires up the abs/obliques and muscles associated with rotation. This exercise alone is 10x more valuable for hockey players than Russian Twists.
2) Half Kneeling Cable Chop
This exercise build on the Palloff press by actually creating a rotational movement. This activation pattern is similar to the slapshot in that it requires a braced core and some rotation in the upper back.
3) Rotational Med Ball Throw
This exercise is likely the most transferable rotation based exercise for hockey players. While the Palloff Press/Cable Chop focus on isolating the core muscles, this exercise trains the kinetic chain associated with shooting. This challenges the hip rotation and core activation pattern that specifically translates to shooting.
These are just three alternatives to the Russian Twist that hockey players should consider. Hopefully this article will make you think about changing up your core training and consider banning Russian Twists.
If this was helpful or you’d like more core exercises – swing over to the @RelentlessHockey.ca Instagram and leave us a comment!
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.