The Ultimate Warm Up for Hockey Players
Hockey players have some of the most intense physical demands of any athlete.
Unlike other sports that ramp up in intensity or can allow players to “get into the game” – as soon as the puck drops, hockey players need to be at maximum intensity. A “slow start” or not being mentally and physically prepared can absolutely ruin a game.
And that’s why elite hockey players put such a premium on warm-ups and priming the body for performance before they even step on the ice.
And while most of the NHL and pro players we work with spend 30+ minutes preparing their body – we’ll often step into a rink to watch youth hockey and see players doing a couple of leg swings and lunges and heading back to the dressing room.
There’s a big gap in how youth, and even junior, players are warming up versus the pros.
And that’s why we wanted to write this article.
The goal here is to give players and coaches the exact formula that they can use to prime their body for performance, reduce injury risk, and be prepared to dominate from the first shift.
So let’s dive in!
The Sport Science-Based Warm-Up Protocol
When it comes to hockey training, a lot of players and coaches have “their way” of doing things.
Even in the NHL, there’s a lot of variation between players, teams, and strength coaches.
The truth is – this is because there’s not just one way to do things, and warm-ups are no different.
While players and coaches can use different modalities, generally the structure/protocol across high level players/coaches is the same – it's the R.A.M.P. protocol.
A couple years back sport science researchers set out to create the perfect warm up protocol that would allow athletes to prep their body for maximal performance with maximal efficiency (1).
They came to the conclusion that the modalities (type of movements) didn’t matter – but found a protocol that combined the 4 primary components that prepped the body the most. This included:
- Raising your temperature;
- Activating your muscles;
- Mobilizing your joints;
- Potentiating your nervous system.
As long as you choose exercises that achieve this – sports scientists suggest that your body is primed for performance and your body will be ready for puck drop.
We’re going to break this down further so that you can understand the objective of each component along with getting the best exercises for hockey players specifically to prepare their bodies for the ice.
Step 1: Raise Your Temperature
The “R” in RAMP is pretty self explanatory – you need to raise your temperature (2).
We like to say this means that you should do some sort of movement until you have a light sweat on.
For most players/teams this is jogging at the rink. We like to take this to the next level by doing the following:
- 20 yard jog and back;
- 20 yard jog and back;
- 10 yard shuffle with arm swing and jog back;
- 10 yards shuffle with arm swing the other way and jog back.
By the end of this, players are not only starting to break a light sweat, but they’re also starting to move more athletically than just going for a jog.
If players are warming up on their own, we also often recommend skipping rope to not only raise their temperature but also get the mind warmed up and create the mind-body connection.
Some players/teams even use quick feet exercises here, and that works too. We really just want to encourage players to get that sweat going before moving to the next section.
Step 2: Activate Your Muscles
In our activation phase, we’re getting a bit more specific.
Here we want to do at least 3-5 exercises that are going to “wake up” our muscles.
These exercises serve two purposes: 1) create blood flow to the muscles, and 2) activate the muscles from a nervous system perspective.
While most warm-up you’ve seen have likely seen some variation of this. Often we’ll see youth players or junior players with poor warm-up habits go through a handful of haphazard lunges and move on.
Instead our hockey players treat this section like a short workout.
This is why we encourage them to have a red band and a mini-band in their hockey bag. We have them go through a short band/bodyweight circuit that leaves their body ready to perform. Let’s break this into a banded and a bodyweight version:
Mini-Band Monster Walks
Mini-Band Side Steps
Alternating Bodyweight Reverse Lunges
Single Leg RDL
Banded Pull Aparts
3 Move Yoga Push Ups
Single Leg RDL to Lateral Bound
Yoga Push Ups to Up Dog
Regardless of a player using bands or bodyweight – we really want intentional exercises where players are getting dialed in, activated, physically awake, and ready to express some strength and power.
Player’s will often say it feels like their body has come alive and is awake and ready for work after this.
Step 1: Mobilize Your Joints
This is the section that most hockey players and coaches think of when we talk warm ups.
This is where we’re mobilizing our body and creating a range of motion across different joints.
These are not static stretches designed to increase flexibility.
Research has repeatedly shown that dynamic exercises are far more effective than static stretches before a workout of competition (3). In fact, some studies have even shown that static stretching can decrease performance ahead of a game.
We like to provide our players with 4-6 exercises for the mobilize section – and then encourage them to revisit “tight spots” with extra exercises. For example, if they have a tight low back that day, they can add some additional hip mobility exercises or a low back mobility exercise like the scorpions.
This is where the warm up should be individualized to the hockey player. If players do a team workout, we’ll typically recommend they go through some of these exercises and then revisit their own individual mobility exercises at the end of warm-up.
At the end of the day it’s your responsibility to get into problem areas or address restrictions.
Here’s what we encourage for all hockey players to mobilize their body pre-game:
Reverse Lunge to Reach
Heel Pull to Side Lunge
Toes Elevated Ankle Gliders
Standing Open the Gate
It’s tough to nail down the exact exercises that are right for you. Sometimes these will vary on the athlete, the space available, or the time allotted.
We’ve included 3 exercises here that players can do moving or on the spot and 3 that they can do against the boards. Here it’s okay to add some variation as long as we’re feeling good after this phase.
More Reading: The Best Mobility Exercises for Hockey Players
Step 1: Potentiate Your Nervous System
This is the step that most hockey players miss.
While they’ll warm up and mobilize their body – they haven’t primed their nervous system for output.
Potentiation: the increase in strength of nerve impulses along pathways which have been used previously, either short-term or long-term.
By adding in some jump/sprint work, we allow the nervous system to practice firing and thus allowing our body to better fire on the ice.
This could be considered a “nervous system warm-up” because we’re not focusing on anything other than generating as much power as possible.
In our case, we love to combine a couple of different jumps.
Pogo Jumps to Sprint
We like this one to fire up our calves. Really try to shoot off from those ankles/calves and then after 3 reps, explode into a sprint for 5-10 yards.
Squat Jumps to Sprint
This moves up the chain and allows us to focus on firing from the glutes in our jumps. Really focus on loading and exploding from the hips – and then again hitting those sprints.
Alternating Lunge Jump to Sprint
This exercise adds some complexity and allows us to load and explode from a single leg. We’re only looking for 4 jumps and then exploding into a short sprint.
We’ve seen NHL players do all sorts of variations here. Sometimes it’s band resisted sprints, sometimes it’s stairs, sometimes it’s all jumps.
Regardless of the type of exercise you choose – we really want to make sure that you’re loading and exploding as much as possible in each rep. It doesn’t take much here, we’re not looking for a power workout – we’re truly just awakening the nervous system and prepping it to express rapid power.
Wrapping It up & a Complete Example Warm Up for Hockey Players
Alright, so we threw a lot at you in this article.
Our goal was to give you the why and how behind a high quality workout so that you can create your own warm ups.
This is important because it’s your responsibility to prepare your body in the best way possible.
For some athletes this means spending extra time on mobility (or a specific area of the body like adding extra hip mobility exercises) while for other athletes need more activation exercises to “feel” awake and ready to go.
The important takeaway from this article is that you should find a way to structure your warm-up around the RAMP protocol, and then custom it to your individual needs.
In the video above, we go over a warm-up that we give a lot of players from youth to pro as a foundational warm-up that they can do at the rink. This will take roughly 8 minutes, takes no space (you can do it on the spot) and hit all of our RAMP protocols.
Hopefully this article will encourage you to take a more serious look at your warm-up.
A lot of successful pros we talk to have created warm-up habits that they’ve had for years if not decades.
It’s not a superstitious thing, although for some it definitely is, it’s because the habits are powerful when it comes to preparation.
They know the exact sequence they need to go through to prepare mentally and physically for the work ahead.
We’d encourage you to put this article into action by creating your own warm-up (or using ours) and then refining it until you have the perfect warm-up for you.
Get dialed in & get after it!
Frequently asked questions about hockey warm ups
How do NHL Players Warm Up?
NHL players are meticulous with their warm-ups.
Most players will play some sort of game like sewer ball or spikeball for 10 minutes before breaking off and doing their own individual warm-ups.
We’ve seen some European teams do a warm-up sequence together, but traditionally warm-ups are individual to the athlete because they have their own habits and needs.
While each player will go through their own sequences, almost all players will have some variation of the RAMP protocol we’ve outlined above. Sometimes the “raise” is on the bike, sometimes it’s running, sometimes it’s even ladder drills. They’ll then do a handful of activation exercises, often with bands. They’ll often spend the most of their time on dynamic movement exercises to mobilize their body, before hitting a couple of jumps or sprints.
One factor we didn’t mention in this article is doing some sort of release work. Whenever we’re around an NHL or pro team, we’ll usually see 80% of players doing some sort of release work before starting their warm-up. Sometimes this is a massage gun, but it’s often just 5 minutes of foam rolling in pain spots or areas they feel restricted.
When Should I Warm Up Before a Hockey Game?
This varies dramatically between levels of hockey players.
We typically recommend doing the warm as close to getting on ice as possible.
Most youth hockey players show up 45-60 minutes before a game. In this time we like them to do their stick or whatever equipment work they need first, then do their warm up, and then put on their gear before pre-game talks.
For Junior/Pros this can vary, but for most players/teams it’s similar – we want to warm up, throw on our gear, and be ready to go.
Should I foam roll before a hockey game?
The research is technically mixed on this.
There’s some research that suggests that foam rolling before a power-based exercise actually reduces output/performance.
Saying this, most of these experiments were done right before performing the test. Meaning an athlete did foam rolling and then immediately performed a test. Because foam rolling or any sort of release work creates a parasympathetic response (the relaxation effect of the nervous system) this makes sense.
Despite this – we actually encourage foam rolling before a game. Just not right before.
Like we mentioned before, we’ve seen this in nearly every pro or NCAA dressing room we’ve been around. It’s usually 5-10 minutes of foam rolling to release tension in problem areas and then getting into warm-up.
Obviously these players are okay with this, but we also feel that the warm-up negates any potential downsides of foam rolling.
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.