Whether you're playing in a men's league or playing professionally, hockey has an intense amount of repeated postures and positions that almost always lead to a number of muscle tightnesses and dysfunctions.
While a well-structured Strength & Conditioning program should aim at correcting imbalances and returning balance to the body - extra stretch work from 10-15 minutes a day can go a long way for hockey players. Whether it's after practice, before bed, or watching highlights, if you're serious about your performance and staying healthy, then creating a mobility/stretching routine is essential.
This article breaks down the 5 of our most recommended stretches for hockey players to build into their daily routine.
Essential Hockey Player Stretch #1: Couch Stretch
If we were to pick just one stretch for hockey players, this would likely be it.
Everytime a player walks in the gym, we almost always hear "my hips are tight today." Tight hips are the most common compliant from hockey players, and justifibly so. Hockey players spend almost all of their time expressing force in a flexed & low hip position and then take a break by sitting on a bench in another flexed hip position. Spending extensive time in these positions undoubtedly result in chronically tight hip flexors and typically spillover into overly tight quadricep muscles as well.
This stretch aims to "open up" those hip flexors and quads and can be done either actively (flexing towards to the end range) or be held for extended periods of time 60-120 seconds to get the muscles to really relax and release.
Essential Hockey Player Stretch #2: 90/90 Stretch
Complimenting on the couch stretch, we use various versions of the "90/90 stretch" almost daily with hockey players.
This versatile stretch attacks mobility in-terms of both internal and external rotation at the hips and really allows you to lean into wherever is causing the most tightness. Often players will cramp in the upper glutes during this stretch - which is completely normal. This is usually followed by a release of the associated muscles, so while it might be uncomfortable up front - it pays a lot of divdends.
As seen in the video, it's important to setup in a position that creates two 90 degree angles with your knees, and keeping your back knee behind your shoulder. You can then target different area by leaning your chest down to your knee or foot (or anywhere in between). Players should hangout here for at least 10 seconds and repeat 4-5 times in each position, or focus on longer holds of 30-60 seconds.
Both 90/90 variations and the Couch Stretch should be considered essential exercises for hockey players to begin to restore proper hip function.
Essential Hockey Player Stretch #3: Laying T Pec Stretch
Again, because hockey players spend so much time in a low-forward shifted position, we typically also see mobility limitations and dysfunctions in the upper back and shoulders. This is a result of that classic forward rounded shoulder position.
The Laying-T Pec Stretch is a good place to start in order begin to restore proper posture in the shoulders. Also all hockey players have chronically rounded right over at the shoulders and often complain of pain when reaching overhead or clicking in the shoulders. While this can be attributed to a few different muscle tightnesses, a lot of these can be addressed in stretching the pecs.
The goal is to feel this stretch all the way through your chest and into your shoulders. Hand placement can also be shifted higher to emphasis more stretch through the front of the shoulders. Players can use this either actively (pushing up & holding for 4-5 seconds) or more passively (hold for 20s).
A common alternative to these is mimics this movement in a door frame or squat rack, but this stretch makes it easily to specifically get into those pecs.
Essential Hockey Player Stretch #4: Hockey Stick T-spine Extension
This is another essential stretch/exercise designed to fight against that forward rounded posture that hockey players build up.
This drill specifically focuses on reclaiming mobility and stretching the various back muscles that limit thoracic (upper back) extentsion. This is one of our most recommended exercises for hockey players as it creates a ton of release (and relief) in the upper back.
This can easily be done at home (with a hockey stick or broom) and some sort of bench/table/chair. The goal is to create as much range in the upper back as possible while pulling back on the arms and shoulders and really sink into that bottom position.
Essential Hockey Player Stretch #5: Wall Ankle Stretch
We have discussed the importance of ankle mobility for hockey players in depth (HERE), however many hockey players could spend more time actually working on this one. Being locked in a rigid boot all season, hockey players often build up movement restrictions in their ankles.
The wall ankle stretch with the toe up on the wall/rack/boards is an easy way to get some more mobility at the ankles and can be done pretty much anywhere.
Not only will this exercise help increase range of motion in the ankles, but it'll also contribute to healthier function up the kinetic chain and can allow players to find lower positions both off-ice and on the ice, even showing to enhance skating mechanics.
In Conclusion: When and How to Stretch?
For the most part stretching after exercise is the most beneficial time as the muscles are already warm and "pliable". This is why post-workout/practice/game is the ideal time for focusing on mobility.
Saying that, you shouldn't only limit mobility/stretch work to those times, and a lot of elite players make it the habit to stretch before bed or on off-days.
Should you do static stretches before hockey? This is an often contested question. It's been demonstrated (Source 1) that static stretching done in a warm up does not impair performance as long as it is done in combination with a dynamic warm up protocol. Additionally the stretches above are intended to improve performance as they will allow us to restore posture and improve range of motion. A dynamic type warm up should be the focus pre-exercise but don’t hesitate to throw in a static stretch if you have one or two really tight areas.
How long should I stretch for? This comes back to whether this pre-game or post-game/off-day. If stretching during a warm-up, than research has shown that shorter (10-20 second) durations are better (Source 2). However, if you're looking for the optimal protocol for stretching away from game-day, than research has shown that longer durations (up to 2 minutes) may be more effective (Source 3) when the main goal is to increase muscle length. Saying this, there is still plenty of variability within the research on optimal stretching duration and total daily stretch time may be a more important factor for increasing flexibility (Source 4).
Regardless of the protocols, it's important that all hockey players from Peewee to Pro have some sort of stretching routine to make sure that they're performing optimally and maintaining peak health.
These stretching guidelines and 5 big stretches are a great tool to add to your daily routine to keep your body moving a little smoother and keep you healthy for many seasons to come.
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