I asked NHL athletic therapist Jon Geller to answer a question I often get asked, “what are the best exercises for hockey players?” Here is his response.
The Best Exercises for Hockey Players
Guest post by Maple Leafs athletic therapist Jon Geller
Sorry, I tricked you. Well not really, but just in the way you think. Let me elaborate. I have been extremely fortunate over the past seven years to have worked for two of the proudest franchises, and largest hockey markets in the NHL. I am a Certified Athletic Therapist and Strength & Conditioning Specialist. I am also certified by the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) as a Youth Conditioning Specialist. Presently, I am the Assistant Athletic Therapist for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I get asked all the time: what is the best exercise for young hockey players? How can my kid get a faster shot? What’s the best way to work on speed? What’s the best way for my child to add muscle? My answer to usually all of those questions is the same: make sure your child isn’t playing hockey year-‐round, and get them involved in different sports. Simple, isn’t it? Hopefully, the rest of this article will shed light on exactly what I mean by that. From the time that I have begun working in professional hockey, the average age of the players in the NHL has dropped. The speed and sheer strength of the players has also increased. Every summer during development camp, we welcome a host of new, young players into the organization. What’s more impressive then their size, speed, and strength, is their history of injuries to date. The competition, and pressure to get on the top teams in minor hockey causes most to think that they should be playing hockey year-‐round and taking part in summer training programs. This combination is a recipe for overuse injuries and burn out. Hockey is a sport that requires, amongst many things, anaerobic power (short burst explosiveness), agility, vision, balance, flexibility, strength, and power. We can break each of those aspects out, and be as scientific as possible in terms of specific training programs, or we can allow children to simply play other sports during their off-‐season. Allowing your children to participate in other sports during the off-‐season will provide numerous benefits. It will first of all let them get out of the cold, dark arena. It will expose them, and you the parent, to a different group of friends. It will get them outside (depending on the sport) in the sun during the summer. It will force them to practice particular skills for the sport they are participating in, which will, in turn, help them with hockey. Most importantly, though, having time off from hockey will make them look forward to the start of their next season.
To expand on my last point, every sport has key attributes that are unique to that sport. I will provide a few examples of how different sports can have great carry-‐over to hockey. Baseball requires concentration, hand-‐eye coordination, and the ability to generate power to hit the ball. To throw a baseball, one needs to possess good vision, tracking, accuracy, shoulder flexibility and strength, as well as the ability to generate power to throw the ball with high velocity. In order to catch a ball, one would need good speed, agility, vision, tracking, and hand-‐eye coordination. Soccer requires speed, endurance, agility, vision, coordination, balance, and power.
Professional soccer players, aside from the goalie, can run up to 10 kilometers during a 90-‐minute match. Your child will not even realize that they are running that much because they’re having so much fun. Without giving all the technical biomechanics, generating force/power to kick a soccer ball, is the same way we would generate force to take a slap shot. Same exact concept for throwing a ball. Get the idea? I used to think having strong arms and chest would help me have a harder shot, and although it certainly may play a small factor, it definitely is not the most important. Martial arts require discipline, balance, flexibility, and power. Performing a high-‐kick would require one to balance and stabilize on one leg, while generating force from the ground, up, and transferring through their core, while powerfully kicking with the other leg. Again, we can correlate this mechanism with skating. Before placing your child in a structure weight training program, please ask yourself the following question: has my child mastered fundamental movements? Can they roll, crawl, squat, balance on a narrow base, walk, run, skip, shuffle, hop, leap, bound, throw, and catch? If the answer to any of those is no, most structured weight training programs will not address these, and further, place fitness on top of a poor foundation of movement – placing unnecessary stress on their bodies. This is why, I believe, we see the impressive resume of injuries we do from young athletes entering professional hockey. All of the above-‐mentioned attributes are vital for hockey. The best part about these is that your child won’t even realize they’re working on them, and I can guarantee that they won’t achieve the same results by working in the gym. Above all, let your child enjoy their time away from hockey by doing the things they love, with the ones they love.
Jon Geller is Assistant Athletic Therapist for the Toronto Maple Leafs and has worked with the Hamilton Bulldogs and Montreal Canadiens.
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