Thursday, April 5, 2012

Off Ice Training for Performance, Part I: Correcting Muscle Imbalances and Reducing Injuries

As the sport of hockey grows at all ages and ability levels, there has been an increased focus on training outside of the rink. The reasons for off ice training can range from injury prevention to performance enhancement. As a strength and conditioning professional my job is to listen to my client; assess their movements; pinpoint strengths, weaknesses, and muscle imbalances; and develop a structured, program to meet all the needs and demands of that hockey player.

From my experience, the first, and in my opinion the most important area that must be addressed is to correct muscle imbalances. I won’t forget the first time I met Brooke Whitney, the founder and owner of 3sneaks health and sport (check out her company
here). I knew that Brooke was a terrific hockey player, and I was interested to speak to her about her company. But as she walked toward me, I first focused on her rounded upper back, and tight hips (an odd first impression, but an occupational hazard). Years of holding a stick in front of her body had lengthened the muscles of her upper back, and caused shortening in the muscles of her chest.  Skating and bending over at the waist to puck handle shortened and tightened the muscles responsible for hip flexion, and lengthened the muscles in the posterior region of her body (gluteus maximus, hamstrings).

Why should correcting muscle imbalance be part of off-ice training? A great question! First, improving muscle balance can prevent injuries. However, most people are usually more interested in achieving performance enhancement. A muscle that is too long or short is unable to maximize its potential force (length tension relationship). Force creates power, and we all want to improve the ability to produce power and perform better on the ice, whether in our legs or upper body (the definition and discussions of power and force are for another post).

So how is this improvement accomplished? The answer lies in an off ice training program centered on weight training and flexibility exercises to increase mobility in the affected joints, and to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint for stability. Through a proper progression, the muscle imbalances can be corrected, and the correct length tension relationship can be reestablished, leading to more efficient, powerful movements on the ice and better performance. Stay tuned to future posts for exercises to accomplish this goal.

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