Hockey Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Hockey stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with hockey injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published October 7, 2007 | Updated August 12, 2017
The origin of hockey dates back 4000 years with two primary forms of hockey being ice hockey and field hockey. Modern field hockey appeared in the mid-18th century in England.
Two teams compete and maneuver a ball into the opponent’s goal using a hockey stick. Field hockey may be played on gravel, natural grass or artificial turf. Ice hockey can be played indoors or outdoors, substituting a puck for a ball. Field hockey is played worldwide while ice hockey is mostly popular in the colder climes. Modern hockey sticks are J-shaped and are made of wood, fiberglass or carbon fiber.
Ice hockey has been an Olympic sport since 1924. There are six ice-skated players per side on the ice at any time. Teams are made up of five players and one goaltender per side. A game is made up of three periods, each lasting twenty minutes.
In the U.S., popularity is concentrated in the Northeast, the Midwest and Alaska. In Canada too, the game enjoys immense popularity. Hockey is the national winter sport of Canada.
Hockey relies heavily on both upper and lower body musculoskeletal anatomy, as well aerobic and cardiovascular endurance. Among the most critical muscles used in both field and ice hockey are:
- Abdominal muscles
- Oblique muscles
- Erector spinae muscles and associated back muscles
- Hip extensors including the gluteal and hamstring muscles
- Hip flexors and quadriceps muscles
Muscles of the core are particularly critical for hockey. Core muscles include the abdominal muscles (such as the rectus abdominus and more importantly, the transverse abdominus), and the internal and external oblique muscles. A strengthened core permits greater power, increasing speed and precision, reducing the risk of injury. The hockey slap shot for example requires the contraction of core muscles, which assist in stabilizing the body. The slap shot follow-through also requires force largely generated in the core musculature.
Calf muscles are essential to support and stabilize the ice skater, while quadriceps and gluteal muscles, particularly the gluteus maximus are relied on for skating power. Large muscles in the legs generate enormous power for the hockey player but must be supplied with large amounts of oxygen when they are being worked. The gluteus maximus, critical in forceful skating, is the largest muscle in the body, used to extend the leg at the hip. Muscular growth or hypertrophy results from this muscle being extensively worked by the athlete.
Quadriceps muscles in the thighs also play an important role in skating. Their action is to extend the knee as well as acting to hold the knee in a static flexed position. Muscles of the inner and outer thigh act to adduct the leg, moving it away from the body’s center, during the pushing phase of the skater’s stride. The inner thigh muscles are used in abduction – pulling the leg inward during the recovery portion of the stride.
Among upper body muscles, the anterior and middle deltoids and biceps muscles are the most heavily used.
Most Common Hockey Injuries
Hockey players are prone to a variety of overuse injuries due to movement inherent in the game, as well as assorted acute or traumatic injuries. Back muscle strain or back ligament sprain, groin strains, hip flexor strain, adductor strain, and tendonitis of the hip, pelvis, and groin; hip, knee or shoulder injury, wrist, hand and finger injuries, head and neck injuries including concussion and assorted contusions are all commonplace.
Hockey is a dynamic, fast-paced and aggressive sport, involving frequent collisions. Players are vulnerable to injury from high-impact impact with other players, boundary walls and goal posts. Additional risk of traumatic injury comes from possible impact with skate blades, hockey sticks, balls or pucks – some traveling more than 100 MPH. The most common injuries include:
- Lacerations (cuts) to the head, scalp, and face.
- Contusions, which may occur in the upper or lower body.
- Neck and spine injuries.
- Knee injuries, particularly sprains to the medial collateral and capsular ligaments.
- Shoulder injuries, including acromioclavicular, or AC joint separation, (also known as a separated shoulder) as well as shoulder dislocation.
- Gamekeeper’s thumb, resulting from the tearing of the ulnar collateral ligament.
- Fractures of the hand and wrist.
- Concussion, ranging from mild to severe and involving brief to extended periods of unconsciousness.
- Skate bite – a friction injury produced by the tough leather of the skate boot pressing on the tendon in front of the ankle.
Injuries to the shoulder joint (as a result of checking with the body of another player or hockey stick) occur frequently in the game. The shoulder joint is composed of the humeral head and the glenoid fossa of the scapula. This highly mobile joint is relatively exposed, making it highly vulnerable to injury. Subluxation of the shoulder occurs when the humeral head slips out of joint, occasionally causing temporary paralysis. Fractures of the clavicle are also a common affliction, requiring proper medical attention.
Injury Prevention Strategies
The aggressive and fluid nature of hockey leaves players vulnerable to an assortment of sudden injuries due to accidents on the ice. While these are difficult to prevent, other injuries may be reduced with proper conditioning, attention to correct technique, protective gear, etc. Strengthening and stretching programs will help reduce the incidence of strains, sprains, muscle tearing and a range of overuse injuries.
The following safety points should be strictly adhered to:
- Always warm-up properly (including practice skating) prior to play.
- Allow an adequate cool-down period and perform after-game stretching.
- Always use helmets and face shields. They have been shown to reduce the incidence of head and facial injuries.
- Inspection of the ice surface for obstructions or damaged areas, as well as the goal area should be carried out prior to play.
The Top 3 Hockey Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for hockey; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Reaching Lateral Side Stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, then slowly bend to the side and reach over the top of your head with your hand. Do not bend forward.
Kneeling Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
Kneeling Heel-down Achilles Stretch: Kneel on one foot and place your body weight over your knee. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward.
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.