Apart from the fact that good strength training programs and proprioception exercises limit the risk of injuries in sports, the importance of a good warm-up before a game is primordial to increase performance and prevent injuries. Every sport should include a routine specifically related to movements performed during the physical activity. It has been shown that there is a strong correlation between muscular temperature and developed power. There would be a 4 % increase in muscle power for with each increase of one degree Celsius in the muscles. In short, if the body is well warmed up and prepared, the athlete’s performance is increased and the risks of injury are diminished.
Therefore, what should the activation of a hockey player be like?
Here are five stages that should be contained in every good pre-game warm-up to optimize the performance of the player.
- Soft tissue preparation (5 minutes): The purpose of this first stage is to reduce sticking at the fascia levels with auto-massaging technique utilizing a foam roller, a lacrosse ball or any other tools which can be used to increase mobility and muscle flexibility.
- General warm-up (5 minutes): The goal here is to gradually increase muscle temperature and cardiac frequency by performing low intensity exercises such as jogging, a ball game (classic hockey player ritual with a soccer ball) or any type of walking lunges.
- Activation (10 minutes): At this stage, the objective is to increase the intensity to 70-90 % of maximum effort in order to speed up the neuro-muscular system. It is in this part that we include dynamic and ballistic movements. For example, butt kicks, high knees, carioca, leg swings, dynamic lunges with rotation and other exercises of the sort can be performed.
- Integration of hockey-specific movements (5 minutes): In this part, we want to activate the muscles and increase the mobility of joints solicited in hockey such as the hips (flexors, tensor of the fascia latae, adductors), the legs (quadriceps), the core (abdominal muscles) as well as the back (thoracic mobility, posterior chain).
- Neural activation (5 minutes): In this last stage we want to finish with maximum intensity to increase the nervous system stimulation in order to improve speed. This is the best moment to incorporate 20-metre sprints and plyometric jumps.
Finally, a warm-up should last on average between 20 and 30 minutes and should be done 45-60 minutes before hitting the ice.
Is it necessary to stretch before or after physical activity?
It is still difficult today to prove that stretching exercises prevent the risk of muscle injuries if it is done prior to the activity, and several studies disagree on the subject and opt for contradictory answers. What it is important to remember is that you should never static stretch a muscle; this method will increase the risk of injuries and reduce the performance. Therefore, we ask ourselves: is stretching necessary? It depends on your objective. If you want to increase your mobility and be more flexible at a greater range of motion, then you will are wasting your time stretching the muscles statically. To benefit in flexibility with static stretching, you would have to put the muscle under tension for more than 6-8 hours a week, and the results would only be temporary! Therefore, you should consider other techniques that take into account other anatomical structures in addition to muscles such as yoga, fascia therapy or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). In physiotherapy, we often use these methods to help our athletes increase their mobility after an injury, but also to prevent muscle imbalance. It is also important to mention that the stretching protocol after training and after a hockey game should not be the same. We should always concentrate on the muscular groups which were solicited during the effort. To maintain mobility and flexibility, stretching sessions should last about 20 minutes after the physical activity (cool down).
Here are some tips to optimize your flexibility
- Synchronize breathing and movement: The mechanical action of inhaling and exhaling works synchronously with your nervous system, which influences your heart rate and blood pressure. Consequently, the way you breathe will help greatly to reduce muscle tension.
- Tune your nervous system on. The way you should stretch after the activity or before a game or training session is very different (ex: dynamic and ballistic versus static).
- Follow a logical anatomical order. Begin with the place which requires most attention and time (in ice hockey, the muscles most at risk are unquestionably the adductors and hip-flexors, constantly solicited in the movement of skating).
- Increase range of motion without any pain. The famous saying «no pain, no gain» is not recommended to be applied during stretching exercises. If you have pain or spasms, the muscle will protect itself by contracting and not by softening to become more flexible.
- Stretch the fascia and not only the muscles, work in chain!
- Make sure to stretch the same muscle under different angles to target all the muscular fibers.
- Use traction during stretching exercises (we recommend you to watch Kelly Starrlett’s Youtube videos on this matter)
In summary, a good warm-up can certainly reduce risk of injury, but it is essential to arrive at your hockey game well prepared. Muscle power, flexibility, proprioception, agility, mental preparation and general health are all decisive factors in the prevention of injuries and these are mainly developed off the ice. Thus, you should also focus on your off-ice in order to improve your performance on the ice.
For more information on the subject, we strongly recommend the following books:
- Anatomy Trains by Tom Myers
- Strech to win by Ann and Chris Frederick
- Science of Flexibility by MICHEAL J.ALTER
Sébastien Lagrange M.sc
Strength & conditioning Coach
Marie Michelle Rousseau, MSc pht
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