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Gary Roberts Performance
November 27, 2023
As much as we love to play a fun game of 2-touch or spike ball before a practice or game, that can't be all you do before jumping on the ice. If you want to have a long and successful hockey career, it's time to take your pre-game/practice warm-up more seriously.
A hockey game is a fast, hard-hitting, competitive environment. You can't be yawning and sluggish when the game starts, or you'll be the last player to every loose puck.
If you're a hockey coach reading this article, we hope you see the value and start incorporating a team warm-up into everything you do. Not only will it decrease the risk of injury - keeping your best players on the ice and contributing to team success - but it will also help them to develop a winning habit.
**Before we dive in any further - We all know stories of NHL players who would sip a coffee, sit in the hot tub, and do a few jumping jacks before going out to dominate hockey games. It can happen, but it's the exception to the rule, not the norm. Don't model your habits as a hockey player after them.
Why Do A Hockey Warm-Up
Before players hit the ice, they need to prepare their bodies for the intense physical activity that lies ahead. It doesn't matter if you're an NHL player, minor hockey player, or men's league warrior; doing a warm-up is a must in our books!
Hockey is known for its quick direction changes, explosive movements, and heavy reliance on specific muscle groups. A proper warm-up not only helps prevent injuries but also enhances performance. Here's why hockey warm-ups are crucial:
Increase Blood Flow
A good warm-up gets the blood flowing, delivering oxygen and nutrients to muscles. This increased circulation helps muscles perform optimally once the puck drops.
When you engage in a warm-up, your heart rate increases, leading to a greater volume of blood being pumped throughout your body. This oxygen-rich blood is vital for muscles as it fuels them, allowing them to generate energy efficiently. In hockey, where bursts of speed and power are required, well-oxygenated muscles are essential.
Along with oxygen, blood carries essential nutrients like glucose, which is a primary source of energy for muscles. The warm-up phase ensures that these nutrients are delivered to the muscles on time, helping to sustain performance during the game.
A proper warm-up also increases your body temperature. This rise in temperature makes the tissue more pliable and less prone to injury. It also facilitates better enzyme activity, improving muscular contractions -we'll talk about more about this down below - and overall performance.
Put simply, the increased blood flow achieved through a hockey warm-up serves as the body's way of preparing for the demands of the game.
Range of Motion
Remember that Happy Gilmore scene with Happy and Chubbs when he tells him, "it's all in the hips"?
Well, Chubbs was right!
Hockey players need a wide range of motion in their hips, knees, and shoulders. If you're tight on the ice, it can feel like you're trying to skate with straight legs; you just aren't going to be moving anywhere.
Warm-up exercises can help improve flexibility, allowing you to get down into the proper ranges.
Activate Your Muscles
Do you know that terrible feeling when you step on the ice and realize that you have no legs? It doesn't matter what your hockey coaches or teammates say to motivate you; you feel flat as a pancake.
Well, a warm-up can help to avoid that feeling!
As your muscles warm up and receive more blood, they become activated. This means they're waking up and getting ready to contract, which is when they shorten and create movement. Think of it like a spring-loaded toy: when you wind it up, it stores energy, and when you let it go, it springs into action.
Your muscles are full of tiny fibers that contract when they receive signals from your brain. During the warm-up, these fibers start getting those signals and preparing to do their job. It's like your brain sends a message to your muscles, saying, "Get ready to go!"
Skipping out on your warm-up means that the first part of the game is spent trying to wake the body up and activate your muscles. We'll get into specific activation exercises that we would suggest before hopping on the ice.
We've touched mostly on the physical benefits of warm-ups so far, but the mental side is often underrated!
A general warm-up gives players time to focus mentally, visualize their game plan, and get into the right mindset for success before they actually hop on the ice to play.
Visualization is a powerful mental technique where players mentally rehearse actions and scenarios. During warm-ups, players can use visualization to picture themselves successfully executing plays, scoring goals, or making crucial saves. This mental rehearsal can enhance muscle memory and boost confidence.
Warm-ups are also a great time for teams to come together before practice or games. A unified team is often more mentally resilient and better prepared to battle on the ice.
Warm-ups play a significant role in preventing injuries in ice hockey. When you perform warm-up exercises, your muscles, tendons, and ligaments become more flexible. This flexibility is super important because it allows your body to move more easily and smoothly during the game, making injuries less likely.
Reducing Groin Strains
Groin strains are a common issue for hockey players due to the sport’s high demand for lateral movements. Warming up can help prevent this type of injury by stretching and strengthening the muscles in your groin area. So, before you even think about stepping onto the ice, make sure you've spent some time loosening up those muscles.
Protecting Against Shoulder Injuries
Hockey players are also susceptible to shoulder injuries. The repetitive motion of shooting and passing can put a lot of strain on your shoulders. Luckily, warm-ups can help here too! Warm-up exercises targeting the shoulder muscles can increase their strength and flexibility, providing them with the resilience they need for those powerful shots on goal.
Taking the time to properly warm up before a hockey game or practice session is a smart move for any hockey player. Spending time on your warm-up saves you time on injury recovery!
Now that we've highlighted the WHY behind warm-ups, let's delve into the specifics. We've broken down how the players warm up at our facility and included some time suggestions.
The Ideal Hockey Warm-Up
A well-rounded hockey warm-up includes a combination of general warm-up exercises and sport-specific drills. We start with stationary movement and progress into more dynamic and complex options.
Here's a step-by-step guide to a comprehensive hockey warm-up. We've also included some videos that you can watch to understand the movements better. The idea is to flow from one section to the next. You shouldn't need to rest during the warm-up.
Soft Tissue Release
There is some debate on the effectiveness of foam rolling for performance, but many of our junior and NHL players enjoy it, so we always start with a bit of soft tissue release.
If you're traveling to play and worried about space, toss a lacrosse ball in your toiletry bag. It takes up no room at all and can be used to release your feet, hips, chest, and upper back.
General Warm-Up (3-5 mins)
Start with some light exercise to elevate your heart rate. You can incorporate light skipping, jumping jacks, a few minutes on an exercise bike, or even a few games of two-touch.
Joint Mobilization (2-4 minutes)
You don't need to work through a full mobility routine, but focusing on a few key areas like the hips, t spine, feet, and ankles can make a big difference.
Activation (2-4 minutes)
The next part of our warm-up focuses on activation. This segment is focused on making sure everything is firing at the right time. We'd suggest a glute bridge option, plank position option, push-up option, and some sort of Blackburn. If you're unsure what to do here, ask your strength coaches for some input on what would help you the most.
Dynamic Stretching (4-6 minutes)
When players warm up, this is often the only part they do. The teams you've played on probably have some sort of dynamic stretching before games, and it's usually pretty sad to watch.
The key to making the most of this section is quality movement and intent. Try incorporating a series of single variations for balance and control. Make sure your arms and legs are moving through the full range of motion on every exercise. Our three favorites are lunges (in all directions), single-leg Romanian deadlifts, and inchworms.
Acceleration Drills (4-6 minutes)
Acceleration drills are what you would typically see on a track. Find a 10-15 meter long area - it can be a rink hallway or space beside the boards - and run through a series of A-skips, B-skips, high knees, lateral shuffle, carioca, and single leg bound and stick drills. Start at a low intensity and gradually build up. We like to close it out with some fast feet drills and quick sprints to make sure the body is awake.
Band & Bodyweight Circuit (5-7 minutes)
We wouldn't suggest this before a game, but a quick pre-practice bodyweight circuit is a great way to get some training in during a busy part of the season without affecting your game. We know it's tough to train and develop in-season, so taking advantage of these mini sessions.
Perform exercises like push-ups, rows, and band straight arm rotations to activate your core and upper body muscles. We'd limit the lower body exercise pre-skate to save the legs.
Low-Intensity Skating / Stride Work (3-5 minutes)
If you have a bit of time on the ice before your coaches get out there, we'd suggest some stride work. Use a few minutes to warm up your legs and fine-tune your skating. Practice shifting weight from one leg to the other, using your edges and feeling fluid. It's probably a better use of your time than flipping the puck around.
A well-structured hockey warm-up routine is essential for hockey players to perform at their best while reducing the risk of injury. Whether you're a coach or a player, incorporating these warm-up exercises and drills into your routine can make a significant difference in your game. Remember, a proper warm-up not only gets your body ready for action but also sets the stage for a fun and successful time on the ice. So, lace up your skates, get your body ready, and hit the ice with confidence!