Muscle imbalance in hockey players contributes to back pain.

Many hockey players come to the Revolution gym and ask for exercises to strengthen their back because it gets fatigued and sore as the game goes on.  Occasionally there are some athletes who actually have weak back extensors, but more often than not this discomfort is related to muscle imbalances.  Muscle imbalance in hockey players may also result in sore or tight hips. 

The most common muscle imbalance in hockey players is tightness in the hip flexors.  Hip flexors are the muscles in the front of the hip you can see them in action if you stand tall and lift your foot off the floor bringing your knee up in front of your body.  Understand that there are two hip flexors which have slightly different actions, so you will see two exercise variations below to help address this muscle imbalance.

Playing hockey contributes to tight hips, but so does being a student and working in a seated position.  If the majority of our day is spent with our hips in a flexed (bent) position, then those muscles will adapt to take on a shortened position as the norm. 

Here is a little review of the anatomy, one of the hip flexors attaches just below the knee and to the front of the hip bone.  The other hip flexor attaches to the thigh and the anterior aspect of the lumbar spine.  So if the hip flexors are tight the athlete’s lower back is pulled into some hyperextension.  Compound that extension with the skating stride where you are trying to take your hip into even more extension as you stride.  This pulls the hockey player into even more low back hyperextension. 

Most hockey players prefer a flat or slightly rounded lower back position as they skate.  So now the muscle imbalance can create a tug-of-war between the hips and the lower back?  This tug-of-war creates your feelings of discomfort in the most vulnerable link.  I want to make sure you understand that this is not just about your back feeling tired or your hips feeling tight.  Without doing something to improve muscle imbalances in hockey players, you are just waiting for your next injury to occur.

To improve your hip flexibility there are two very easy stretches to do.  Make sure you do both because they target the two different hip flexors in a specific way.

Half Kneeling Hip Flexor

  • Kneel on one knee with the other foot flat on the floor in front of your body (the front knee should be bent to 90 degrees, not more).
  • Stay tall in your torso; do not lean forward at the hips as this will negate the stretch.
  • Maintain your tall torso position and push your hips forward while tucking your butt underneath a little bit.  If you have trouble feeling the stretch, try flexing the muscles in your butt. 
  • You should feel this stretch in the front of your hip.
  • You may add a sidebend to increase the stretch slightly.  If your left knee is on the floor then try sidebending your torso to the right.

Hip Flexor & Quad

  • Set up exactly as described above.
  • If your left knee is on the floor, you will reach back and grab your left ankle with your left hand and bring your heel up toward your butt (just like you are doing a quadriceps stretch).
  • Maintain your tall torso position.
  • You will feel this more in the front of your thigh.

Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and complete two repetitions on each side.  Make sure you do both variations of this stretch, they target different areas.  Incorporate these two flexibility exercises into your daily training and reduce some of your muscle imbalances.  This small investment of time will help improve your skating stride and reduce the stress on your hip and lower back.