The Worst Hockey Goalie Exercises Ever.

Let me start by saying that I hate to call any exercise a ‘bad’ exercise, so it was a little tough for me to title this post “The Worst Hockey Goalie Exercises Ever”.  But I always want to be upfront with you and make sure that things are not open for misinterpretation, so I am going to tell you what I feel, what I believe are the worst hockey goalie exercises based on my knowledge and experience.

Maybe you have seen some of them maybe you have even done some of them.  If you currently use some of these hockey goalie exercises please do not send me an email telling me how much you love doing them and how you have done them for the past 843 days without any problem, blah, blah, blah…that is fine, I am glad you are happy, we can still be friends.

Okay so now let’s look at the worst hockey goalie exercises ever…

Knee Extension/Hamstring Curl

I lumped these two together because they are typically set up right next to one another in the local fitness club and together I think they deserve top spot as the worst hockey goalie exercises ever.  Some physio friends of mine hate this exercise because of the compressive loads it puts on the patellofemoral joint.  They have a great point; I worked with more than one athlete in the sport med clinic who gave him or herself a raging case of patellofemoral pain syndrome by doing heavy reps of this exercise.

But I have also used this exercise successfully to help athletes recover their quadriceps function following surgery.  Some athletes will not be able to flex their quads after surgery due to a reflex inhibition and it can take a little bit to jump-start that motor pathway.  At very light loads (5-10lbs) the knee extension can do the trick.

The reason I have put these two on the list of worst hockey goalie exercises is that they do not use your quadriceps or your hamstrings in any manner of recruitment that resembles how they are used in real life.  Muscles do not work in isolation about single joints; they work as part of a system.  When you make a kick save, do you only straighten your knee or do you also flex your hip and engage your abdominals.

Can you give me one example of a real life movement where you straighten your knee without also executing flexion or extension at the hip or ankle?

I am sorry to rain on your parade here; I used to love this exercise too.  You know how when you extend your knee, your quads flex and the downward pressure from the weight makes your thigh flatten out a bit, so your legs look really big and strong – quick someone take a picture!

Given that the body adapts to what we teach it to do, these isolated strengthening exercises build strength in an individual link in the chain, but neglect the strength and coordination of the other links in the chain.  Can you see where this can create a problem over time?  In running, jumping, skating, pushing, walking, bicycling…you get the idea…the hips and quads work together, so let’s train them that way.

Leg Press

This exercise not only makes the list of the worst hockey goalie exercises ever, but I actually do think this is a bad exercise for pretty much everyoneAgain, if you are in physio for an injury and this is part of your rehab, then I am okay with that.  It is a stepping-stone to help get you back.  Just like you don’t want to go around chewing on Codeine tablets day in and day out, but if you just had your wisdom teeth out yesterday a limited dose may be exactly what you need.

Here is why it is a bad exercise to include in your hockey goalie training routine…it is an excellent way to strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.

How can that be a bad thing?  Isn’t that why we go to the gym?

Well if you were a professional leg presser or maybe even a bodybuilder this may be just fine, but you are neither one of those, you are a hockey goalie and you need to actually move your entire body around the ice, not just the lower part.

Warning: Anatomy Lesson in …3…2…1…please remember that the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps all attach to the pelvis.  Your spine is also attached to the pelvis via the sacrum.  So if I have developed exceptionally strong glutes, quads and hamstrings in a position that does not put a corresponding overload on the muscles that support the spine, you are now exerting (or trying to exert) forces with your legs that the core cannot stabilize.

If the torso/pelvis is not stabilized while those legs are driving with all their leg press glory, it is like building a skyscraper on a spongy foundation.  You are going to get little cracks at first (in hockey we call them tweaks), and then they will get bigger (this is what we call strains) and finally – WHAM an injury big enough to get your attention.

The argument I get from athletes who love the leg press is that they can leg press twice the amount they can squat….because their back gets tired squatting.  Well then lighten the weight on the squats (which by the way would make my list of the best hockey goalie exercises), do them with perfect form and build up from there.  I will bet there are lots of you out there who can leg press 300lbs but you cannot do one single leg squat with just body weight – not ONE.  That should make you think about the effectiveness of the leg press.

Abduction/Adduction Machine

This is one of the most frustrating ones on the worst goalie training exercises list for me because goalies who use this exercise are actually trying to do the right thing.  They want to avoid groin injuries so they want to strengthen their groins and when you walk through a health club, the only piece of equipment that has the groins highlighted is that one where you sit down and pull your legs together.

So first of all you have to wait for all the ladies who are trying to get into bikini shape before their trip to Dominican for spring break to finish with it.  Then you have to take the stink-eye from all the meatheads in the gym because they think you are some sort of creeper hanging out on the groin machine.  But you do this because you are trying to do the right thing.

Well, great news for you.  You don’t have to do it anymore!  Just like all other goalie training exercises I have highlighted on in this post, that machine does not use your adductors (groins) the way you use them on the ice.  Your groins do not move your hips like a fixed pivot; your groins need to move your hips more like a universal joint.  You are also not always working both legs symmetrically.  Some times you are stabilizing with one joint while lengthening the other under tension.

My alternative exercise for this one is to use the cable column and ankle cuff (if you gym does not have an ankle cuff, then get a new gym) with the cable set at the bottom of the column.  You will do only one leg at a time, so one is stabilizing while the other is moving (sound familiar?).  You may not realize that you have more than one adductor.  Oh oh…another anatomy lesson in …3…2…1… so with the standing cable adduction you can alternate bringing the heel of your working leg to the toe of your stabilizing leg and then the toes of your working leg to the heel of your stabilizing leg to get more of your adductor muscles working through their different ranges.

Standing on a Ball

I think there are a few things in life that should be a free ticket to stomp on someone’s toe as hard as you can without any repercussion.  I actually usually think you should able to punch them right in the nose, but I am trying to come across as a calm, gentle soul – is it working?

Anyway, let me give you a few examples of when a free pass should be issued.  When a two lane road narrows to one lane with about ¾ mile of warning signs at the side of the road, yet the person in the Mercedes Benz beside you (the lane that is ending) insists on driving straight ahead and simply squeezing into your lane without signaling nor offering the insincere ‘wave’ in the rear view mirror which indicates “thanks for letting me in – even though I was fully prepared to run you off the road” – you should instantly get a free pass.

When someone goes into the express lane at the grocery store with 24 items…free pass.

Okay, I think you have the idea, (but feel free to add the situations where you think a free pass should be issued in the comments section below) so here is how this free pass system relates to the worst goalie training exercises ever.  If you see a strength and conditioning coach include any sort of stability ball standing in a goalie-training program, I hereby give you a free pass to stomp their toe (please don’t actually stomp the toe – just think it).

Not only is this poor training it is negligent PERIOD.  Ball standing does not train balance the way you use in on the ice, the way you use it in any sport other than maybe alpine ski racing.  Think of any goalie you have seen on TV training by standing on a stability ball.  They are either standing in a ready position or they are squatting from a neutral stance.

Let me ask you – do you really have any trouble keeping your balance in your ready position?  Really?  I hope not – if you do then you sure as heck shouldn’t be standing on a stability ball.

The other thing the stability ball teaches you not to do is shift your weight. So when I see players doing rotational movement on the ball, such as rotational med ball passes – a movement that should be used to train power and weight transfer – I cringe because it is teaching the player the exactly wrong movement pattern.

Finally, have you ever seen someone fall off the stability ball and land squarely on their tailbone?  Again, this one does not pass the risk: reward ratio test.  There are hundreds of ways to challenge your balance that are much safer – balance boards, dynadiscs, airex pads, BOSU trainers, take your pick.  They may not look as cool, but they are equally or more effective hockey goalie exercises without the risk.

Crunches/Sit Ups/Incline Board Sit Ups

I am pretty sure you have all heard me go on and on about a guy named Dr. Stuart McGill and the great research he does on spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo.  It is because of Dr. McGill that crunches ended up on the list of worst goalie training exercises.

Dr. McGill’s research on actual spines has found disc herniations to be overuse injuries resulting from repeated spinal flexion (think crunching motion).  Then I think about the crunch, sit up and incline board sit up and ask my self, does that really look like anything I see a hockey goalie do?

If I were writing this article for international spy and assassin Jason Bourne, I would probably include the incline board sit-ups because he never knows when he will be captured and hung by his feet in a dark room.  Well then he will need that flexion strength so he can reach up and untie his feet before opening a can of whoopa$$ on his captures….but you my friend – you are not Jason Bourne.  Sorry.

In addition to the repeated flexion inflicted by crunches and the shearing forces brought on by sit-ups and the non-functional movement pattern, there are simply better ways to train your abdominals.  Even if you want a six pack (which incidentally has more to do with what you eat than how many times you crunch), there are better ways.

Start with planks, side planks, stability ball stir the pot, cable Pallof Press (anti-rotation press), stability ball roll out, heck even dig out the ‘ab wheel’ you bought in 1977.  All of those are tough on your abdominals, work them as a part of a muscle system and put less strain on your back.

Russian Twists

One of the most renowned physiotherapists in the world Shirley Sahrmann says that most rotation of the spine should come from the thoracic spine (the part of your spine between your shoulder blades), not the lumbar spine.  I believe her (strike ONE).  The muscles that rotate the lumbar spine are not meant to generate force; they are designed to stabilize force.

Add to that the fact that 93% of the athletes or gym rats I see doing Russian Twists are doing them with their lower back rounded (strike TWO) and it was a no brainer to include this as one of the worst hockey goalie exercises.

Add to that the fact that you do this exercise sitting on your butt (strike THREE) – I hope you are not sitting on your butt trying to play the puck very often.

Most of the rotary power you need for playing the puck, batting, throwing, etc. comes from your legs and hips.  The torso translates that force from the legs and hips through the torso to the upper extremities – that is the job of the torso.  Do your rotary power exercises in standing where you can use your big hip drivers – that is where your power comes from.

Jumping On/Off Boxes with your goalie pads on

There are some awful hockey goalie exercises that are also funny as anything – – I really wonder if these trainers are trying to be funny when they come up with this stuff like the video Steve Carell did for on-ice goalie training (Google: Hockey Goalie Comedy – Steve Carell to see the video – it is hilarious).

First of all, just because you are wearing your goalie pads, this does not magically transform any exercise into a hockey goalie exercise.  Secondly, you are going to kill yourself jumping off a 24” box onto a BOSU with your gear on.  Thirdly, there are no boxes on the ice that you will need to jump onto with your gear – you do not get points for that, so never mind.

To be clear, box jumping and plyometric training is a great way to build power in the legs that you can then use when you play on the ice.  You just do not need to wear your pads.

I think it is okay to wear your pads in the living room and do some recovery work from kneeling to the ready position – I think a low volume of that a couple times each week when you are watching your favorite goalie on TV can have some value.  But don’t wear them for your speed and power work.  Don’t wear them to school either for that matter.

Spin Kick to Heavy Bag

I saw this in another video someone sent me of ‘cutting edge’ goalie training exercises.   This kid did about seven jumping spin kicks to a heavy bag as part of his goalie training.  Unless he is playing net in a MMA fight, I think a goalie is okay without a wicked spin kick in his arsenal.  That is just silly.

Tire Flipping

Tire flipping is another one that has gained some traction (no pun intended J) as it transitioned from the world of strongman training into different trainers’ toolboxes of goalie training exercises.

I think this is a great one for strongman training – after all the postures they lift from and the loads they lift are far beyond what is anatomically acceptable for most of us.  They are exceptional in their lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling ability – truly amazing.  But take those exercises and superimpose them on an athlete who does not have vertebrae the size of baseballs and there may be a problem.

Again, I think tire flipping is fun, it looks cool and it certainly is fatiguing.  The problem is the tire.  The size of the tire and the position required to get a grip underneath the tire has the athlete lifting from a compromised position.  It is very difficult to get the butt down and keep the chest up to more or less deadlift it because your knees are hitting the tire.

So the athlete has to bend forward at the hips more and keep the butt up in the air requiring the load to be lifted using the hamstrings, glutes (which is fine) and back extensors (not so great) from a flexed position.

Then there is also the problem of what happens when a flip is missed and a 130 – 200lbs tire comes falling back at you.  Sounding like a broken record now, but risk: reward?  Want to get good at lifting heavy things off the ground do hex bar deadlift.

Because I dislike your choice of hockey goalie exercises, does not mean I don’t like you.

So, there you have my list of the worst goalie training exercises ever.  Please keep in mind that my criteria for what makes a great hockey goalie exercise may be different than your criteria for what makes a great hockey goalie exercise.  You may love an exercise because it is hard or you just love jumping around with your goalie gear on.  I chose exercises based on what will improve your performance on the ice while reducing the risk of injury over time.  That difference in perspective may lead us to like/dislike different hockey goalie exercises, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.