Improving your flexibility so front squats don’t kill your wrists

Before I give you the flexibility exercises that will let hockey players do a front squat without snapping their wrists in half, I am wondering your thoughts on the 3 game suspension for Nazem Kadri.

Personally, I think his forearm did get a little enthusiastic with his fall into Backstrom.  I also think if he had not smashed the other guy later in the game that it probably would have only been 1-2 games.  It makes me a little nervous to see Naz playing like that because I think eventually someone is going to smash him.

Great to see him playing with an edge, but I think his value is as a skill player, rather than a tough guy.  It has been many years since I was Nazem’s trainer (he was just getting into his OHL career) but it seems like if he keeps playing like a tough guy, that sooner or later a tough guy is going to take exception.

What do you think would have happened if he did that in Boston for example?

Okay – flexibility for front squats….

In order to do a proper front squat every hockey player must be able to keep his or her upper arm parallel to the floor throughout the range of motion.  The bar rests on the front of your shoulder; you are not holding it in your hands.

If you are limited in how much load you can managed based on pain in your wrists this is a sure sign that something is wrong with either your understanding of the technique or your mobility.

I explained the technique in some detail here, with a video, so if you are not 100% sure your technique is perfect, then read this article on the Basics Of Front Squatting first.

So that takes care of the basic technique, now let’s look at mobility issues.   You need a couple of things, you need thoracic spine extension and you need flexibility in your lats.  If you cannot lift your arms, then you are not going to be able to get into the position.  If your upper back is rounded over, you are not going to be able to get into the position – those are the two areas we look at first anyway and addressing them clears up about 90% of the difficulty.

If you cannot see the video above, simply click the link below…

Why hockey players have stiff thoracic spines…

These thoracic spine mobility drills are good for all hockey players because your sport makes you biased toward thoracic spine stiffness.  Think about it, holding your stick on the ice puts you in a flexed position.  Yes, you get low in the hips and that lets you keep your torso a little more upright to see what is going on, but you still spend a lot of time flexed forward.

The Easy One…

So here is a really easy thoracic spine extension exercise that you should probably do every day.

  • Grab and hand towel – – if you are a young hockey player, go ask your Mom what a ‘hand towel’ is.  If you are a beer league player… phone your Mom and ask her what a ‘hand towel’ is.
  • Roll the hand towel to make a roll that is about 10-12 inches wide.
  • Place the towel across your mid back, so perpendicular to the line of your spine.  Position it so it runs across your shoulder blades when you lie face up on the towel.
  • Your knees will be bent with your feet flat on the floor.
  • As you reach overhead with your arms, gently extend just your upper back over the towel roll.  It will barely feel like you are doing anything at all.
  • Try to limit the movement to just your upper back, rather than your lower back.
  • Do 5-10 and then move either up or down a little bit – still staying within the boundaries of your shoulder blades
  • And repeat for 5-10 more reps.

If you shoot left or right, you need this one…

That was a joke – every one shoots either left or right – ha ha – get it.  Anyway, just trying to make sure you are paying attention.

Now we are going to work into some rotation, this one will probably shock you – some of you will have all kinds of movement one way and very little the other way.  We won’t likely get it symmetrical, nor are we really trying too, but we will get you moving a little better to your stiff side.

Quadruped T-Spine Rotation

  • Take a hands and knees kneeling position – protract your shoulder blades a bit
  • Place your right hand beside your right ear.
  • Rotate your elbow, shoulders and chest to the right, following along with your head
  • Do NOT force the movement at all – just go to the initial onset of resistance.
  • Do 15 reps to your right and 10 reps to your left – yes, that is asymmetrical, but just trust me on it please.

Lat Stretch

Make sure you breath on this one – big, deep, chest and belly filling breaths!

  • Reach with your hands palm down
  • Sit back with your hips and bring your chest down toward the floor.  You can put your hands up on a low step or foam roll to get more stretch.
  • Breath deeply as you stretch
  • Turn your hands up after 30 seconds.

Active Lat Stretch

This one takes a little concentration – so take your time.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor
  • Hold a foam roll or shoe box or yoga block or something between your forearms – you can do it without the box, but the idea is to keep your forearms parallel to one another – do not let the elbows flare outward.
  • Maintain a neutral lower back position – not too much arch, not to much flexion, just right
  • Reach your arms overhead, stopping when you feel the temptation to extend (arch) your lower back or lift your rib cage.
  • Hold this position and take 3 big breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Reposition and go again – do 5 x 3 breaths.

Daily Practice

Pick one thoracic spine mobility and one lat stretch to do each day – the next day do the other two and that will help you improve your mobility for front squats.

Still Can’t Do It…

If you STILL cannot do it or just need to ‘cheat’ a little until you can, here’s what to do – no it is not the cross hand technique – get a pair of lifting straps, most gyms have a few pair lying around, if not, they cost about 10 bucks.

If you cannot see the video in the player above, simply click the link below…

Put the lifting straps on the bar – so feed the long end through the loop end and snug it onto the bar.

Grab the straps as they hang down from the bar – like you are reaching out to shake hands.

Hold the straps with a good grip and as you drive your elbows under the bar you will see that the straps rotate with you and allow you to get the bar in the right position without tearing off your wrists.

I am okay with athletes using this in the short-term, but then I want them to start doing one set without straps and the rest with straps, then we slowly transition away from them altogether.

Hope that helps – remember, if you cannot get into the proper position for any exercise, then you do not do that exercise until you can.  Make sense?


Hockey training blueprint