Off-Ice Goalie Training: How To Stop More Pucks Using The Science Of Stretching

This is going to be a little science-y, a little bit more in depth, because I want you to understand how it works and how you actually become a better goalie.

Like what’s the science behind how our body takes and adapts to a stretched muscle? Why is it that a goalie hits their anaerobic threshold so much faster than a skater and then gets that fatigue really quickly? You know, your teammates bug you, “Oh, you just stand around, how can it be hard?” Sometimes even you’re thinking like, “How am I this tired?” And you guys know I’m the third worst goalie in the world, but even in our shinny on Sunday mornings, when the puck clears the zone, it’s like should I be dizzy right now? Because you’re that tired.

I’m going to take you through the science of why that is and explain to you a bit how that fits into how you design your program. Then it’s up to you. If you want to try to piece it together and experiment on yourself … some of you just play for fun, so you have a couple years to play around and figure and see what’s going to work for you. Some of you don’t have that luxury of time, and so then that’s where I come in and programs like the Shutout Academy, things like that. You can just have me do the heavy lifting for you and just.

…and YEAH – – I know the writing is backwards and “NO” I cannot flip it 😉

If you can’t see the video here you can also click on this link>
The visuals will help A LOT so it’s a good idea to check it out!

We’re going to talk about stretching and mobility today. I think a lot of you, because you email me and you say, “I stretch, but I don’t feel like I’m getting any improvement,” or, “I feel like I get improvement when I stretch at home, I get further,” or, “When I stretch at home I can pretty much do the splits, but when I get on the ice, it’s not there. I can’t do it.”

Or you even have some viewer, “Yeah, you know what, I decided to get really diligent about my flexibility. I started stretching. I stretch five or six days a week.” Even a lot of you will be like, “I took some of what you do and some of what I’ve done before and I put it together myself, but now I find I’m getting more tweaks and more injuries when I stretch more.” So then you think, “Oh well stretching’s bad for me, it makes me get more injured,” which is not true. It’s just that you’re not covering all the bases  and by the end of it we’ll explain why that is.

I want you to think just for a second, what do you think happens when you stretch a muscle? How do you think a muscle gets more flexible? Just in your mind picture what it happening. I bet you a lot of you are picturing sort of a piece of silly putty that you pull, pull, pull, and it gets longer and then it just stays longer because I pulled it. You think of your muscle like taffy. Well your muscle isn’t taffy, which is good because taffy isn’t that springy. Your muscle has really kind of two elements. One is a little bit more of a plastic-type element and the other is more of an elastic-type element. We need to address both of those, and sometimes when we just do static stretching, we address that elastic element but not so much the plastic element.

The other thing I want to mention is that our body just adapts to the demands that we give it. Even if we stretch diligently, which might be 20 minutes 5 days a week, 6 days a week, but then we spend the rest of the day sitting with crappy posture, standing with crappy posture. That is what our body processes and that’s what our body adapts to. It doesn’t say, “Well, you know what, for 20 minutes though this guy or this girl really, really is working on their splits, or really working on their hip internal rotation. Probably we should add some more sarcomeres to that muscle.” No. It’s saying, “You know what, for seven of the waking hours they were in this kind of posture. We don’t actually need those sarcomeres. We can cannibalize some of those and just …” because it costs your body energy to maintaining a sarcomere.


Now you’re looking at me … I can see your glazed looks, like what is this sarcomere of which you speak? I’m going to show you what a sarcomere is. (This part has a visual in the video at the top so check that out to get a better understanding!) Let’s make believe that you can see a muscle fiber. In a muscle fiber there are zed lines. One sarcomere unit is zed line to zed line, and within this sarcomere, there are filaments. There are thin filaments and there are thick filaments.


The thin filaments are called actin, the thick filaments are called myosin. They actually make little cross bridges where they can contact one another. When these little cross bridge heads swivel, the muscle contracts. That is actually how your muscle contracts.

When you have delayed onset muscle soreness, if we did an electron microscope of your muscle fibers, we would see these zed lines kind of streaming. They would kind of be smeary looking after that bout of exercise that left you with a delayed onset muscle soreness. That’s one of the subjective markers of delayed onset muscle soreness. So, anyway. Because there’s a little bit of myofibril disruption. Where we were? We were talking about sitting down.

I want to talk a little more about sitting so that you actually understand, because otherwise you’re going to be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I’m not supposed to sit with shitty posture but I do anyway, so there.”


When I sit … so my hamstrings attach right on the bottom of my bottom, that bony prominence. My ischial tuberosity. And they attach to the top of my shin bone, so they cross my knee. When I flex my knee, I’ve shortened my hamstrings. My hamstrings are in a shortened position. Well, if I sit here with my pelvis in neutral, they’re shortened, it’s just kind of neutral here. But how many of you really sit like this? The majority of us sit with our pelvis tucked underneath, so what have we done? We’ve taken that point and we’ve moved it forward, so we’ve shortened those hamstrings from both sides.

Let’s not even talk about what’s going on with your abdominal muscles, your rectus abdominous, we’re not even going to talk about that. We’re just going to think about your hamstrings. They’re chronically in a shortened position, so again, your body just knows, “Hey, yes, 7 out of the 15 waking hours these were in this shortened position. So, we can make those shorter, because this is the demand that we’re putting on them.”


How can we get around that? It’s pretty simple and I know some of you are going to be, “Oh, well I ride an airplane and I can’t straighten my legs.” Whatever. Yeah, I get it. But when you can, you can minimize this by sitting up tall, so getting your pelvis underneath you so that you’re actually sitting on your bum bones, not sitting on your sacrum or on your tail bone.

Getting your pelvis up tall, and then you can also … or at least when possible, straighten those legs out. Even if you’re in school and you’re at a desk, you can sit here, you can get tall, you can straighten your knees, so now your hamstrings are in a more lengthened position. You can also … it’s really easy while you’re sitting to just do even a little stretch. So I’m straightening that leg, I’m getting tall, and I’m just coming forward. I feel a gentle stretch in the back of my thigh. I can stretch that way.


A lot of you make the mistake of rounding your back or thinking you’re supposed to touch your toes when you stretch your hamstrings, so you’d be like, “Well I can’t do that if I’m in a board meeting or something.” You know, a meeting at work or school. But really you can just sit up tall, straighten that knee, come forward, get a little stretch.

Even by just chronically sitting with proper posture, and really you can learn a bad habit as well as you can learn a good habit. When you try … and I want you to actually try this. When you try doing it, you will fatigue, your muscles in your back will get

exhausted, they’ll be sore, they’ll be stiff, you’ll think, “Oh god, I can’t do that.”

But just set a reminder. Any time you’re on email, any time you check your mobile device. If you’re driving in the car, any time you’re at a red light, fix your posture. If you keep doing that repeatedly, those muscles will get stronger, that’ll hold you up, they will all lengthen out so that you’re not fighting against yourself. Then that brings you back into a good, neutral position and helps you not be so chronically shortened in your hamstrings and in your hip flexors. Because when you sit like that too, you’re making your hip flexors tighter. When your hamstrings are tight and your hip flexors are tight, it’s just ugh, jamming that hip joint. No wonder you can’t move out there.

That’s a biggie. We’re going to talk about stretching, but if you’re just going around with crappy posture reinforcing all the time that yeah, we can be short here, and short here, that’s what your body’s going to adapt to. Cool? Are you with me so far?


So a couple things to know about flexibility training. We do strength training, power training, speed training … we can measure. We’re going to measure you now, we’re going to do this intervention, we can measure you after and we kind of know what the outcome is. Flexibility training is a little … we can do the same types of things, see if your movement is improving. But scientifically it’s really hard to study. It’s hard to control all the variables and it’s also hard to see, did we actually make the muscle longer?

Same with self-myofascial release. Self-myofascial release like foam rolling, using lacrosse ball … people would be like, “Oh, that doesn’t improve your mobility, it just improves your tolerance for pain and that’s why it feels better.” Actually, like if you do the rolling the lacrosse ball on the bottom of your foot thing, you’ll find that it improves your forward bend by … usually it’s like two to four inches, improving your forward bend without actually stretching any of those muscles.


It’s one of those things that sometimes it’s like … we don’t really know how, but it’s magic. Yeah, and if it’s not for you, that’s totally cool too. I’m just going to try and shed a little light on the science behind it so that you’re also not making the mistakes that some of you make when you start stretching but you don’t include all the ingredients and then you end up getting more injured more often, which is not at all what we want.

Now again, we’re going to go back into our science geek pal talk. Let’s say you have your biceps muscle. And you have the fibers and they run in a skeletal muscle. Wrapped within a muscle fibril, so this is like teeny-tiny. Say each one of these would be a bundle of like … I don’t know what, like 500 muscle myofibrils. Then those fascicles are engulfed in fascia. Every little myofiber is wrapped in fascia, and this big whole muscle is wrapped in fascia, and it’s actually the fascia coming out the ends that really makes up the tendon, that connective tissue sheath. Very, very cool.


Anyway, around an individual myofibril will be this type of sensory neuron that is called a muscle spindle. It is sensitive to the rate of lengthening of a muscle. It’s set to say, “Hey, you know what, if this muscle is lengthening too fast, then it’s like alert, alert. You got to stop, because if you keep going at this rate, you’re going to tear this muscle really, really badly.”

Then there is your spinal cord. There are also spinal nerves. It doesn’t even go to your brain. It’s like you know when you touch something hot, you jerk back. That’s a spinal reflex, that’s why it’s so fast. It doesn’t even go to your brain. It just goes right to the spinal cord of that level and your spinal cord’s like, “No way.”


Same kind of thing happens. This is like, “Hey, we are stretching way too fast, this is dangerous.” Your spinal cord sends a message back to that muscle, “Contract!” Again, sometimes this can actually cause your injury, because you’re sort of in that uncontrolled, lengthening stretch. This would be in a game, not just you’re stretching on the floor. Then your muscle contracts, but you’re in a vulnerable position and you can get a muscle tear that way. Which sucks, but it’s probably less of an injury than you would get if your body just let you keep going.

So that’s a muscle spindle reflex, and then also what happens is called a reciprocal inhibition. Let’s say we have my bicep and my bicep is lengthening really fast, like it’s being pulled or jerked. My body’s like, “No, no, no, this is going to be bad,” so contract, but reciprocal inhibition also makes my triceps relax a little bit, because it doesn’t want my tricep sort of pulling me into that lengthening action. That’s called reciprocal inhibition. It makes the agonist contract and the antagonist relax. Are you with me? Okay.


So, spindles are sensitive to speed. That’s all you need to know. Then there are these golgi tendon organs and they are located more in the musculotendinous junction. Out where the muscle fiber starts to build into the tendon. They are sensitive to the amount of force. If the amount of force is too great, it sends a signal again to the spinal cord that’s like, “This is way too much load,” and then your spinal cord says, “Yeah, you’re right. We’re going to relax that muscle. It’s too much, we can’t fight it. It’s too much force, we’re just going to relax and let it go.” Sometimes you see that. I used to like watching those world strongest man competitions, because sometimes you would just see and they would like buckle, kind of.

That’s called an autogenic inhibition. The muscle sort of inhibits itself. Again, these are always protective mechanisms. Your brain is so smart, it’s trying to protect you.


We can’t trick them. They’re spinal reflexes, so we can’t override it or anything like that. But what we can do is train the brain and the muscles to work together to be like, “No, no, you know what? This is actually safe for me.” Because your body is thinking, “You’ve never been there before.”

Think of the first time you went to a big, big city, and you were walking around, maybe got in a neighborhood that you’re like, “Uh, I’m not sure about this neighborhood. I think I’d better backtrack out of here.” But then once you’ve been there a few times, you’re like, “No, no, this is fine. Yeah, it’s a little bit different, whatever, but totally safe, totally cool.”

It’s the same thing for your muscles and your brain. It’s like, “No, no, no. We’ve never been here before. We got to shut this down. We got to just go into full-on protection mode.” But then once you train it a little bit to be like, “No, no, no. This is safe. This is okay.” Again, it takes steps and steps in the proper sequence. Not just kind of trying to force it to understand. Then we can actually use that mobility.


So what we’re going to do now is we’re going to go in the back gym and I’m going to walk you through sort of a little practical. I’m going to show you my thinking process as I put these things together in for like Turning Pro programs or Shutout Academy programs. Just a little snippet. We’ll take kind of one muscle group and I’ll sort of show you how I apply it. Check out the video for this practical part, it’s best to see it but I’ll also try to explain it here!

Let’s talk about … half … yeah, we’ll go sort of with a half kneeling groin theme. We can do like a static stretch, because remember, those muscle spindles are sensitive to rate of lengthening. If we try to lengthen really fast, they’re going to say, “No, no, no,” and try to contract us. If we go slowly, we can come out into this nice stretch position. This is a great functional stretch position, too. We’re up tall, the way we would be on the ice. We’ve got that one leg extended and we’re posted over our other knee. We can hold this.


I read a review article that looked at … What came out of that article is that, you know what, 30 seconds is about as good as 60 seconds or 90 seconds, so that’s why you’ll see most things are 30 seconds. Sometimes we will go a little bit longer, 45 or 60 seconds, but that’s for some specific types of stretching. Almost a little different type of tissue that we’re trying to get.

We can then work on lengthening that muscle … I also like static stretching because it just gives you a little like, hey how does this feel side to side? Oh, you know what, hey, my right side feels a little tight today. Huh, it hasn’t been like that before. Okay, I’d better keep an eye on that, see how it feels later on in the week. It’s a way you can get a little … notice if something isn’t quite feeling right. Notice how I’m staying tall, I’m trying to keep my pelvis neutral. I’m feeling a nice stretch here.


Then what I can do is hop into those golgi tendon organs and start creating some force in that lengthened position. Remember, those golgi tendon organs are sensitive to force production. If I just start smashing on it, they’re probably going to … or when I create the force, they want to make the muscle relax a little bit.

Again, I’m not going to smash on in, I’m not going to really quickly do that, but I’m just going to gradually build force. What I’m doing is I’m trying to push this foot down into the turf and stay tall. Really looks like I’m doing nothing, but I’m building, building, building that force trying to push that foot down and trying to pull my other knee in. And then I’ll relax and I’ll build that force over about 10 seconds. Then I’ll relax, and then my golgi tendon organs might let me get a little bit more length. Then I’ll go back in, start building that force, building that force.

Now what am I doing? Well I’m developing force in my end range of motion. Remember when I showed you those cross bridges in the sarcomere unit? You can appreciate how here, if I’m in the middle range … so where I have good cross bridge overlap, it’s pretty strong. But when I get out in that lengthened position, my cross bridges are really weak. No wonder your body wants to protect you when you get out in that range. But if I can create isometric force … and isometric force, I can create maximum muscle contraction isometrically. I can produce as much force squatting isometrically as I could lifting as much as I could lift once. I don’t need an external load, I can just push into the wall, push into the floor, whatever.

I’m teaching my body, hey you know what, I get out into that lengthened position and I produce a lot, a lot, a lot of force. Your body starts to think, “Yeah, I’ve been in this neighborhood before. It’s actually not that bad. We can go there again.”


Then that’s sort of my next step. I can do some static stretching to just lengthen it out, let the muscle spindles relax, feel that length. Then I can do some contraction that maybe will trigger my golgi tendon organs to let that muscle relax a little bit. It’s not going to be the reflexive relaxation, but just when I let go, relax, get a little further, teach my brain, “Hey I can produce high amounts of force in that lengthened position.”

Then still, that’s not going to help you on the ice, because you know, you’re not going to be out here and be like, “Okay, I’m going to produce some force now as I make this save.” You’re going to be out and you’re just going to push for it and do the splits by accident. Hilarity will ensue.

So we’re going to make it a little more dynamic. Now I get to put on my knee pads. Wear knee pads when you do this because otherwise it’s painful, and if it’s painful your muscles are going to contract to try to protect you. You need to be nice and sort of relaxed.


Now you’re never going to be careless with this. You’re not going to just, “Oh, I understand the science,” and start smashing away at your hips. You always have to pay attention and start easy, and everybody is different. What feels great for somebody might be exactly the wrong thing for somebody else.

Stretching does not fix everything. If you have a hip impingement that is a true bony hip impingement, you can’t stretch that out. If you start any kind of stretching program and you realize, “Oh, my flexibility is actually getting worse. I’m actually getting tighter.” Number one, you could be just doing something wrong and you’re actually triggering these sensory neurons in the wrong way, in a way that’s protecting your body. Or, if you’re doing things the right way, following a properly designed mobility program and you’re getting that, then your body’s telling you, ”


No, no, no. We are not supposed to go in those positions.” That’s something to keep in mind.

Then we go to … I just have a piece of puck board. Or you can do it on the linoleum floor, whatever you’ve got. We’re going to go to lengthening eccentric actions. I’ll start in and then I’ll slowly, over a count of like five or six, slide out nice and wide. Again, staying tall. I’m not going to crunch down so that I can get further, because that doesn’t really help me out that much. I’ll come out and I’ll use my hands to help pull me back up. Getting a low battery warning. Again, I’m not taking it to the point where it’s painful. I’m just taking it to the point where I feel a really good, strong stretch, but not painful.


Then I can come out and come back up. Come out, come back up. I can work that range a little bit. Then what I can do, and again you’ve got to be careful and you’ve got to progress over this systematically, over weeks, months. It’s not just like, “Well I did this, this, and this, and I’m going to really get my mobility there.” It’s just like strength training. You have to follow the steps. You can’t just magically do the most advanced stuff and get the biggest benefit. Then you can go a little quicker. Boom. Stop and come back up. Boom. Stop and come back up. Your body gets used to some of that lengthening under speed and it’s like, “Okay, nothing bad happened. We’re all right.”

Now, I’m controlling it. I’m not just like … you know, trying to smash into the splits. You have to control it with your muscles, but start giving those lengthening actions.


And the last thing too is to change your body position too. Sometimes you’ll be over here, or reaching, or this way. Because a lot of times too, that’s when an injury happens. You know, you’ve kicked out, but then the play comes back and you try to reach back. We could stretch our arms out at the same time … you know and get that pattern. Then you can make it a little quicker. But again, you have to follow the progression.

It’s not the exercise that’s going to make or break your mobility, it’s did I follow that systematic progression to get from here and to capitalize on what those muscle spindles do, and then help sort of reset those golgi tendon organs and then make myself strong and durable in those lengthened positions.

That’s all I have for you today. Next we’re going to do the aerobic deficit, which is we’re going to talk about physiologically why goalies hit their anaerobic threshold earlier than skaters. With seemingly less duration of intense activity. Then it’s going to be the eccentric advantage, which is how we get goalies stronger, more mobiles, and more injury resistant, which just seems weird because you often think like, “Well if I get stronger, I’m going to lose mobility and if I have more mobile then I’m going to be weaker and slower.” But not at all true.

I hope this helps. I know it was a little bit science-y and I was a little hesitant and I didn’t know, but I tried to boil it down as basic as I could.

Okay, that’s all I have for you today. If you want to get the progressive, goalie specific mobility program I designed based on the science of stretching, then you should have a look at Strategic Mobility For Goalies . If you would rather keep on doing your same old stretches, that’s totally cool too, but I hope that this helped you fine-tune what you do for your mobility training.