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July 30, 2014

Hacking Speed: Your Hip Flexors are Holding You Back!

Last week I talked about training your body to primarily use the gluteus maximus to generate the power in your movement. What about if you have something holding those glutes back? Oftentimes, we do. And they are your hip flexors.

Your hip flexors do the job of flexing your hip, so bringing your knee to your chest. The main muscles involved in this are your illiopsoas and tensor fascia latae. 

The reason that your hip flexors prevent your glutes from firing is that they completely oppose them in their muscle action. Imagine strong glutes as a big engine, and imagine tight hip flexors as brakes. You’ve gotta take your foot off the brakes in order to fully use your engine. Specifically, tight hip flexors prevent a complete extension at the hip. In order to have the hips extend powerfully then, your body needs to adapt its movement by hyperextending the lumbar spine. This leads to sore backs and power left on the table…the engine can’t do its job!

The reason this happens is twofold:

  • Hockey players are often in a position that leads the hip flexors to be contracted in a semi lengthened position. Think of the squat you see most players in on the ice.
  • Hockey players are also people in the modern world. And people in the modern world spend a lot of time siting! Sitting leads to, guess what…hip flexors contracted in a semi-lengthened.

So for these two reasons together, we find many players with very tight hip flexors. Now, to solve the problem, we need to understand that hip flexors are not of a fixed length. Rather, your body has chosen to adopt a semi-lengthened, semi-contracted state for your hip flexors, because that’s what you’ve been training it to do! (By sitting and skating) This means that your hip flexors can extend, if you teach your body to have them extend. Here’s how:

  • Use PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) to trick your hip flexors into lengthening.
  • Stretch your hip flexors daily
  • Watch and feel your ability to powerfully extend your hips go through the roof!

Here’s a step by step approach to PNF your muscles. It requires a bench and a partner.

  1. Stand so your bum is on the edge of a bench, bed, or high and stable table
  2. Grab one knee and pull it to your chest
  3. Fall back onto the bench keeping your knee to your chest and your other leg straight.
  4. Have your partner place your foot on his/her shoulder (of the knee that’s up to your chest)
  5. Have your partner place their hand on your knee that is straight.
  6. You will push your straight leg into your partners hand as hard as you can for 5s
  7. As soon as you release your pressure into his hand, have your partner increase the stretch
  8. Then have your partner hold you in the increased stretch position for 10s
  9. Repeat up to 5-10x, or as many times as needed to obtain a significant change

Get stronger and faster without doing any training, and restore your hip flexors to their natural length. A side effect of this is that you’ll prevent many injuries. Have fun and happy skating!


July 21, 2014

Hacking Hockey Training: Glutes – the forgotten muscle

This is an article that I’m a little uncomfortable writing. This is because I feel like I’m giving away my secret. That being said, it isn’t really my secret to give. It is something I’ve figured out after studying the best. And the secret is this: train the glutes!

This trick, is what has our athletes leaving the gym after a summer of training, saying that they REALLY notice a difference on the ice.

What do I mean when I say, train the glutes? Well, gluteus maximus is your biggest, most powerful muscle in the body. Its job is to extend and externally rotate the hips. (Hint: skating requires powerful hip extension and external rotation!) Unfortunately, many trainers neglect to train the glutes. How? Sloppy setup mechanics for all lifts, sloppy squat and deadlift mechanics can cause your body to train other muscles instead of the glutes. Commonly, I see deadlifters and squatters “tension hunting”, consequently using their hamstrings to hip extend. Even worse, I see athletes who perform their movements mostly using knee flexion and extension instead of hip flexion/extension. These athletes, are not only mashing their knees, but training their body to use less powerful muscles…the quadriceps.

Listen to Dan John, Kelly Starrett, Louie Simmons, and they’ll all tell share a similar message: you need to learn to use technique that uses the glutes correctly in your lifts. Train those movements properly, and you’ll be able to lift more, which will make you stronger, which will help your performance more. Train those movements properly, and they’ll become a part of your athletic or sport movement patterns too! Train those movements properly and you’ll reduce your risk of injury.

How do we ensure our athletes are training their glutes? Here’s how:

  • Ensure they know perfect setup mechanics for a lift
  • The above includes squeezing glutes, toes forward, screw feet into ground, shove knees out
  • Ensure that athletes posteriorly load on all lifts.
  • Teach athletes proper triple extension, avoiding lordosis
  • Use exercises that bias hip flexion and extension

Train your glutes with proper movement patterns, and see your lifts jump through the roof if you’re using the correct movement patterns. You’ll then see your on-ice performance jump through the roof right behind your lifts.

All the best, and have fun developing buns of steel!

P.S. If you liked this article because it was different than most Drone Coach advice, and you’d like to get to work on becoming a Hockey Wizard, then click here to check out the benefits of becoming a Train 2.0 Member.

July 21, 2014

Hacking Hockey: Skating

What are a lot of people misunderstanding about skating?

One big misperception many coaches have is how much time we actually spend skating in a straight line. Players skate in a straight line less than 15% of the time. So coaches who spend more than 15% of time devoted to linear skating are misappropriating their practice time. The most common skating skills are:

  • Explosive c-cuts (forward and backwards, inside and outside edge)
  • Cross-over steps while moving (maximum of 3-4 at a time)
  • Open hip pivots (as direction change and as puck protection)
  • Tight turns
  • Pivots

Also understand that linear skating very rarely occurs from a dead stop. Most of the time, players engage in 3-4 explosive linear strides after transitioning using one of the above skating skills. Game-specific speed should be taught by working on a player’s ability to accelerate while already in motion.

Players also have to be stable, but also reactive. Figure skating coaches often teach stability, but not the ability to be reactive. Figure skaters do not need to change direction quickly, as they have preplanned routines. Figure skaters also do not need to receive contact. For that reason, if a figure skating coach hasn’t adapted their teaching to suit a hockey player’s needs, they are potentially training players to adopt less reactive and more injury prone positions while skating. One specific example is the pulling cross-over. This move is common in figure skating, but leaves hockey players open to risk of MCL or ACL injury if they accept contact while pulling with their inside foot. Furthermore, pulling with the inside foot on a cross-over is less explosive and harder to execute.  I’m not saying that figure skating coaches are inherently bad, but I’m saying that they need to alter what they teach to suit a hockey player’s needs.

So to skate better, faster…and to hack skating…focus on the most common skating skills in hockey.