Plenty of hockey players need to hear it: When you stretch before the opening face-off or after the final buzzer, don’t forget about the lower back and hips.
Hip and lower back ailments are common, and it makes sense to protect these areas to the best of your ability. Sure, protective gear is a must-have, but you can also protect your own body from the inside out. Performing the right pregame—and postgame—hip and lower back stretches can help hockey players avoid injuries, so they can maximize their time on the ice.
Top Ice Hockey Stretches for the Hips and Lower Back
Here are five of the best off-ice static stretches for a hockey player’s hips and lower back. Add a few of these to your routine, and see what else out there you like, too. It’s good self-coaching to experiment with several different stretches, and it helps to keep a routine fresh.
- Side and Core Stretch: This hockey stretch benefits your sides and lower back. To execute it, stand with the feet shoulder-width apart. Placing your left hand on the hip, carefully bend to the left side and reach overhead with the right hand. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Figure 4 Twist: To perform this stretch for the lower back and hips, lie supine (facing up) and then bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place the right ankle on the left thigh, resting it just above the knee (as you would if you were sitting with your leg crossed). Next, stretch the arms out to the sides, making a ‘T’ shape with them. Keeping the feet flexed, allow the knees to gently fall to the left, seeking the floor with the bottom of the right foot. During this process, the body will begin to twist, but the right ankle should remain on the left thigh; try to keep your right shoulder on the floor. You should begin to feel a deep stretch in the right hip; hold this stretch for 30 seconds before switching sides.
- Child’s Pose: Executing this common yoga pose will stretch out your entire back, glutes, and hips. Starting with the hands and knees on the floor (tabletop position), move the knees out wider than the hips, and bring the big toes together. Then, rock back and rest the hips on the heels, walking the hands forward until the forehead reaches the floor. With the forehead down, continue walking the hands forward until the arms are straight. Focus on keeping the shoulders away from the ears; hold the pose for 30 seconds.
- Happy Baby: Lying supine, lift and bend both of the knees to the chest, and ‘threading’ the arms through the inside of the knees, grasp the outside edges of the feet. Create resistance by pressing the lower back into the floor while continuing to push towards the ceiling with the bottoms of the feet; rock gently side to side for 30 seconds. (You can grasp the legs closer to the knees if doing so makes it easier to keep your lower back pressed to the floor.) This stretch benefits the lower back and the hip flexors.
- Lying Leg Crossover Stretch: Lie supine with the arms stretched to the side in a ‘T’ and both legs lengthened on the floor. Bend the right knee, and gently guiding it with the left hand, direct it across the left leg and to the floor. Attempt to keep the shoulders on the floor as the back and the hips rotate. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This stretch benefits the muscles in the gluteal region, the hips, and the lower back.
Top Benefits of Warmup and Cool-Down Stretches for Hockey Players
Proper warm-up and dynamic stretching techniques before a practice or game provide plenty of benefits for hockey players. Top benefits include:
- Increasing body temperature
- Elevating the heart and respiratory rates
- Improving blood flow to the working muscles and organs
- Reducing the probability of suffering a soft tissue strain
- Increasing range of motion
- Improving on-ice agility and quickness
- Improving players’ performance as they execute other exercises, like plyometric training
- Providing players a chance to psychologically prepare for the upcoming event
After the hockey game or practice, players should hold static stretches like the ones described above. Benefits of static stretching include:
- Opportunity for heart and respiratory rates to return to baseline
- Maintaining a full range of motion helps to prevent injuries
- Maintaining a full range of motion helps to win games: Goalies who loosen up their hips and lower back will be able to stretch out just that much farther to make a crucial save!
How (And When) Hockey Players Should Stretch: Best Practices
- Before any pregame stretches, warm up with some low-energy exercises.
- Remain in control and keep your body properly aligned during each stretch.
- Stretch until the point of muscle resistance, not until it hurts.
- Most stretching exercises should be maintained for 15 to 30 seconds and repeated about three times.
- If stretching does cause pain, seek medical assistance.
- Conclude each game or practice with a round of ‘cool-down’ stretches.
Hard work during games and practices is always a given. But to perform at your best, develop responsible, whole-body stretching habits before and after workouts, too.