archaic ice hockey warm ups
While the sport of hockey has come a long way in the last 20 years with new equipment technologies, training procedures, training, recovery methods and attention to small details, I find it fascinating that, out of our rich traditions, we still choose to keep some parts of hockey the same… when it really should change.
Take for example the hockey warm up. Compared to other sports, we are in the dark ages. While other sports are applying science and common sense to prepare for a physical event, we in the hockey community laugh in their faces, skate haphazardly, sit and listen to a lecture from the coaches, and then stand like statues before the game is played. If this physical preparation strategy were used in other sports such as speed, sledding or skiing (to name a few), a large number of athletes would end up injured. Maybe it’s time for hockey to learn from others and adopt a better system.
the current system
Let me first dissect a typical hockey warm-up so that I can later share my views on the failings of the current system.
1. Generally, if the team has someone on staff with a smattering of PE training, then a dry warm-up will be the first order of business. Now this is not always the case. I’ve regularly seen top-level hockey teams compete without a ground-based warm-up. Typically, teams send athletes out on a sprint or put players on a stationary bike followed by some static stretching. For argument’s sake, let’s assume this takes 30 minutes (although most teams spend 10-15 minutes warming up and call it good enough).
2. In some cases, coaches want to spend about 10 minutes talking about a basic plan for the next game. Maybe the board will be broken and they will talk about escapes, penalties, the previous control for that night or other basic strategies. Some trainers don’t do this at the moment, so it may depend on your team.
3. The next order of business is to put on your gear (30 minutes is normally allotted).
4. At this point the players come out on the ice for the traditional 15-minute warm-up. The first 5 minutes are spent skating in circles (usually counter-clockwise), followed by 5-8 minutes of 2v1, 3v2 drills to get players moving their feet and developing a feel for the puck. The last 2-5 minutes are spent taking shots at the goalie, stretching out on the ice, some short sprints from one side of the ice to the other.
5. After on-ice warm-up, players return to the locker room (for 15 minutes while the ice is flooded) and sit while the coach delivers the pre-game speech and strategy session.
6. After the flood, the players return to the ice and stand while the national anthem (or anthems) is played. Immediately after this, the players return to the bench, and play begins shortly after.
Current System Defects
1. The first flaw in the system is that coaches tend to talk about strategy and systems too late in the warm up when athletes are supposed to warm up. Having the team sit through a 15-minute speech right before the game is ridiculous. This should be the first order of business when athletes hit the track. Spend as much time as you’d like going over this…but do it at the beginning, not at the end, when athletes need to focus on warming up for the game!
2. The next area of concern is warming up off the ice. For starters, not all teams warm up off the ice and those that do tend to do it poorly. A sprint or stationary bike will NOT adequately prepare you for playing hockey. The musculature of the hip, core, and shoulder girdle must be actively warmed up to stimulate blood flow and help prevent injury. This is accomplished with a dynamic warm-up (with movements such as fire hydrants, wide mountain climbers, V-bend turns, back-stretch lunges, scorpions, and other movements to increase core temperature and stimulate blood flow to the muscles. After this dynamic warm-up, the team should move on to light conditioning movements (such as burpees, lateral lunges, windmills, swings, and push-ups) to break sweat and get the body used to physical activity. Hockey is a sport of fast, agility-based movement. Using light plyometrics, ladder drills, and for goalies, the hacky-sack will do wonders for warming up for hockey. At the end of the dry warm-up, do some range-of-motion stretching just to keep everything loose. The full warm-up should take 20 minutes, as long as you don’t waste time and get down to business.
3. After the dry warm-up, the players should put on the equipment, but this should not take 30 minutes. In that amount of time, athletes will cool down and harden up, so essentially the warm-up on dry land was for nothing. Coaches should limit dressing time to 20 minutes and make sure players arrive on the rink early enough to sharpen skates, inspect equipment, tape sticks, and make all other necessary preparations well before putting on gear. When I check with teams and see the coach (or assistant) sharpening the skates just before warm-up, that’s my first sign of a poorly run team.
4. After the players have changed into their gear, it sure wouldn’t hurt to get everyone moving again with some push-ups, squats, kettlebell swings (if possible) or similar bodyweight exercises. Make sure players have skate guards to keep blades sharp, but why shouldn’t players do a little pre-ice warmup with their gear on?
4. When the players go out on the ice I think that at that moment the national anthems should be played. My reasoning for this is that after the warm-up you have an extra 2 minutes to sing (2 more if you’re playing another country’s anthem), on top of all the time it takes you to line up and then return to the benches before the game. This can easily add up to 8-10 minutes for a professional game. If a player has been sitting in the locker room before the game (17 minutes), then goes out on the ice to listen to the anthems (another 8-10 minutes), it could take 25-30 minutes before he starts moving. Let’s hear the anthem before the warm up so the players can focus on playing hockey right after the warm up.
5. During the ice warm-up, this is not the time to skate like an idiot. Skate 5 laps around your end of the ice to loosen up a bit, then begin movement drills that focus on moving your feet. From this point, coaches can run 2v1 or 3v2 drills for 5 minutes. While this is going on, goalies should have a set routine with one or two players taking shots or helping them warm up (players can rotate in and out of this so they get in a good warm up as well). At the end of the 15 minutes, players should do movement drills (such as inside edges, outside edges, spins, back to front, etc.) along with some light or shadow stick battle drills to get their feet moving. Note that I haven’t mentioned stretching during the warm-up on ice, as many players seem to do… this is because it’s a waste of time at this point (you should be relaxed by now), and the ice really isn’t the best place to stretch and warm up your muscles!
6. Right after the warm-up is over, I think the game should start. This is seen in midget hockey during tournaments where the rink tries to make the most of the time they are allowed. I don’t see the need for a flood after the warm up as the ice doesn’t break much and causes players to jump right into the game when hot. Leagues would see a drastic reduction in first period injuries if they adopted this method of play and fans could see players able to compete from the start of the game without the slow first period slump that plagues many games.
Now, I have no reason to suspect that the current warm-up system for hockey that has been in place for decades will ever change, as hockey has a rich culture and many people in the industry are resistant to change. Personally I’m looking forward to the day of change… but I’m not holding my breath.