Hockey - There is more to it than the butterfly stretch
In a lot of the reading that I have read regarding hockey players, groin strains and muscle imbalances, as well as discussing these issues with Orthopedic surgeons, physiotherapists and other movement coaches, it has become quite obvious that hockey players should spend more time eccentrically strengthening their adductors as well as working on creating efficiency and balance between their posterior and anterior slings. Focusing on both of these aspects in their training will hopefully lead to less groin injuries as well as an increase in their rotational power, which in turn will keep them on the ice rather than on a physio bed and also increase the power in their pass and shot.
My goal here is to show you how you can do all of this in a Pilates studio, as well as in your own home or gym, because not all athletes have the luxury of working with a trained professional. I will first show you the Pilates Apparatus version of the movement then finish with a similar version that you can do on your own with minimal equipment.
Focus – Breath work and deep belly activation
Action - The first step is to warm up your pelvis. You want to get it moving, wake up your deep hip flexors (psoas) and extensors, as well as awaken your core muscles (diaphragm, pelvic floor, transverse abdominals and multifidi).
Start by laying on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor with one hand on your low belly and one hand resting underneath the small of your back, helping you to create a small space between the small of your back and the mat. Start with a few deep breaths. As you inhale feel your belly rise up into your hand and as you exhale, gently soften the belly, pulling your navel towards your spine while maintaining this neutral position. After a few of these, move your hands to either side of your hips to help guide the pelvis through some gentle movements. On the inhale, expand your belly and reach your tailbone away from you, slightly increasing the arch in your low back. When you exhale, keep the glutes and thighs relaxed and connect to your deep belly to pull your pubic bone towards you, pressing the top of your sacrum into the ground beneath you. (Think about pressing the waist band of your pants into the floor) Repeat this a few times then settle into your “optimal” or neutral spine.
Focus - Deep Belly Activation, Pelvic Mobility, Pelvic Stability
You can’t create mobility without stability so there is no sense in moving forward until you can achieve mobility and stability doing this next movement.
Action - Lay on your back, knees bent and feet together. Inhale to start then exhale to lower your right knee towards the floor (abduction) only as far as you can stabilize the left side of your pelvis. Take a quick sniff of air then draw your knee back to the starting position. Find your abductors (outer thigh) to lower and your adductors (inner thigh) to lift, all the while using your core to create stability. When this gets easy move to lowering both legs, knees to together, to one side while keeping a long waste. When that is no longer a challenge then progress to lowering the legs in a table top position. Imagine someone has zipped up your inner thighs from your ankles to your bellybutton, which will really help you to connect to your midline.
Focus - Adductors
Now we are ready to hop onto the reformer. We are going to start with some side split work to warm up the adductors. One light spring should be applied to the reformer (or no spring if you are advanced) and place one foot on the wood of the reformer and one on the carriage.
Action - Slowly press evenly from both feet to move the carriage out. You are going to feel your adductors fire and start to eccentrically lengthen (which is a very important part of a hockey players training regime). Spread your feet as wide as you feel comfortable, then squeeze your feet back together by pulling from your inner thighs (like closing a pair of scissors). Repeat this 10 times then move onto the next movement.
Focus – Adductor strength and length
Action - Here it is important here to maintain stability but allow the body to flow and find its natural movement. Start in a similar position as before but change your springs to 1 medium spring. Press out from your foot on the wood, as if you were initiating a skating push off. Transfer the push into the foot that is on the carriage then keep that leg reaching until you are in a split position. Next, bend the stable leg, then slowly draw back in the carriage, finishing in a tall and extended position. This movement is going to provide your adductors with eccentric strengthening, which will hopefully aide in limiting the occurrence of groin strains and tears.
Focus – Adductor and Oblique Strength and Connection/Anterior Chain
Action - You will start in a side laying position on the barrel, and place your extended leg on the pedal of the chair, light spring tension. Start with the pedal in the down position, and arch your body over the barrel, creating space in your side body. Place your hands behind your head, with your head pressed into your hands and your hands pressed into your head. Keep the pedal in the lowered position while peeling your ribs off the barrel, finding equal work from both the front and backside of your body, then slowly lower down, one rib at a time keeping the
pedal pressed. Repeat 5 times.
On the fifth repetition, keep the upper body lifted and slowly release the pedal then press it back down. Keep a feeling of reaching out of the top of your head while you find your adductors to control the pedal. Repeat 5 times then add the upper body back in. As you lower the pedal down lower your ribs onto the barrel, creating length from the sole of your foot to the top of your head. As the pedal rises, curl the upper body off the barrel. Repeat five times then finish with maintaining a connection to the pedal rotate your rib cage towards the ceiling, then back to neutral, 5 times.
Now how do you do these movements without Pilates equipment? It is pretty easy although they won’t be exactly the same in regards to function.
Focus – Adductor/Oblique Strength and Connection
Equipment – 1 stability ball
Action - To do the chair adductor/oblique presses you will lay down on your side with a ball between your feet, squeezed tight from your adductors. Either laying right on your side, or slightly lifted on your elbow you are going to float and then lower both feet off and onto the floor. Next, keeping the stability ball between your feet and come into a side plank. Focus on squeezing the ball between your feet, as your lift up through your ribs and out of your neck and shoulders. Curl your spine into a Hold for 30 seconds then add 10 rib rotations. With your hand behind your head open up your ribs, pulling your top rib back bottom rib forward, then rotate the ribs to the floor, bringing your top rib forward. While you do this focus on keeping the pelvis stable.
Pilates is not just a one stop shop and there are many more elements to thing about. This article is meant to draw the connection to strong adductors, which are commonly weak in hockey players, and the rotational power of your obliques. In order to fully optimize on this many more imbalances should be addressed, but this is a good place to start. Always make sure you talk to your coach or athletic trainer or certified Pilates instructor before exploring these movements, to ensure that they are the right moves for you.