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The Key to a Strong Start in Games and Practices

By Dave Pond, 09/07/16, 11:45AM MDT

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As coaches, we like to emphasize the importance of a strong start to both practices and games.

“Let’s come out of the gates flying!”

“Be ready to go on the first shift!”

“Let’s start practice with a high pace, high energy!”

But when the puck is dropped, have you done all you can do as a coach to set the table for a strong start?

“The key is a good, solid dynamic warmup,” said Pete Friesen, the head trainer and strength and conditioning coach for the Carolina Hurricanes. “That means incorporating movement in each exercise, and integrating components that make your muscles contract, elevate your heart rate, increase your body temperature.”

Additionally, a good dynamic warm-up will help your neurological system begin firing and deepen your breathing, so you’re entire body is ready to compete.

“This is where dynamic warm-ups differ from a more traditional approach,” added Mike Boyle, head strength and conditioning coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

“A dynamic warm-up is not a jog to warm up, or a long, seated stretching session,” Boyle said. “It’s a combination of moving stretches compared to old long holds. Exercises that might be viewed by older athletes as calisthenics, and those that might best be described as a track drill or speed drill, like skipping.”

In preparing the Hurricanes for games and practices, Friesen incorporates both traditional stretches and dynamic warm-ups.

“As trainers, this is our opportunity to set the stage for our team’s upcoming practice or game,” he said. “So, we develop these routines not only to prevent injuries, but to maximize each player’s genetic potential for athletic development, too.” 

Here’s what a typical hockey-focused dynamic warmup looks like:

Start with traditional passive stretching exercises, focusing especially on the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and back muscles, which all play key roles in on-ice movement.

Next, activate the key muscles, including the glutes, lower abs, lower back, shoulders and neck.

Finally, focus on activities that will increase your players’ core temperature and fire up their nervous systems.

During warm-ups, Friesen and his staff keep a watchful eye over the entire team, handing out encouragement and positive affirmation to ensure that each player’s movements – and attitude – is where it needs to be.

Another tip? Music, with a good, strong beat – it helps break the silence while keeping players (of any age or experience level) in rhythm during their warm-up routine.

Here are a few specific exercises Friesen likes to incorporate into the Hurricanes’ dynamic warm-ups:

Waiters Bow

The key to this passive stretching exercise is to stretch far enough that you engage your hamstrings, without forcing your spine into action. All rotation and movement should come from the hips.

Stand tall, with your hands clasped behind your back.

Slowly tilt forward, using your hips only. Keep your spine and hands still.

When you feel a good hamstring stretch, stop and hold for several seconds.

Using only your hips, return to an upright position.

Hip Bridging

This activation exercise offers multiple benefits – it’s a core strengthener and flexibility drill that will do wonders for your back, hips, glutes and hamstrings at the same time.

Lie on your back, with your feet apart no wider than your hips.

Keep your feet on the ground, and slide your feet as close to your butt as you can. The closer they are, the harder the exercise will be.

With your arms at your sides, pull your shoulders together, and closer to the floor. (This will help you isolate your core.)

Engage your glutes, and lift your hips to the ceiling. (Remember, don’t use your arms or hands to help lift, and don’t let your legs get outside your hips.)

Hold for several breaths, then lower your hips to the floor again.

Burpees

One of the most underrated exercises out there, burpees engage a wide array of muscles while getting your heart and breathing going. There are multiple variations of burpees out there, but here’s the basic version:

Begin in a standing position, and lower your body into a squat. Make sure your feet are shoulder-length apart.

From a squat, with your hands on the ground, kick your feet back into a push-up position.

Do a single push-up, then kick your feet forward, so you’re back in a squat position.

Jump straight up, out of a squat, into a standing position. That’s one complete rep.

Make sure your movements are fluid, and that each step blends into the next. The faster you can perform a burpee, the more aerobic benefits you’ll experience.

Remember, we can’t expect our players to come out flying if we are not incorporating dynamic warm-ups into our practice and pre-game plans. Make it a point to emphasize not just warm-ups this season, but off-ice training in general to better develop our athletes and maximize performance.

For more resources, check out USA Hockey’s age-appropriate dryland training materials and download the award-winning USA Hockey Mobile Coach App for practice plans, skills manuals, videos and more.

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