It’s probably safe to assume that most adult hockey players accept the fact that they aren’t as strong, fast or durable as they used to be in their younger days. So, the aches and pains that follow each game become just another part of the overall experience. However, there are ways that players “past their prime” can get healthier and reduce the likelihood of prolonged soreness or injuries that come with playing the game they love.
Shane Harvey, director of sports performance for Ice Den Performance in Scottsdale, Ariz., and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), believes one of the biggest mistakes adult players make is simply not prioritizing their own health and fitness.
“There’s a stigma for adult skaters that doing a dynamic warmup before a game seems a little goofy,” he said. “But if players want to play long-term, they should be prioritizing dynamic flexibility and stretching. If you don’t take care of the machine and you start to break down, it’s only a matter of time before another piece breaks down. It’s about taking a prevention approach rather than thinking ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
Harvey, who has worked with a wide range of players, from youth to NHL levels, and played the game himself at Division 3 University of Southern Maine, shared some tips for adult hockey players looking to improve their performance, reduce the likelihood of injury and extend their time on the ice.
“You want to start with a dynamic warmup rather than just static stretching and holding. Make sure you’re moving and getting your heart rate and core temperature up. You can do this through dynamic flexibility exercises before the game. Adult players often try to go from zero to 100 immediately, so it shouldn’t be shocking that their abductors or groin or back may tighten up. I would say 10-15 minutes before you start getting dressed for the game is the ideal time for a warmup. It could even be 5 minutes before you hit the ice. You don’t want to go into a competition just doing static stretching.”
“Post-game should be more of a cool down approach. Now you can incorporate more static stretching if you have the time. Doing stretches for your lower extremities, hamstrings, quads, calves and/or groin as well. A big part of post-competition recovery is getting some decent food in your body right away, along with water, electrolytes, carbohydrate, etc. You want to start replenishing and getting rest because after a game your body will be in a deficit.”
“Between games it’s about creating a routine that includes things like dynamic stretching, thoracic mobility exercises and core exercises. These are good for your hips, knees, ankles and shoulders. If you don’t have time for a gym or have equipment, you can do body-weight-based exercises to kickstart metabolism, burn fat and work on anaerobic capacity. You can make it as intense and perform as many reps you need. Some good exercises are lunging or lateral lunging, goblet squats, rear-foot elevated squats, pullups or pushups. You can add weight if you want, but the point is trying to get away from traditional weightlifting like bench pressing or dead lifts. You don’t need to throw a barbell on your back after age 35. There are many more functional exercises you can do to stay healthy, fit and feel good on the ice and prevent injury.”
In the off-season, think about it like cross-training. Hiking, golfing, running, swimming, even boxing, try some different sports outside of hockey that are multi-dynamic that you won’t always get from just one sport. Common issues with hockey players are shoulder injuries, lower back, hips, knees and stiff ankles. This can be worse for adult players, who may spend a lot of their time off the ice seated at a desk or driving a car. Playing other sports, moving through multiple planes of movement and doing some hip-specific exercises and stretches for flexibility and mobility can help increase the range of motion in your hips, alleviate overused muscles and joints and help you overall become more athletic. In general, everyone could use a little bit more of that.
According to Harvey, improving health and fitness requires adult hockey players to simply adopt more of a health and fitness lifestyle. But it doesn’t have to be “all out,” he clarifies.
“Now it’s not about lifting hundreds of pounds of weight,” he said. “It’s more about moving efficiently and effectively without pain. It’s changing the routine and how you work out, according to your individual needs. Going on the treadmill for 30 minutes or more can be a lot on the joints. Swimming would be a good alternative, so would jumping rope. And rest is also important. If you think of your body as a machine, it needs to be idle sometimes. If you’re always stiff and are the kind of person who doesn’t like to stretch, you’re only limiting yourself.”