By Don Lewis, Owner & Founder, Tier 1 Athletic Performance
You see a player wobbling on their edges and you can readily see that they lack balance. Most coaches will spend on-ice time doing “Edge Work”. Typically, the problem is not in the athlete’s inability to balance on his/her edge, it is in the player’s lack of core strength.
For the purposes of this article, the core is defined as the area between the bottom of the rib cage and the bottom of the pelvis, including the lower back. These muscles determine side to side and front to back movement of the whole upper body. Lack of strength in the core will prohibit an athlete from maintaining a strong presence, on an inside or outside edge, over a period of time.
In order for a hockey player to maintain balance on an edge, they must maintain a vertical line between the skate edge, hip joint and center of the chest. If a skater moves off that vertical line in either direction, full balance is lost. Additionally, core strength will improve a player’s ability to establish and maintain position in front of the net. Most net front battles involve a defenseman pushing the upper body of the a forward as he tries to find the right spot to receive a pass or rebound a shot. If the forward has a weak core, he can be pushed in any direction. As soon as the center of the chest moves a small distance, the feet must adjust to maintain balance. Hence, the forward must move and then try and reset.
These are just a couple of examples of the effect of core strength on balance. Click HERE for a great article on the relationship of core to balance by the Harvard Health group.
But there is good news. Players can improve core strength during the season. The purchase of a simple “ab wheel” can strengthen the core over time. Simple ab exercises can improve stability and, therefore balance. At Tier 1 Athletic Performance, we spend time in each workout (throughout the 10 week program) on core strength, rotation strength and core stability.
Two final thoughts. First, if your player would like to start a core routine, start slowly. If a core is unreasonably overworked, the athlete will be in pain for days. If you can’t cough or laugh without a lot of pain, it’s probably going to be a bad day. Athletes will typically quit before seeing any results. Second, avoid exercises where the hands are placed behind the neck. Crunches are a great example. When the athlete fatigues, crunches turn into a neck pulling exercise.
Simply put; if you want better stability and balance on your skates, improve the strength of your core.