There often is a lull in the middle to later part of the season when the routine starts to blend the days and the games together. If you’ve noticed little nagging aches and pains and minor (or major) injuries starting to pile up as the season progresses, you’re not alone! It’s very common, at this time, to constantly feel like you have to play through the pain. You may feel like you’re dragging yourself through practices and just going through the motions. All the little extra efforts that were made in the summer and training camp to prepare you for the season start to go by the wayside. It’s this complacency that often lends itself to allowing injuries to creep in and can backfire as the season draws to a close in preparation for playoffs!
As a goaltender, we need to be mentally and physically prepared for every game. We demand so much of our eyes, our brains, and our bodies on every shot (and even every missed shot)! We must track not only the puck, but all the players, how they’re moving, what they’re doing and what they will do. And our body must be able to respond with speed, precision, and accuracy for us to both be successful, but to also not get hurt.
Have you ever watched slow motion video of NHL goalies injuring themselves (other than traumatic / collision injuries)? There is often a mismatch of what the eyes and brain want to do and what the body is actually doing; a split second reaction or change of direction that leads to a strain, sprain, or worse. If you’ve ever experienced this, you understand! These types of injuries most often occur when the goalie has not fully prepared themself both mentally and physically for the game.
So, what does fully preparing yourself for every game look like? Every goalie is different and you must learn to ready yourself in a way that best suits you, but we’ll highlight some key components to any goalie’s injury prevention strategies. Some of these are aspects that need to be incorporated into your general training program and some of them are immediate pre-game preparation. At gold in the net, we understand that how we train and prepare off the ice can have just as much of an impact on our game as how we train and prepare on the ice. That’s why we are dedicated to developing our dryland and mental training as well as our on ice programming with innovative and science informed tactics to help every goalie succeed!
This pertains to two aspects of injury prevention. 1) general cardiovascular fitness is the basis of recovery. A goalie’s ability to maintain the same speed and agility in the 59th minute of the game as they have in the first depends on their ability to recover between plays. 2) properly warming up and cooling down the cardiovascular system around a workout, practice, or game. This involves light aerobic exercise with a focus on sport specific muscles beforehand to ensure the muscles are warm and pliable with adequate blood supply to meet the demands placed on them during the game. A cool down allows the body and cardiovascular system, to gradually return to its resting state. It facilitates removal of waste such as lactic acid that has built up during exercise and may reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). A cool down involves gradually reducing your intensity of skating, or walking, or cycling on an exercise bike off ice for about 5 minutes.
Brute strength is not necessarily and essential component of goaltending, but explosive power and speed is! Strength training will help increase your power and speed and can help reduce injuries. There is a fine balance to find, however, as too much strength training can actually decrease your speed! It’s ideal to work with a professional who can help you find this balance! Strength gains are best made in the off season and gearing up for playoffs is not the time to push for new personal records in the gym. This can lead to overtraining and reduced recovery between games. Workouts at this time should be targeted at maintenance, active mobility, and core stabilization.
Core strength / stability is the basis of movement quality and a critical component of any goalie’s game. And no, this does not mean sit ups! Core stability reduces muscle imbalances, improves dynamic movement, controlled movement, and allows for increased functional range of motion. It is the foundation of injury prevention and should be trained consistently throughout the season, with an emphasis in the later part, to ensure you stay injury free for the post season!
Stretching is essential for goaltends. An effective stretching routine can reduce muscle imbalances, prevent injury, and improve performance. Goaltending is very dynamic, so you need both dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretching, meaning a movement based type of stretching that uses the muscles actively to bring about a stretch through full range of motion without the stretch being statically held, should be performed as part of pre-game/pre-practice warmup. Static stretching, on the other hand involves allowing the muscle to passively elongate into its end range and holding the stretch for at least 15-20 seconds. These stretches should be incorporated into post-practice/post-game cool down and can help improve flexibility. The timing of these types of stretching is crucial to see the benefits, as excessive static stretching prior to a game can make muscles less springy and responsive. This can actually reduce performance and increase risk of injury.
Sport specific / technical warm up:
This includes high intensity, position specific drills involving speed and agility. These drills should be kept short with sufficient recovery time between drills to ensure you are not fatigued before your game. They should simulate game play closely to allow for proper muscle warm up, hand-eye, and visualization before the game.
Hand-eye / tracking:
Tracking the puck instead of reacting to the puck allows you to move your body into each save with fluid precision. There are times that reaction saves must happen, but the more control you can have with each save movement, controlling rebounds, the less sporadic movements are required, which can help prevent injury. This should be incorporated into daily training on and off the ice and should be integrated into every aspect of a goalie’s preparation, from core training, to plyometrics, to mobility work. A goalie must be able to track a puck not only when set in their stance, but also if they are stretched out making an acrobatic save!
Visualization is how to mentally prepare for each game, each period, each shot. It is also how you revisit a play that has already happened and think about what you could do differently. Visualization has been shown to actually activate the muscles involved in the visual cue, so just the act of imagining yourself make a save should be incorporated into warm ups. It will attune your concentration to the task at hand and set aside whatever else is happening in your life. Mental distraction and lack of focus are frequently at the root of self induced injuries. Without visualization and focus, all the above components fall apart and the body becomes more susceptible to injury.
The pillars of health:
The 4 pillars of health are exercise, sleep, nutrition, and relaxation/recovery. Because, as hockey players, exercise is an inherent component, we will briefly touch on the others. It is these pillars of health that seem so simple, yet are so often overlooked. Without good quality sleep, we will not recover. Without proper nutrition, we will not have the proper fuel. And without relaxation and recovery, we can not move forward. There is so much science and information around each of these topics, but a couple of basic, key points:
- Sleep early: our hormones that signal growth, development, and many other functions are not released properly if we go to sleep after midnight
- Eat balanced and hydrate well: as a training athlete, you require approximately 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight for proper recovery; vegetables for vitamins and minerals crucial to proper function; carbohydrates for fuel; healthy fats for hormone production and cell turnover; and sufficient fluids to keep muscles supple and responsive.
- Take time to rest and reflect: put technology aside and go for a walk, do a yoga session, meditation, spend time with a family member or friend. Find your unique way to recharge. Your down time is just as important as your go time, so you must find something that works best for you
This may seem like an overwhelming list, but as you start to incorporate these concepts they will naturally become part of your routine, forming an integral backbone of your game on and off the ice. Although, sometimes it’s helpful to have these little reminders of how to get back to the basics and stay focused and healthy for the duration of the season and into the playoffs.