Like many of the things we’ve done in sports over the years, warming up for a game or practice has twisted and turned with the prevailing winds. And those winds often had little or no evidence or logic – just opinion. Our concept of what’s right or wrong has reversed 180 degrees several times in 60 years and the extremes have been laughable.
Forty years ago, a fellow we won’t name wrote his Ph.D thesis on stretching. It was all opinion – no research – but he drew some really cool cartoons for each stretch, so his opinion shaped warmup routines for the next couple of decades – lingering on to this day in hockey. He told us that traditional warmups, like those for football with a lot of movement, like jumping jacks, were a bad tradition, and instead we should do static stretches, holding each position for 40 seconds. Motionless warmups.
His pedigree looked impressive, even if the logic failed, and it literally took two or three decades before people asked, “What? How can static stretching be called a warmup?” Research was starting to show that static stretching before competition did no good at all in preventing injuries or enhancing performance. In fact, static stretching as part of warmup might be detrimental in sports that require explosive movements.
Track athletes and coaches are normally the first to do things that fit well with science, and they have always included a lot of movement in warmup. They choose warmup activities that mimic what they do in competition, building up the intensity gradually. Keep in mind that track coaches develop their athletes with a plan that incorporates empirical evidence, so it is a good idea to observe their training habits.
Of course, some NHL players and coaches aren’t bothered much by facts or logic, so many of them come out before a game and sit on the ice to do a bunch of static stretches with cold joints and muscles. Don’t copy NHLers on this one. Sitting motionless on the ice doesn’t fit well in a sentence that includes the word “warmup.”
Off-ice hockey warmups should start with low intensity movement and a restricted range of motion in the hips – not a wide skating motion at first. This warms the joints and muscles, and increases blood flow and heart rate to about 80 percent. Some have chosen to jog and add phy-ed activities like carriocca or skipping. These aren’t wrong, but there are better things to do for hockey – just as track people would not want to copy a hockey warmup.
In youth hockey, most things a team does off-ice before or after skating should include some kind of skill development. Practicing knee bend off-ice is critically important to learning good skating fundamentals at every age. Ball protection drills and stickhandling would be excellent as part of warmup. Add some two-legged squats and squat jumps after a couple of minutes, then gradually increase the range of motion later. Lunges, step-ups, squats and squat jumps late in warmup should alternate with stick skills and puck protection.
Off-ice warmup does not need to be more than 10 minutes, even though Europeans often carry it to extremes. On-ice warmup should consist of nearly constant motion, so standing in line is counterproductive. Minimize it. If your team likes long lines, do what Zach Parise has done his entire life: move around and handle the puck. Be ready for the best shift of your life when the puck drops.