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Why Hockey Goalies Must Bench Press
In my practice as a fitness trainer, I typically don’t have to sit down and convince an athlete that the bench press is appropriate exercise for goalies. Typically, I have to convince them that they don’t need bench presses and biceps curls on a daily basis. Usually when I talk to other fitness trainers I have to champion the virtues of bench training for goaltenders or any hockey player for that matter.
Okay, I can see the goalies out there reading this article and thinking, “now this is my kind of coach!” and fitness trainers out there who read it and think, “this trainer is an idiot!” I don’t want to debate any of the points today, but I will point out that there are many bench press variations, some very useful for hockey goaltenders.
Variation #1 – The Barbell Bench Press
This is what you immediately thought of when you read the title of this article. That’s probably why you clicked through to read it. This variation places the athlete flat on their back on a bench with their feet flat on the floor and presses a barbell from their chest to an extended elbow position. Does this have any place in hockey goalie strength training? If this athlete wants to bench press at training camp, then yes, it will! If this is not part of pre-season tests, in my training for goalkeepers there will be very limited rotation. Because there is minimal stabilization required through the core and hips, I believe the strength developed with this exercise is not maximally transferable to the ice. Remember, we are only trying to build strength that we can use on the ice. You’re not trying to spend hours in the gym building big stupid muscles that will only weigh you down when it comes to actually playing hockey.
Variation #2 – Dumbbell Press on a stability ball
Now we’re talking! Forgive me if I get a little technical here, but the first thing to remember is the principle that muscles don’t work as individuals, they work in chains. So when I think of a dumbbell bench press on the stability ball, I don’t just think of the pecs, triceps, and anterior deltoid. I think of the fascial connections that Thomas Myers describes so well in his book Anatomy train. The chain of muscle and connective tissue which connects the Pectoralis Major (pectoral muscle) to the Rectus Femoris (six-pack muscles) and into the adductors (groin). Amazingly, there is no connection between your groin and your pectoral muscles! As for goalkeeping, see the link when you make one of those spectacular glove saves while going down in a split position – groin stretch, abs stretch, chest and shoulder stretch, but no injury!
The first thing to do if you want to try this exercise is to make sure you have a high-quality, burst-proof stability ball. Don’t use one you picked up at the discount store for fifteen bucks! That ball can burst and that will result in serious injury.
Now that you have your high quality stability ball, you will want to start with a load that is approx. 10-20lbs lighter than you typically use for dumbbell presses. Make sure the ball is on a non-slip surface, such as a rubber floor. Again, if the ball slips out from under you, you’re going to hurt yourself. Sit on the stability ball with a dumbbell in each hand, resting them on your thighs. Slowly walk your feet forward as you lie back on the ball. Continue to walk your feet forward until the ball rests at shoulder height and the back of your head lightly touches the ball. Now lift your hips so that you make a straight line from your knees, through your hips, to your shoulders. Hold this position throughout the set.
Remember when I talked about the chain of muscles you use when you bench press? Well, performing the same exercise on a stability ball activates another chain of muscles and one that is essential when we’re talking about goalie training. By keeping your hips up as you bench press the ball, you activate the “superficial back line and posterior functional line.” In other words now, instead of training the pecs, anterior deltoids, triceps, abs and groin muscles, you are also training your hamstrings, glutes, which are huge pushing muscles, back extensors, which help you keep your chest up during a long game without lean down. into a tired posture and even your latissimus dorsi. It’s getting a little more return on your investment of time and effort, isn’t it?
Want to get a little more out of your bench press? Okay, try this – One-armed dumbbell press on a stability ball. Once again, use a slightly lighter weight than you used for the two-handed version. This variation will bring in abdominal obliques to a greater degree, and you’ll really feel the glute (butt muscle) on the same side as the dumbbell working hard to keep you stable. When doing this exercise, make sure to keep your hips up and level, don’t let your hip dip to one side. If you can’t perform the exercise with perfect technique, lighten the weight until you can. Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest muscle in the link.
So there you have my argument for why hockey goaltenders should bench press. Should they only bench press? No. I’m actually a big fan of push up variations and standing cable presses, but sometimes the bench press gets discounted as a bodybuilder exercise when it actually has a place in goalkeeper training.
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