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Core Stability Training is key to Goalies, but what is it?

Goalie Niklas Backstrom

Core stability training is often listed alongside stretching, which Minnesota's Niklas Bakcstrom shows here, and flexibility as the key components of goaltender fitness, but do we really understand what it means and how to do it?

This article was written by Maria Mountain of Revolution Conditioning
If you have ever had team training sessions or heard a professional hockey player talk about his off-season training, you are familiar with the term core stability training.

So can you point with one finger to your ‘core’?

Are you pointing at your belly button?

Can you tell me what core stability training is in one sentence?

Did you just say, “training that gives you a stronger core?

I hope you are saying “Hmmm” to yourself right now, because even all of the top strength coaches cannot agree on what the core is or what core stability training actually is. Some don’t even want to use the term ‘core.’

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For the sake of this discussion we will consider the core to be everything from your pelvis to your arm pits and core stability training is exercising in a way that gives the body the awareness, stamina and strength necessary to control body movement between the pelvis and the arm pits.

Notice that I am taking about core stability training, because after spending a weekend with renowned spine biomechanist Dr. Stuart McGill it is crystal clear that the goal of training the torso is to stabilize the spine, not generate movement in it. Quite simply, if you picture the segments of the spine and the way the vertebrae fit together like puzzle pieces you can see where that is to promote stability.

Now compare that to the ball and socket arrangement of the shoulder, you can see how that type of joint is for mobility.

What does this mean for a goalie’s off-ice training? It means no more crunches, no more Russian Twists, no more seated Medicine Ball rotational passes, etc.

If the torso is not being held stable, no bending and no twisting (not even a little bit), then you are not training core stability. You may even think you are building a six pack – WRONG again!

Crunches only activate your rectus abdominus (six pack muscles) at 10-20 per cent of their capacity whereas the hand walk out (see the video below) gets it working up to 100 per cent of its capacity while actually teaching you to stabilize your spine without compressive forces on it.

Typical crunches lower the failure tolerance of the spine – like taking a wire coat hanger and bending it back and forth repeatedly – it can be fine the first 10 times you do this, but on the 11th repetition it can snap straight through. According to Dr. McGill’s research the same thing can happen with the spine.

So if you or your child is involved in off-ice training that includes crunches, leg throw downs and Russian twists or even core planking with poor technique then I would seriously reconsider the value to the players’ development.

These are things we all did at one time or another, quality coaches who are keeping up with the science of hockey training have removed these exercises from their repertoire because the risks outweigh the benefits – there are better ways to train the torso which will improve your performance on the ice and reduce the risk of injury.

About The Author

Maria Mountain M.Sc.

Hockey strength and conditioning coach Maria Mountain, MSc specializes in off-ice training for hockey goalies. As the founder of and the owner of Revolution Sport Conditioning in London, Ontario, Maria has trained Olympic Gold medalists, a Stanley Cup Champ and athletes from MLB, NHL, AHL, CHL, CIS and more. Try Maria's Goalie Stretch Solution today.

1 Comment

  1. Matt

    That’s a BIG improvement on the crunches. Great analogy with the coat hanger and crunches.

    I’m curious about McGill’s idea about core training being aimed at stability of the spine rather than generating motion. Is that just in terms of how exercises should be chosen (only those in which the spine is held totally stable) or does that mean training should be designed to essentially lock the spine into place over time?