A while ago I wrote a post,  Six Reasons Deadlifts Should be a Part of Your Hockey Training.Go ahead and have a read. I’ll wait.

Should hockey players deadlift?

Anyways one of the commenters on the post said ‘Never use the deadlift.’

And I had a few thoughts. First of all, I love it when people comment, ask questions and sometimes present another opinion. This is great and exactly how we get better at training hockey players. If we never had to defend our programs or coaching style how would know if there was a better way or be able to explain the purpose of our exercise selection?

As well I was also honoured that the commenter was an experienced coach/trainer working with all levels of hockey for over 25 years. Plus it appeared that the individual was from Europe which is great as it provides another perspective on training that we may miss in North America.

So with that in mind here is my response to Never Use the Deadlift. Part of the post defends my position and part of it agrees with the commenter.

1. We need to hinge properly

Before we get to the point of debating exercise selection in a program it’s important to determine the basic movement needs of a hockey player. If we understand the positions a player needs to be in during a game than we  can have a better idea of how to make them stronger and more powerful in those positions.

The basic athletic position is required for many sports including hockey.

The basic athletic position requires a hockey player to be able to hinge at the hips. More recently it has become more common to see young athletes that have difficulty achieving this basic position. This may be the result of previous injuries, unbalanced training or simply too much sitting.

Once we can get a hockey player into the basic athletic position it is a natural transition to teach the deadlift and eventually add load.
2. We need pre-requisite strength
With all lifting we need to make sure we address the basics before progressing to more advanced lifts and exercises. For example, hockey players will typically hear of exercises that will help them become more explosive and add quickness to their game. And they will want to try depth jumps and Olympic lifting before they are ready for them.
What do I mean before they are ready for them? Well imagine someone stepping off a box and landing on the ground as quietly as possible. In addition to no sound produced we would also want to see that the body position at landing resembles that at step-off. In other words the angles at the ankle-knee-hip should be similar at the start and at the end.
What tends to happen with players who aren’t strong enough is that we see the body collapse at these joints upon landing. The lack of dorsiflexion and anterior tibial strength is expressed by the ankles lifting and weight shifting to the toes. The lack of quad strength is demonstrated by increased bending at the knee. The lack of posterior chain strength at the hamstrings and glutes puts more emphasis on the quads further increasing the forward angle. And lastly the lack of core stability is exhibited by a forward flexion of the trunk and possibly a windmill action with the arms.
And this is simply an example of a hockey player stepping off a box with bodyweight. What do you think happens when we add external load and multiple reps on top of a system that isn’t strong enough?
3. All deadlifts are hinges but…

A is the deadlift. B is a hinge movement. All deadlifts are hinges but not all hinges are deadlifts.

It is important to develop the ability of a hockey player to hinge and extend properly. But that being said the deadlift is not the only tool to work on the hinging motion. I like deadlift variations (conventional, RDL, Jefferson, trap bar) to work on and strengthen the hinging pattern. You already read the 6 reasons to include them in your training already so I won’t go into that again here.

However if you’re not  fan of deadlifts there are other options available to you. Think of exercises such as pull throughs (cable or band), kettle bell  swings and hip thrusts as other great options to develop and strength your ability to hinge. What I like about each of them is that they are closed chain, and for two of them , are performed in a standing position.

Regardless of your leanings towards deadlifts and exercise selection just be aware of the importance of training the hinge movement and getting your hockey players strong with hip extension exercises.

4. The right exercise at the right stage

Now besides ensuring that a hockey player is strong enough to handle plyometrics and Olympic lifts there also needs to be some consideration for what level of hockey player we are talking about. When we say ‘never use the deadlift’ do we mean this for all hockey players or for ones at certain stages of development? If we consider LTAD (long term athlete development) there may be certain players that should focus more on other areas of their athletic development than on pure strength training including deadlifts.

For example, female hockey players may initiate strength training right after the phase of their peak height velocity (PHV). For males this might mean waiting 12-18 months after PHV. And who do you think is typically more interested in getting started in the weight room and doing deadlifts? The young male hockey player that should be more patient and wait the year and a half.

5. The right exercise for the coach

While I think deadlift variations are great exercises for hockey players they may not be appropriate for all athletes. As was just mentioned above there will be instances for younger hockey players that strength training is not in the best interest of complete development.

But more than just the needs of the hockey player there should also be some consideration as to the ability of the coach. Does the coach understand and know the lifts? Can the coach perform the lifts and demonstrate them to his or her hockey players? Does the coach have an eye to be able to pick up on technique flaws and know how to correct them? Does the coach have other options available for a hockey player that is not able to deadlift?

Because all of this may seem obvious there are numerous instances of on-ice coaches that want to lead the dryland training. There are coaches leading the lifting sessions with no background or certification. And there are coaches who deem a lift successful as long as the weight starts at point A and ends up at point B.

So knowing that these types of coaching scenarios exist there is a definite argument to never use the deadlift.

With all this said the take home message is that training is never black or white. It is not  situation of absolutes where we say ‘always do this’ or ‘never do that’. Instead training should be based on exercise selection and program creation which:

* minimizes the potential for injury

* enhances on-ice performance

* applies a minimal essential dose approach

There are a number of different tools and ways to achieve these three goals. Whatever direction we decide to take with training our hockey players we should be able to defend every decision, make sure it is centered around the needs of the player and within our scope of our practice and abilities.



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