When it comes to training male and female hockey players, I don’t use any special exercises or programs that differ between the two sexes. My experience and research over the years hasn’t shown any reason why the approach should be any different — as long as the program is specific to the demand of the sport and appropriate for the individual’s needs and goals.
The most important thing to consider (outlined by Hockey Canada’s Long Term Player Development Plan) is that males and females develop and mature at different ages. The only real difference I’ve found is that most females have better ﬂexibility and mobility than most males. So, I might spend more time working with those particular issues for male hockey players.
Various studies and research have shown that young females seem to be more prone to Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries than males. Some researchers have claimed that females develop an imbalance in recruitment of the quadriceps and hamstrings, which can serve as a problem when performing specific exercises or movement patterns. I can deﬁnitely see that being an issue regarding what kind of training is appropriate at a specific age or maturity level of a female ― especially during decelerating movements and cutting movements that an athlete makes during competition. However, I believe it has more to do with the application of a specific exercise than the type of exercise itself.
One of my biggest concerns in the industry — and many top strength coaches I’ve worked with would agree — is that there is a serious lack of teaching proper technique and form to young hockey players when administering different exercises. Lack of proper instruction can reduce the effectiveness of a program and worse, lead to injury. In addition, understanding what kind of off-ice exercises are appropriate for hockey players as individuals, in general, still seems to be a problem in the strength and conditioning industry. Having hockey players perform random exercises or drills in an off-ice program simply doesn’t address the specific needs of each individual.
This should be a big concern for parents when investing their money in an off-ice training program for their son or daughter. Young athletes need to be properly instructed and taught how to perform specific exercises from an experienced and certiﬁed strength coach. A parent doesn’t have to know anything about the biomechanics of the body to witness how different each athlete looks while performing an exercise, such as a walking lunge or squatting movement. You’re going to see that some kids lack balance, some will show poor posture control or core strength, and others might be so inflexible or immobile at their lower extremity joints that they feel physical discomfort while performing the exercise.
Whether training a male or female, I believe it all depends on their level of ability and maturity level not, which sex they are. Therefore, every young hockey player must be evaluated by performing some kind of biomechanical test to ensure that their body is physically capable of performing speciﬁc exercises. At my training facility, we use what’s called a Functional Movement Screening process to determine any imbalances or weak links in an athlete’s body. This allows a trainer to prescribe the appropriate exercises to correct those imbalances, if any, and to increase performance using proper progressions of specific movements.
Here are my top three tips to look for when considering investing in an off-ice training program for your son or daughter.
1. First make sure the trainer who is working with your son or daughter is well experienced, certified, and has a proven track record for producing results. Don’t be afraid to ask for credentials.
2. Ask a trainer to provide a copy of your son’s or daughter’s program. Whether you understand it or not, you want to feel conﬁdent that a trainer is recording their results and designing a program suitable for his or her specific needs.
3. Feel free to sit and observe a training session and use your own judgment. A professional trainer should take the time to educate parents about the program and to teach proper technique and form to limit potential injury.