Bottom Up Hip & Knee – Advanced
Four Top Leg Exercises for Hockey Goalies (and Skaters)
Bottoms Up Training: The Advanced Knee and Hip
When I created the ‘basic’ version of this series, I mentioned that it was really hard to talk about the knee without talking about the ankle and the hip. In fact, you come across a lot of athletes with knee pain (luckily fewer of them are hockey players), but the knee really is not to blame. The knee just takes the brunt of crappy mechanics from the hip and ankle.
Since we already discussed advanced ankle strategies HERE, I am going to go ahead and discuss the knee in relation to the hip.
You see, as I mentioned before, the knee is a hinge joint; for the most part it just wants to bend and straighten. In fact, I would wager that none of you have ever injured your MCL without some sort of traumatic force – like a skater falling on you when you were in you vulnerable position like a butterfly or without going down awkwardly with your bodyweight behind you.
Probably more than a few of you have sprained your ankle by stepping off a curb the wrong way, (heck, I know someone who tore their Achilles tendon doing this) but I am thinking very few have torn their MCL this way.
In the basic version I talked mainly about mobility of the knee – flexion and extension and having full range of motion. We talked about it as it relates to the squat pattern.
Today I am going to give you 4 exercises that will help you progress to that symbol of the hip, knee and ankle working together in concert – the single leg squat to thigh parallel. Now, before I get started, let me remind you that some of us do not have knees that will allow us to safely do this exercise anymore.
Some of you adult goalies may have arthritis in your knees from wear and tear and the risk:reward ratio for you may be pretty slim so I would suggest you stay away. If you have an injury to a meniscus in your knee, then you should shy away from this one until you are sufficiently recovered and cleared by your physician or sport physiotherapist.
Finally, I will remind you that you must have mastered the skills from the basic version before you even think of moving on to this advanced version. Okay, here we go…
MiniBand Squat – You will start by using a miniband or tying a resistance band into a loop that is about 8-10 inches in length. You will place the band around both legs just above your knee caps. Do you see how the band pushes the knees together? And can you see how you must activate hip abductors/external rotators to maintain neutral knee alignment. It is a way to trick the body into using the proper muscles – what Gray Cook would call Neuromuscular Facilitation – I call it a Jedi mind-trick for your hips.
You are going to get some looks if you do this at the gym, so at least make sure you are doing it right – sitting back in the hips and keeping the knees aligned over the feet.
Make sure you do not just widen your stance to keep tension on the band – keep your feet hip width apart and use your hips to tension that band.
Split Squat (video)
This is a great strength exercise for hockey players of any position because it helps you use focus on using your glute and quads together for a pushing motion – like a lateral crease movement or a skating stride.
The important thing to remember with this one is that doing it with improper technique can actually contribute to knee pain, so make sure you are keeping the pressure toward your heel on the front foot rather than letting it shift to your toes. Doing this will help you keep your knee aligned over your ankle.
Also, make sure to watch yourself do this one in a mirror when you are just learning, this will help you keep your knee tracking above your second to – rather than falling inward, which can result in irritation of the undersurface of the knee cap – often referred to as patellofemoral pain.
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (video)
This one is the bigger, meaner, older brother of the Split Squat, and I like him! It puts more stress through the front leg and is a perfect stepping stone to the single leg squat. The technical cues remain the same for this one, it has been my experience that hockey players have more trouble sitting back in their hips with this one and then tend to drive the knee forward rather than sitting the hips back.
Single Leg Squat (video)
Like all of the progressions that come before it, there must be technical perfection with bodyweight before external load is added. Mike Boyle likes to start athletes with 5lbs dumbbells because it provides a nice counterbalance and does make the movement easier (as long as 2 x 5lbs) represents a light load for that player.
When training younger players or players with very little strength development I will often start with just bodyweight, but have them hold their arms straight out in front. I find this accomplishes two things: 1) It provides a counter balance force as mentioned earlier and 2) it helps them keep their chest up.
If an athlete has a good RFE split squat with good external loads, but they still struggle with the single leg squat, then I assume it is either a stability issue or a motor pattern issue.
The athletes that train at Revolution follow a progressive program, so by the time they get to single leg squats they have been working on mobility and stability for at least 4-weeks. So they should have the stability (although it is not always the case).
If we think it is a motor pattern issue, this means we think it has been so long since the athlete has done something like this movement that they have literally forgotten how to do it. All we need to do with them is prime that movement pattern – give it a refresher course.
Like if you played the clarinet in high school (like a certain hockey strength & conditioning coach did back in the day – only in grade 10 actually) and then picked it up again 15 years later. You would not be able to jump back to the level you were at in senior year, but after a few sessions fooling around with it, some of those songs would come back to you pretty quickly.
So what we do is we let these players do the movement with assistance from something like a TRX (it does not have to be a TRX) so they can get down into that position while maintaining good alignment and posture. After two workouts using this assistance, they should be ready to bodyweight squat unassisted.
I hope you got a good progression from this article. Following this progression will increase the strength of the muscles that cross the knee and the muscles that control the knee at the hip – they will also enhance the stability of the knee by improving the body’s responses to perturbations through the knee. In other words, the muscles will be able to maintain finer control of the knee’s position.