But cool-downs before games and between periods are dumber yet

Hockey has some of the dumbest traditions in the name of “warmup.” Is it a big deal? Well, in the NHL it contributes to an epidemic of hip flexor and groin injuries that occupy the trainers’ time and skills more than all other injuries combined.

Note: Careers end needlessly and surgeries are required too often because we don’t respect these injuries at the first warning signs. After injury to groins or hip flexors, the order must be: a) 100-percent recovery with zero pain, b) gradual progression in skating and off-ice workout intensity, c) fast, game-like skating practices at 100 percent and d) competition. However, too often the first three steps are skipped if the player can play with a little pain, claiming, “It’s not that bad.” (No? It’s just bad enough to invite further damage.)

How dumb are hockey warmup habits? I paraphrase the words of a world-class track coach: If my athletes would come out for a meet in early spring when the temperature was as cold as a hockey arena, and fake a warmup, stretching much of the time while sitting on a patch of ice, then, go back to the locker room and sit motionless for 20 minutes, come out to the track and stand for the national anthem, then immediately jump up to the starting blocks and sprint full speed – well, I should be fired.

“But,” he continued, “that’s what hockey players do.”

Warmups should gradually increase the heart rate, body temperature and blood flow to muscles and joints. Start with a typical sprinter’s routine for 6-10 minutes: build-up sprints, leg swings, carioca, skipping, jumping, high knees, etc. Then, for five more minutes, move the hips in the extreme range of motion of skating: walking lunges while reaching overhead, slow side shuffles with knee bend, wide skating lunges. This is a dynamic warmup, not static stretching.

Sitting on the ice (or a cold floor) to stretch is counterproductive for game performance and injury prevention, but so many players stretch on the ice it is advocated by “experts.”  Standing still on the ice while waiting for a shot is not a warmup. Standing for the national anthem is not a warmup, but if it’s required, keep moving before and after.

Sitting in the locker room waiting for the Zamboni is not a warmup. You have to MOVE. Sitting without moving your legs on the bench or in the locker room is NOT a good way to remove waste metabolic products from previous effort. Normally, when your legs move, muscle contractions squeeze the veins, and because there are one-way valves, the blood moves toward the heart. Sitting motionless eliminates this “muscle pump.”

Never sit for an entire intermission. Get up every couple of minutes and walk around. Do a few squats and lunges. We’re compulsive about overly long warmups an hour before the game, but it does absolutely no good if we sit or stand still for 20-40 minutes after the skating warmup. NHL players (and high school players in the state tournament) are motionless for more than 40 minutes before their first shift – especially in Vegas where the Zamboni time, fireworks, national anthem, player introductions, TV ads and a couple of line-changes come before the third line jumps into action. Come to think of it, hurdling over the boards by itself is a good way to pull cold, stiff groin muscles.

It’s worth repeating: Stretching is NOT a productive warmup. It can be part of the process AFTER you have elevated heart rate, blood flow and muscle temperature. Actually, some research has shown that any static stretching before an explosive event is counterproductive. Other research did not find this to be a problem, so I make no recommendation about stretching other than to urge you to first get MOVING. The time for a roller-stretch-massage is AFTER the game.

Youth (and high school) players should warm up with hockey skills off-ice. Stickhandle balls, practice protecting the ball against a partner and add skating-specific movements. These reps make you a better player. Jogging and sitting do not.