By Mark Fitzgerald, Strength & Conditioning Coach - Anaheim Ducks, Director of Performance - Elite Training Systems, Lead Training Advisor - Under Armour Canada
Why is developing grip strength important in hockey?
A strong grip can improve shot release and velocity, passing, pass reception, stick handling, stick checking, and faceoff strength. In a nutshell, a strong grip will enhance your stick skills.
Working on grip strength doesn’t need to be complicated. There are two ways to work on grip strength, directly and indirectly. This means that there are exercises where the forearms are the primary muscles being used, and exercises where the forearm muscles are used as secondary muscles to assist in the drill.
At Elite Training Systems, we regularly use a piece of equipment called a fat grip. Fat grips easily slide onto any dumbbell, barbell, or handle, and once secured an athlete will have more surface area to grip. Because there is a greater surface area to hold onto, they must squeeze harder to maintain their grip. While the fat grip is an effective tool to build grip strength into any program, I am going to talk about exercises in which the flexors and extensors of the forearm are the primary muscles.
There are exercises available that do not require much equipment. The beauty of practicing exercises that isolate the forearms is that you don’t need anything fancy to do them. Something as simple as squeezing a pad can drastically improve your grip strength.
The Drill: The Pad Squeeze
By constantly squeezing and releasing the pad, you will work the flexors and extensors of the forearms and fingers.
What you’ll need: A foam pad, or any object that has some give to it, such as a pillow, cushion, or mat.
Body Position: Standing or seated, torso upright (neutral spine), hold your hands straight out from your body at shoulder height.
A) Holding the pad with both hands (stationary), begin to squeeze and release the pad. Really dig your fingers and thumbs in as much as possible. You should feel a burning sensation in your forearms and fingers.
B) The same drill can be done while moving your hands or doing laps around the pad.
The Breakdown: As you squeeze the pad, you are working the flexors in your forearms and fingers. It’s important to realize that the flexor muscles of your fingers plays an important role in maximizing your grip strength. As you release your fingers from the pad the extensors of your fingers and forearms are working.
Once you have mastered the pad squeeze, try progressing to wrist rolls. You’ll need a stick of any kind (hockey stick, broom stick, etc.), string, and some sort of tension – i.e. 5 or 10 lb. weight. Attach the stick and the weight to opposite ends of the string. In a standing position with a neutral spine, hold the stick with both hands and elevate your arms to shoulder level. From this position, begin to roll the stick in your hands causing the string to wrap around the stick. You can execute this exercise using either flexion or extension of the wrists (forearms).
Unlike the pad squeeze, the majority of the stress is placed on your forearm muscles, with minimal stress on your fingers. For this reason, I believe it would be beneficial to pair these two exercises together. Wrist rolls also place moderate stress on your shoulders as they must be engaged to maintain the correct positioning of your arms. Practice these drills and watch your hard work translate to greater success on the ice.
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