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Core Strength Tips & Myths: Not Just a Six-Pack

In a dynamic sport like hockey, where you need to change direction, slow down, speed up and maneuver your body on the ice, it’s important to develop the full core.

Hockey players, from Mini Mites to the pros are constantly looking for ways to improve their game.

Whether it’s skating faster, shooting harder or being stronger on the puck, developing a solid core can provide the foundation players need to take their skill set and overall athleticism to the next level.

As the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Scott Caulfield knows a thing or two about athlete development.

Caulfield works closely with the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society, the National Basketball Strength and Conditioning Association as well as national governing bodies such as the U.S. Anti-Doping Association, United States Olympic Committee, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and USA Hockey.

He also spent four years as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Colorado College men’s hockey program.

Caulfield helped clarify some misunderstandings about the core itself and offered some age-appropriate training recommendations for young skaters looking to improve their overall core strength.

Minnesota Hockey: First, what exactly is the core?

Scott Caulfield: The core is located between the shoulders and the hips. It’s basically all of those muscles that need to work together to provide optimal function for athletes.

Minnesota Hockey: So it’s more than just having a six-pack?

Caulfield: The term “core” has been misconstrued by some who think it’s just a six-pack or the abdominal muscles. But if that’s all you focused on you’d have one over-developed area and, as a result, other under-developed areas. You’d have tight muscles in one part of the body, and loose muscles in another. In a dynamic sport like hockey, where you need to change direction, slow down, speed up and maneuver your body on the ice, it’s important to develop the full core.

Minnesota Hockey: How can a well-developed core aid in athlete performance and overall athleticism?

Caulfield: We play most sports on our feet. And a key is translating force through to the ice or ground, to move or change direction. If the core is not strong, and you’re trying to transmit force through the body to the ground, you won’t optimally be able to produce and generate the force necessary. Other benefits include a decreased risk of injury and potentially better stability, posture, coordination and flexibility.

Minnesota Hockey: Are there specific movements on the ice that will improve with training and a better-developed core?

Caulfield: If you have a stronger core, your shots may be more powerful and your ability to move laterally and change direction quickly may be better. Anyone who hasn’t been trained and then starts training with a professional is definitely going to see an improvement.

Minnesota Hockey: When training, is it better to focus on the parts of the core separately, or find exercises and activities that work them all at once?

Caulfield: Ideally, movements that are multi-joint, multi-muscle group exercises will be best, because those muscles have to work together on the ice as well. Things like squatting, pushing and pulling – the more it involves the total body, the better.

Minnesota Hockey: What are the best ways for kids to improve core strength?

Caulfield: I’d recommend starting with a 10-15 minute warm-up – a variety of different total body exercises designed to increase core temperature and warm up muscles. This can be followed by a group circuit of squats, lunges, pushups and planks, either three sets of 15-20 seconds or three sets of 10-20 repetitions, depending on the exercise. After that, some type of conditioning, change of direction movements, starting and stopping. For example, placing two cones five yards apart, and sprinting and stopping. First once, then twice, then sprint and backpedal, then sprint and shuffle, etc. It’s good to mix things up.

At the 8U level, running short distances and changing direction under control, skipping and shuffling are all things that will help kids in that age group. As players get older, around the 10U or 12U level, it’s about adding some complexity to fundamental movement patterns and getting used to that. Things like galloping, different directions of jumps with some progression.

Movements that require a partner, like a wheelbarrow, holding a teammate’s feet as they walk on their hands (for example), or incorporating a competition, like a game of tag, can make training more complex and also more fun. For younger players, it should be more than just doing drills.

Minnesota Hockey: Should young skaters add weight training to their core-training regimen?

Caulfield: For younger players, it doesn’t need to be about adding a bunch of weights or barbells. Some individuals may be ready for some weight training at a younger age. But that really depends on an individual’s mental and physical ability. Mostly when kids are entering their teen years or middle school is when they’re getting introduced to weights. Before doing any weight training, kids should get input from a certified trainer, someone with experience working with athletes, and have adult supervision.

Minnesota Hockey: What do the pros do?

Caulfield: A lot professional athletes are still doing the same basic core movements – things like squats, variations of Olympic lifting movements, using cables, etc., that develop the full core.

Minnesota Hockey: Anything athletes should avoid when it comes to core training?

Caulfield: People tend to think you need to do core strength training on some sort of unstable surface, like a stability ball or dynamic disk. But research shows that when you do exercises on something unstable, you’re actually decreasing force production. With the core, the goal is to create force and you’re not going to create that when standing on something unstable.

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