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KGB VOL 16: Using biomechanics for exercise selection

Muscles are not the smartest tissues in the human body. They pretty much just do as they are told. The complexity of muscles resides in the message they are being sent through the nerves and nervous system. 

In the world of muscle contraction, there are terms that are commonly used to describe what is happening to the muscle in relation to its length. Let’s clarify a few of those terms:

  • Isometric contraction occurs when there is no real change in length of the muscle and the joint stays in its original position. 
  • Concentric contraction is when the muscle gets shorter. 
  • Eccentric contraction is when the muscle is getting longer. In my opinion, eccentric control over hip muscles is very important and often overlooked. More specifically, eccentric load into the lateral hip in the game of hockey is essential for long-term hip health. We already know from biomechanical studies of the game that, as much as the stride propels the athlete forward, the push or the power is very lateral in nature. Therefore, you will see a lot of lateral power training in any good hockey program.

When looking through the lens of rehabilitation and peak performance, there is a problem with most of the lateral power training I see. The general training options that we have focus on the concentric aspect of this plane and rarely, if ever, address the eccentric demand in this plane of motion. It is very common for hockey strength coaches to emphasize an eccentric movement for the groin muscles. Eccentric control of the lateral hip is rarely a target of movement. We can use some classic lateral lunges or other options with this goal in mind.

One thing worth mentioning is that, from a developmental neurology perspective (how muscles and joints learn to move), loading the knee may be a better option. By kneeling or using a quadruped position, we can increase the demand of the hip rotators and gluteal fibers. In these knee-loaded exercises, we are targeting a co-contraction of the hip rotators with the muscle of the quad, hamstring, and adductors.

A modified tripod position is generally a great place to start.

In this type of tripod position, we want a base of support that is wide enough to support transferring up to a standing position or back down into a sitting position. It’s in these transitions where we find windows to truly load the targeted structures. In this case, taking the ankle out completely removes the load capacity of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. It completely removes the coordination of the ankle and the knee joint and now changes the coordination to the hip and knee joint. When the knee joint is the closed chain, or fixed joint, all of the muscles in and around the hips are going to pull toward that knee. When this is the case, we get a nice socket over ball movement which is the true closed-chain movement a player would experience striding on the ice.

Spending time in these positions is not as big and sexy as something like a squat, a trap bar deadlift, or a banded lateral jumping. These social media-friendly exercises are far more interesting and look better on Instagram or TikTok. When the goal is to play the game as long as possible, being mindful of tissue health is very, very important. 

The tissue health qualities that are achieved with an eccentric and isometric approach are going to give players a great return on their time investment. The health capacity of the tendon is very important for maximizing the concentric aspect of muscle development. The isometric component is very good for joint health as far as connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, bone surface) structures are concerned. The deeper collagen fibers are the main tissues that we’re looking to keep healthy when we talk about joint health. In the long run, players want to be sure that they are laterally loading the hip into appropriate eccentric and isometric postures. A simple mini-cycle of 4-6 weeks can result in a big improvement on overall tissue health and physical preparation. For more information into this type of program, take a look at the Tri-Phasic approach as described by famed strength coach Cal Dietz.

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