Med Ball Throws are a great way to develop rotational power.

As the off-season progresses we’ll move from static throws, to static throws with a partner pass, to throws with dynamic starts.

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The goal here is to use momentum to increase the power output during the throw and to practice generating power from a changing position.

Typically performed for 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps per side.

Feel free to post any comments/questions below. If you found this helpful, please share/re-post it so others can benefit.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. For comprehensive hockey training programs to improve your speed AND repeat sprint ability, check out: Speed Training for Hockey

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Last week I received a question from a reader that I’ve gotten a few times in the past and thought I’d address here. If you have specific questions you’d like me to address in a future post, please post them in the comments section below!

Question: If you could please tell me what muscles are used in taking the slap shot. What muscles are being used eccentrically, concentrically as well as isometrically. I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks Chris

I’ve written about exercises to improve shooting power quite a bit in the past, as I know that’s a question a lot of players have. Whenever I get these questions, my first thought is “why do you want to know?” I suspect that the line of thought here goes something like:

  1. I (or my son/daughter/member of my team) does not have a very hard shot (by someone’s standard)
  2. I need to learn what muscles are used in shooting
  3. I need to strengthen these muscles to improve my shot power

In response to this thought process, I could dissect all the muscles involved with various shot patterns, how their roles change depending upon body position, and explain their actions. That said, I think in this situation I might be providing the right answer to the wrong question. In my opinion, a better, more direction question would be:

“How can I improve my shot?”

Improving a shot in hockey comes down to a few simple concepts:

  1. Technique
  2. Accuracy
  3. Release
  4. Power

In almost every case, all of these things feed each other. If someone isn’t strong enough, they may not be able to shoot with the ideal technique (especially true at the youth levels). A slow release can make a hard shot seem slow, since the goalie/opponents have an opportunity to adjust their positioning to the expected shot before it gets off.

Check out the video below of my buddy Johnny Gaudreau. He’s not going to win any hardest shot contests, but he sure finds the back of the net!

Quick release and accuracy may be more important than shot power for some players

Many coaches like defensemen with a big shot from the point. This certainly isn’t a bad thing, and in many cases is desirable. That said, Mark Recchi played the point for years on the power play and almost exclusively took snap shots. As mentioned above, sometimes placement is more important than power.

I’ve also heard stories of some of the world’s top scorers admitting that they didn’t “aim” as much as just try to get the shot off as quickly and as hard as possible. The point of this discussion is to recognize that many players have found success using different strategies, most of which gravitate toward their talent predispositions. If you’re the parent or coach of an undersized player, they will absolutely benefit from some strength training, but they may never have the hardest shot on their team. That’s okay; they can find success with other strategies!

With all that said, let’s dig into the heart of this question: What muscles are used in shooting and how do we train off the ice to improve shooting power?

Do muscles matter?
There are in excess of 600 muscles in the body, most of which are active in some capacity during a max effort shooting pattern. Some will be used to “load”, some will be used to accelerate through the shooting pattern, and some will be used to decelerate the movement. While it might be possible to dissect the role of every muscle in every shooting situation, I think the training application of this information would get pretty muddy very quickly. For example, for a right-handed shot to open up and take a big slap shot would involve an eccentric loading of the back-side (right) external oblique during the loading phase, an isometric action during the transition from the wind-up to lowering the stick, and a concentric action as the player accelerates the stick down. This is just one example of one muscle in one shot from one position. To use information like this to design specific exercises to address each component would be overly laborious and incredibly inefficient. Not to mention, muscle action is position- and velocity-specific, so simply doing a bunch of Russian twists to train the obliques would leave A LOT to be desired (not to mention this is a garbage exercise anyway).

Scrap these in favor of plank rotations and belly press variations

In contrast, I’d urge you to temporarily let go of thinking of the involved muscles and start thinking more in terms of movement patterns. When you view sports in this frame, you’re able to train multiple muscles in their sport-specific roles simultaneously. This concept, however, has been bastardized by the “hockey-specific” folks that started loading up hockey sticks with resistance tubing and having players go through shooting motions in this manner. A few things to consider:

  1. Shooting patterns, like all truly sport-specific movements, are position and velocity dependent and involve a very specific motor program within the nervous system. Creating an excessive overload during sport-specific patterns can NEGATIVELY affect the motor program, ultimately leading to a sloppier pattern. This is especially true with movements where accuracy is a primary objective.
  2. Relevant to the above, tubing progressively increases resistance as it gets stretched, so the resistance is maximized as the players stick reaches the “follow through” phase of the shot. This is the exact opposite of shooting on the ice, where maximum resistance is reached either during the transition from wind-up to shooting phases, or during contact with the puck. A much more effective way of utilizing this concept would be to use pucks that are MODERATELY heavier (e.g. ~ 1 oz for bantams and midgets, and up to ~2oz heavier for juniors, college, etc.; peewees and below shouldn’t use heavier pucks!)
  3. Off-ice training can have a HUGE impact on sport-specific qualities by breaking down the movements into more fundamental patterns that don’t directly mimic those used on the ice, but still have some similarities. For example, shooting is a low load, high velocity rotational power movement. These can be trained off the ice using med ball throw variations from different positions, that will help mimic the rotational loading and force generation through the hips, transfer of this power through the core, and follow-through through the upper body. In this way, the pattern is similar enough that it can transfer to on-ice improvements, but not so similar that it will interfere with the accuracy/precision of the movement on the ice.

Tube-resisted shooting: The key to developing inaccurate shots and sports hernias

Our med ball work can generally be broken down into these variations:

  1. Shotput or scoop
  2. Front standing or side standing
  3. Static or dynamic start

In this way, we’re able to address a wide variety of shooting environments that players face on the ice. We generally progress to lighter loads throughout the off-season to help shift toward higher velocity movements. I’ve posted a ton of these videos in the past, so if you’re interested in seeing these exercises in motion, check out the posts below!

  1. The Myth of Wrist Strength in Hockey
  2. Improving Shot Power Through Rotational Power Training
  3. Final Phase Rotational Power Exercise

I hope this clears up any confusion regarding the most appropriate off-ice training strategies to improve on-ice shooting power. Please post any questions you may have below!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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After a great weekend in Pittsburgh at USA Hockey’s ADM Symposium (and one of Tangradi’s pre-season games) and a busy Summer of travel in general, I’m finally back and getting resettled in Philadelphia.

Despite the popularity of these posts, I don’t write a lot about how specific off-ice training methods transfer to specific on-ice skills. My fear is that players will say “I need a quicker first step” and only do a few thing that I recommend for speed training, or in this case, “I need a harder slap shot” and only do the exercises in this article. The truth is that ALL players should be following a comprehensive training program and using single goals as a means of designing your plan will inevitably create imbalances and ultimately fail in helping you realize your true potential. I say that as a preface to this post with the hopes that you’ll understand that this the exercises referenced below were simply pulled from a more complete program to demonstrate how these components will help transfer to an on-ice ability.

Tips for Improving Slap Shot Power
Hockey players, especially young ones, frequently seek out ways to improve their shot power. In reality, shooting a harder slap shot often comes down to mastering the technical components (e.g. foot positioning, puck placement, stick contact point, hand position, hip drive, etc). That said, a lot of progress can be made by removing physical barriers and improving both general and movement-specific strength and power.

From a barrier standpoint, shooting requires a great deal of mobility through the hips and thoracic spine (upper back). Two great exercises to improve and maintain optimal mobility in these areas are:

The Lying Knee-to-Knee Mobilization
Purpose: Improve hip internal rotation range of motion

Side-Lying Diagonal Arm Arc
Purpose: Improve thoracic rotation range of motion

A player cannot realize their full power potential with significant mobility restrictions. Because we live in a more sedentary society than ever, the hips and thoracic spine are common points of restriction and can lead to a number of other problems in addition to diminished shot power. Once a player has full mobility through the hips and spine, the next step is to improve core strength. While mobility and stability can be developed somewhat simultaneously, it’s important to understand that proper reflexive stability depends on proper proprioception, which is driven by optimal range of motion. In other words, range of motion restrictions will impair the body’s ability to properly activate stabilization-oriented muscles. Stability work will help ensure that the power generated from the lower body is effectively transferred to the upper body and into the puck. One great exercise for this is:

½ Kneeling Belly Press
Purpose: Improve rotational core strength

There are dozens of other exercises that serve this purpose well, but this is a good one to start with. The final stage in developing a harder shot is to improve rotational power. Power expression can range from high load, low velocity to low load, high velocity. Because a puck weighs a mere 6 oz., there will be a better transfer of power improvements if exercises on the low load, high velocity end of the continuum are selected. Medicine ball exercises serve this purpose perfectly.

One basic rotational power exercise is:

Front Standing Med Ball Scoop
Purpose: Develop rotational power, emphasizing weight transfer, hip rotation, and upper body follow through.

(well-groomed playoff beard optional)

A more dynamic variation of this quality:

Side Standing Med Ball Shotput with Rapid Step Behind
Purpose: Develop rotational power in a more dynamic environment. This more closely mimics the changing foot positions where power will need to be generated on the ice (think of adjusting feet to take a one timer).

While these are a few specific exercises that will help improve rotational power, a more general approach to strength training will also have a positive impact. The great thing about a quality hockey training program is that the same tactics used to develop a harder slap shot will also improve maximum and transitional skating speed, the ability to give and withstand hits, general conditioning, and injury resistance. In general, I think the hockey hockey world is due for a paradigm shift away from a direct skill-transfer driven training approach to off-ice development and toward a more complete athletic development system.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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We’re in the final phase of our off-season hockey training program at Endeavor Sports Performance, which means a lot of our players are starting to trickle back to their teams. It also means we’re at the final stage of exercise progressions for physical qualities like power, speed, and conditioning. From a programming standpoint, this is the most fun phase to write. It’s also the most fun phase to coach. A lot of new exercises that encompass multiple training qualities. In today’s post, I want to show you a video of a dynamic rotational power exercise.

Before we get to that, I wanted to let you know that my friend Rick Kaselj is just releasing his new system: Muscle Imbalances Revealed: Upper Body. Rick’s lower body system was a huge hit, and this features a couple new presenters in Tony Gentilcore and Jeff Cubos. I’m about half way through reviewing it (might write a full review if I can find the time in the near future), and it’s an awesome resource. Tony’s presentations alone are worth the price of admission. I could sit down with a beer and watch these on repeat. It’s like listening to Larry David giving a highly educational and well-researched talk on upper body assessments and exercise programming. Jeff Cubos, Dean Somerset, and Rick cover a host of other important topics, including soft-tissue work, advanced core training, linking breathing to performance and rehab, and neck exercises. For those of you that train people for a living, the system comes with CEU’s too. If you’re interested, check out the link below for more information.

Click here >> Muscle Imbalances Revealed

Med Ball Shotput with Rapid Step Behind with Partner Pass
Our rotational power exercises progress in:

  • Symmetry (more sets in non-shooting direction in early off-season)
  • Volume (more sets toward end of off-season)
  • Load (heaviest load in 2nd off-season phase, then back off in 3rd phase to emphasize velocity)
  • Starting position (progress to dynamic movements toward end of off-season)

Within the 2nd and 3rd off-season phases, we’ll incorporate a partner pass. The video below is of a “Med Ball Shotput with Rapid Step Behind with Partner Pass”, an exercise our hockey players perform in the final two weeks of their last off-season program.

Great power and eye movement

Another med ball for the graveyard

I’m all for creativity, but I won’t include an exercise in our athlete’s programs unless it serves a specific purpose. In this case, we’ve added components to the exercise to integrate other important athletic qualities without sacrificing the core goal: rotational power. Adding a dynamic start teaches the athlete to generate maximal rotational power from a non-stationary position, which is traditionally how this quality is needed on the ice. Adding a partner pass teaches the athlete to make quick adjustments based on the accuracy of the pass to maintain power. We also cue our players to rapid turn their eyes to the wall, pick a spot on the wall, and throw the ball THROUGH that spot. Actually, we tell our players that’s what we’re looking for, and then we just say “eyes” as a reminder. We use the same cue during transitional sprint work: “eyes first”. We want to get our players into the habit of maximizing their occulomotor drivers, and, more simplistically, just looking where they’re going/shooting.

I’ve talked a lot about how the most sport-specific training can be anti-sport-specific training, and that you don’t want to revert back to the moronic chaos of exercises like band-resisted slap shots and things of that nature. In this case, I think the demands of this exercise are about as hockey-specific as it gets, at least without throwing in someone to play defense. Maybe the best terminology is to think of training qualities, but not skills. In this case, we’re incorporating qualities like visual adjustment and tracking, dynamic adjustment, and projectile accuracy without sacrificing the core goal of rotational power.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Don’t forget to check this out to see if it’s right for you! Muscle Imbalances Revealed

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After a research-filled post on Stretching for Hockey and a long rant on NHL Combine Test Results and why comparing off-ice testing results between players is senseless, I thought I’d stick with something a little more laid back today.

Hockey players can improve their shooting power by improving their rotational power off the ice. Essentially, rotational power is maximized when it’s initiated through the hips and transferred through the core.

Check out a few of my favorite exercises below to improve rotational power (and hockey shooting power). I actually learned the “partner toss” variation of this from my colleague Mike Potenza from a video he posted on Hockey Strength and Conditioning. If you aren’t a member yet, I’m officially disappointed. You can try it for 7 days for only $1. I even bought a shorter domain name ( so you don’t have to type in everytime you want to go to the site. It can’t be any easier!

Hockey Strength and Conditioning

On to the videos:

Front Standing Med Ball Scoop

Side Standing Med Ball Scoop w/ Partner Toss

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have medicine balls and a flat concrete wall to throw them against, try adding an explosive rotational component to other upper body exercises:

Rotational 1-Arm Cable Chest Press

Rotational 1-Arm Cable Row

Mix these exercises into the beginning of your training sessions and you’ll start to notice that your shots have a little more power behind them.

To your continued success,

Kevin Neeld

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