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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