In my practice as a fitness coach I do not typically need to sit down and convince an athlete that bench pressing is appropriate training for goalies. Typically, I need to convince them that they do not need to bench press and biceps curl on a daily basis. Usually, it is when I am speaking with other fitness coaches that I need to espouse the virtues of bench press training for goalies or any hockey player for that matter.
Okay, I can see the goalies out there reading this article and thinking, “now this is my kind of trainer!” and fitness coaches out there reading it thinking, “this trainer is an idiot!” I do not want to debate either point today, but I do want to point out that there are many bench press variations, some being very useful for hockey goalies.
Variation #1 – The Barbell Bench Press
This is what you immediately thought of when you read the title of this article. It is probably why you clicked through to read it. This variation places the athlete flat on their back on a bench with their feet flat on the floor and pressing a barbell from their chest to an extended elbow position. Does this have any place in the hockey goalie’s strength training? If this athlete will be tested in the bench press at training camp, then yes it does! If this is not a part of pre-season testing then in my training for goalies it gets very limited rotation. Because there is minimal stabilization required through the core and hips I think the strength developed with this exercise is not maximally transferrable onto the ice. Remember we are only trying to build strength that we can use on the ice. You are not trying to spend hours in the gym building big dumb muscles that will only weigh you down when it comes to actually playing hockey.
Variation #2 – Dumbbell Press on a Stability Ball
Now we are talking! Pardon me if I get a little technical here, but the first thing you need to keep in mind is the principle that muscles do not work as individuals, they work in chains. So when I think of a dumbbell bench press on the stability ball I am not just thinking in terms of the pecs, triceps and anterior deltoid. I am thinking of the fascial connections that Thomas Myers describes so well in his book Anatomy Trains. The chain of muscle and connective tissue which links the Pectoralis Major (chest muscle) to the Rectus Femoris (six pack muscles) and into the Adductors (groins). Amazing isn’t it there is a connection between your groins and your chest muscles! In terms of goaltending, picture the link when you make one of those spectacular glove saves while going down into a split position – stretch on groin, stretch on abs, stretch on chest and shoulder, but no injury!
The first thing to do if you want to try this exercise is to make sure you have a burst resistant high quality stability ball. Do not use one that you picked up at the discount store for fifteen bucks! That ball could burst and serious injury will result.
Now that you have your high quality stability ball you will begin with a load approximately 10-20lbs lighter than you typically use for dumbbell press. Make sure the ball is sitting on a non-slip surface such as a rubber floor. Again, if the ball slides out from under you, you are going to hurt yourself. Sit on the stability ball holding one dumbbell in each hand, resting them on your thighs. Slowly walk your feet forward as you lay back onto the ball. Continue walking your feet forward until the ball is resting at shoulder level and the back of your head is lightly touching the ball. Now lift your hips so you make a straight line from your knees, through your hips, to your shoulders. Hold this position throughout the entire set.
Remember when I talked about the chain of muscles you use when you perform the bench press? Well, performing the same exercise on a stability ball activates another chain of muscles and one that is essential when we are talking about training for goalies. By keeping your hips up as you perform bench press on the ball you are activating the “superficial back line and the posterior functional line”. In other words now, instead of training the pecs, anterior deltoid, triceps, abdominals and groin muscles, you are also training your hamstrings, glutes which are huge pushing muscles, back extensors which help you keep your chest up during a long game without slouching in to a fatigued posture and even your latissimus dorsi. That is getting a little more return on your investment of time and effort, isn’t it?
Want to get a little bit more out of the bench press? Okay, try this – One Armed Dumbbell Press on a Stability Ball. Once again you will need to use a slightly lighter weight than you used for the two handed version. This variation will bring in the abdominal obliques to a greater extent and your will really feel the glute (butt muscle) on the same side as the dumbbell working hard to keep your stable. When doing this exercise, make sure you keep your hips up and level, do not allow your hip on one side to dip. If you cannot execute the exercise with perfect technique, then lighten the weight until you can. Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest muscle in the link.
So there you have it my argument for why hockey goalies should bench press. Should they only bench press? No. I am actually a huge fan of push up variations and standing cable press, but sometimes the bench press gets discounted as a bodybuilder exercise, when it actually does have a place in training for goalies.