Ice hockey is one of the fastest sports in the world. Players rely on quick bursts of speed alongside highly-developed motor skills to gain control of the puck or get ahead of the other team’s players.
In ice hockey, speed and strength are everything.
It’s also well-known that stronger players are often the fastest.
Strength is only part of the equation. Players need to convert that strength into activating muscle groups that make all the difference in whether a team wins or loses.
One of the best ways coaches can assess a player’s overall strength and ability to move quickly is to measure and monitor neuromuscular performance. Once you understand a player’s neuromuscular performance, you can tailor training sessions to improve acceleration on the ice.
Before we move on to explaining the main topic of the article, feel free to watch how Malmö Redhawks Ice Hockey monitor medical condition of their players with XPS Health:
How do you Assess Neuromuscular Performance?
A whole load of tests can monitor and assess an ice hockey player’s power, force production, speed, acceleration, and the rate at which they produce force and speed.
However, what you need as a coach is an accurate measure of how an athlete’s muscles activate and coordinate this movement and whether they’re doing so efficiently. Also known as neuromuscular performance.
One of the best ways to assess neuromuscular performance is with an Electromyography (EMG) analysis.
Medical definitions of EMG say that these tests measure “muscle response or electrical activity in response to a nerve’s stimulation of the muscle.” EMG tests are used to monitor “the electrical activity of muscle during rest, slight contraction and forceful contraction.”
EMG tests are conducted using “one or more small needles (also called electrodes) [that] are inserted through the skin into the muscle. The electrical activity picked up by the electrodes is then displayed on an oscilloscope (a monitor that displays electrical activity in the form of waves). An audio-amplifier is used so the activity can be heard.”
Fortunately, in most sports, coaches can use wireless EMG monitors so athletes don’t have to sit still for these tests. You can monitor athletes during training sessions using these connected devices, such as wireless EMG sensors (FREEEMG from BTS Bioengineering).
Attach sensors on an athlete’s body where it makes the most sense, such as the gluteus medius (GMed), vastus lateralis (VL), medial gastrocnemius (gastroc), and biceps femoris (BF).
With this data, especially when you attach sensors on the right and left-hand side of the body, you will see data in three dimensions (x, y, and z axes). Giving you everything you need to plot acceleration in 3D and gain the insights you need to understand an athlete’s neuromuscular performance.
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What do Neuromuscular Performance Results Show Coaches?
Neuromuscular Performance Results show coaches one of two things: how to improve training exercises to increase speed, power, and performance, and what activities in training don’t actually make a difference to any of those things.
As a coach, you want to improve speed, power, and performance. You want every athlete’s muscles firing at the right time, especially during propulsion, to give them an advantage on the ice.
Research into neuromuscular performance shows that the following activities don’t make much, if any, of a difference to speed, power, or inter-muscle coordination and synchrony:
- Fast, unweighted/unbalanced movements (either in training or during off-ice fitness exercises);
- Bilateral movements where more weight is put on one side of the body or another;
- Low-intensity resistance training (especially when done in gyms to build power for being on the ice).
Now we understand why EMG results show us and what won’t help, let’s take a closer look at what will improve ice hockey players’ performance.
5 ways EMG results improve neuromuscular performance in ice hockey
Improve inter-muscular coordination with Max Strength/Resistance Training
One way to improve inter-muscular coordination, to generate increased neuromuscular performance is to focus weight lifting exercises on achieving maximum resistance for 1-3 reps per set.
Once an athlete can lift 1.5 to 2x their body weight, applied through unilateral exercises, aim to ensure they’re lifting the maximum possible every time they do reps. Current research shows that these types of exercises positively impact acceleration.
Resistance ballistic training: combined with fast movement
Weighted, resistance, or ballistic training also has a positive effect on improving acceleration, strength, and neuromuscular performance. Unweighted training doesn’t always have the same positive effects.
During this type of training exercise, coaches should ensure players are moving their bodies as quickly as possible. Get your athletes to focus on explosive movements. Ensure attention is focused on one side of the body at a time. Optimal power generation usually occurs at around 30% of maximum weight, making these exercises different from the resistance training mentioned above.
Focus on flexibility (especially post-workout)
Take action to ensure a certain amount of flexibility is incorporated into post-workout exercises. Include a mix of static and dynamic stretches. This will help to improve skating techniques and prevent injuries while also enhancing neuromuscular performance.
Be specific with training exercises
It’s also important that the exercises being practiced are directly related to increasing the strength and power of the propulsion phase of the skating stride. Simply encouraging athletes to participate in general “gym training” won’t have the desired effect if the activities won’t help to improve their strength, power, and coordination in the muscle groups that need it the most.
Aim to ensure athletes are training without the disadvantage of fatigue
Tired athletes or athletes with tired muscles won’t experience the full positive effects of training exercises. Especially if the exercises aim to improve inter-muscle coordination.
Ensure athletes are well-rested before starting any training exercises listed above. Implement adequate warmup exercises to ensure that the muscles in coordination are the right ones. Otherwise, other muscle groups will attempt to take over when the primary muscles that should be involved are too tired.
In this scenario, it might seem like an athlete is performing well. But, chances are, they are not, and the right muscles won’t have received the exercise you want them to before a big game. It’s crucial to get muscle coordination right to maximize neuromuscular performance.
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