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Dangling...The Science of the Art

Hockey Tips

Dangling sure is an art form, but there is definitely a science behind it! When you strip down all the cameras, glamour, and even skin for that matter, stickhandling is an epic battle between two opposite and opposing sets of muscles.

Agonists do the work you want done, and antagonists are responsible for the equal and opposite movement!

Take a ballerina trying to lift her leg as high as she can while keeping it straight. The top of her thigh (quadriceps) is doing all the work, but it will only get the leg up so high. At some point the tension from the back of her thigh (hamstrings) will make it impossible to get the leg any higher off the ground. Many people would think she needs to develop stronger quads, but the truth is she needs to learn to consciously relax the hamstring!

Now back to the duster that just got off the bench and is trying to dangle his way to glory on a 1 on 2! Not only is he trying to win the battle against both opposing players, the body is also trying to pacify the battle between the muscles in his wrists and forearms. The unfortunate truth is that it is too late to win this war during a game, this has to be done during practice.

As the stick cups each side of the puck in different stick handling movements, forearm and wrist muscles are constantly being activated and deactivated. All muscles used to cup the puck on the backhand (pronation of the forearm) must deactivate to allow this to happen. The problem is that the opposing muscles resist and sometimes misfire, adding tension to the desired movement, which ends up looking like stone hands (i.e. the guy who decides to throw the puck into the corner and start the cycle on a breakaway). The only way to beat this innate antagonistic reflex (pretty wordy huh!) is to get it out of the subconscious through fierce commitment to repetition!

The good news is there are various training aids that give you the support needed to self-coach your way through those antagonists.

One of the best that I’ve seen out there is the Extreme Passing Kit from HockeyShot. It has the widest synthetic ice surface out there and the rebounding device lets the puck rocket back to your blade forcing you to cup it to avoid having it bounce off your blade. What’s great about this product is that you can adjust the rebounding speed so that you give yourself a chance to slow it down and really feel your wrist and forearm muscles work on the cup. The harder you send it, the harder you challenge yourself to get it back! Eventually through enough repetition, you will actually get to the moment of enlightenment where you can feel the tension of the antagonistic muscles and learn to relax them (yes master Yoda would be proud!).

A player committing to 20 minutes a day will notice huge differences in their ability to dangle. To take it one step further, HockeyShot offers a "Super Skills Package” where the Passing Kit is offered with weighted pucks and other devices like the Sweethands product so a player can add resistance/strength development components to their workouts. Who knows, it may even help you get rid of that “Duster” status and let you bury a few!