Jan 29, 2015
What a Save!

To be an effective goalie–in any sport–you need a certain mindset. You also need a specific strength and conditioning program that is different from position players.

By Jane Koeniges & Pete Koeniges

Jane Koeniges, CSCS, is the Assistant Field Hockey and Women’s Lacrosse Coach at East Stroudsburg University, and the former Assistant Field Hockey Coach at Lafayette College. She can be reached at: [email protected]. Her brother, Pete Koeniges, MEd, ATC, CSCS, is the Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach for the New Jersey Pride (Major League Lacrosse) and at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, N.J. He can be reached through his Web site, http://www.lacrossestrength.com, which is dedicated to improving performance and reducing injuries in lacrosse.

They’re your last line of defense. They can make bad teams good and good teams great. The best ones can take over an entire game by themselves. There is no other athlete quite like the goalkeeper. In soccer, ice hockey, lacrosse, and field hockey, they’re the most important people on the pitch, rink, or field. The physical and mental demands of the position set them apart from their teammates–yet all too often, they don’t have a conditioning program that reflects those unique demands.

To experience maximum performance benefits from training, goalies need to exercise differently than offensive and defensive “field players.” They need to focus more on certain aspects of strength and conditioning and less on others.

Creating a specialized regimen for goalies can seem like a daunting task for any conditioning coach. But once you realize that goalies from all sports share some common needs, the job becomes much more manageable. A strong foundation of goalie-specific exercises and conditioning work can help take any team’s backstopper to the next level.

Similar & Different

When you consider a goalkeeper’s role during a soccer, ice hockey, lacrosse, or field hockey match, the similarities are clear. Their first responsibility is to get themselves or their equipment in front of the ball or puck to prevent it from going into the net. They have to rely on quick movements and lightning-fast reactions to get in position and make the save. They also have to be acutely aware of their surroundings at all times, to prepare for rebounds, deflections, and passes between opposing players.

Most goalies also play a vital role as leaders of the defense. Some are very vocal in directing teammates’ movements when the play is in their zone. Goalies are the starting point for many counter-attacks, making them an important (though often underappreciated) part of the offense. Finally, many goalies set their team’s emotional thermostat. A dramatic, timely save or a key penalty kill can swing the momentum for the rest of the game.

There are, of course, critical sport-specific skills for each type of goalie. In soccer, goalies rely heavily on vertical jumps, lateral dives, and short sprints, often accompanied by quick changes in direction. In addition to stopping shots by catching the ball, they must be able to execute deflection saves and punch clears. To start the counter-attack, they also need to be adept at throwing, punting, and kicking.

Ice hockey goalies, by comparison, have much less space to cover, but must move forward, backward, and laterally very quickly to cut down shooting angles and make saves. Fast reflexes and full-body coordination are major keys, as they use the leg pads, the catching glove, the blocker, and the stick to thwart shooters. They require incredible flexibility for positions such as the split, and rely on explosive power to push off one leg for many lateral movements. They must also have the eye-hand coordination necessary to snare fast-moving pucks.

In lacrosse, the goalkeeper’s job is to stop shots, gain possession, and start a counter-attack. Straight-ahead sprinting is particularly important, as are eye-hand coordination and the ability to follow a fast-moving ball, often when looking through traffic. Lacrosse goalies must also be skilled at sport-specific catching and throwing movements.

Field hockey goalies, meanwhile, are mostly concerned with stopping or redirecting shots and clearing the ball by kicking it outside the striking circle to eliminate second and third scoring chances. The primary movement patterns are lateral, forward/backward, up/down (from a diving, laying-out position back to their feet in a ready position), diving, and splits. The main sport-specific skills are kicking and the hand block.

Of course, this is only a broad overview–there are many subtler aspects of goalkeeping in each sport, and goalies’ individual styles can vary dramatically. Thus, goalie conditioning is not about providing a one-size-fits-all training regimen. Instead, it’s about taking the movement patterns and sport skills the athletes use, breaking them down to identify the key biomechanical movements, and then devising a program that trains and develops those movements and the related muscle groups.

Piece By Piece

Optimal workouts for goalies need to address all aspects of performance. The most successful programs focus on several crucial building blocks: the metabolic system, muscular strength, muscular endurance, coordination, and quickness. Leaving out any of these areas from a goalie’s training may result in weaknesses–which opponents will be all too happy to exploit.

Below, we’ll briefly explain each building block. Then we’ll discuss how to assemble them into an effective goalie training program.

The metabolic system can be divided into two parts: aerobic and anaerobic. Every activity and position in goaltending relies partially on both systems–it’s the proportion of each that’s the key. The majority of goalie movement is anaerobic, consisting of short bouts of intense activity with intermittent rest in between. Nevertheless, some level of aerobic training is useful for general conditioning and endurance development, especially in soccer and lacrosse, where goalies are expected to sprint for short distances several times a game.

Muscular strength is important in many movements, especially in generating power when clearing and starting the counter-attack. Soccer goalkeepers also use muscular strength during vertical jumps when leaping or challenging an opponent.

Muscular endurance is essential for performing skills and movements over and over during a game. When goalkeepers experience a breakdown in form or technique late in contests, muscular fatigue is often to blame. For this reason, muscle endurance should always be a major focus of goalie training.

Coordination is an obvious necessity for all types of athletes, but it’s of utmost importance to goalies. In the blink of an eye, they have to decide whether to kick out a leg, flash a catching glove, or dive forward or laterally, all without losing control and ending up off-balance and out of position. The best goalies often think one or two moves ahead of what they’re doing at any given moment, and they must be highly coordinated to produce fluid, dynamic movements in rapid succession.

Quickness is the keystone for most successful goalkeepers. The term can mean different things to different athletes, but in this context, it’s a blend of two main attributes: speed and agility. For everything from establishing position to making saves to preventing injuries, quickness is a goalie’s best friend. Developing it should be a focus of every training regimen.

Power Building

How do you fit all these building blocks together to form a wall in front of the net? To translate them into a specific training program, let’s first focus on strength and power development.

For starters, a solid warmup is essential. We recommend a 10 to 15 minute cycle of jumping rope, hurdle jumps, ladder drills, and basic hip mobility drills. These will increase blood flow and joint fluids, neurologically activate key stability muscles, and loosen up the musculotendinous unit of the foot and lower leg. The athlete should also warm up with activation exercises focusing on the glutes, hip stabilizers, and psoas. For instance, bridging helps to activate the glutes. Possible variations include two-leg bridging with feet on the floor, single-leg bridging with one leg on the floor and the other knee pulled in to the chest, and feet-elevated bridging, with the feet placed on a four-inch box.

Isometric hip abduction can stimulate the external rotators of the hip. We like to use an elastic green mini-band to provide resistance, having the athlete perform three to four sets of 10-second holds. Hip flexion, with the hip flexed greater than 90 degrees, can effectively activate the psoas–with the athlete lying down, keeping one leg straight and flexing the opposite knee to the chest, the hip is flexed greater than 90 degrees. A light band can be wrapped around the flexed knee and the opposite foot for resistance. Try having the athlete hold this contraction for three to four sets of 10 seconds. To increase the difficulty, have the athlete do the exercise while standing.

After warmup, take advantage of the neuromuscular system’s freshness by heading straight into power exercises aimed at boosting muscular strength and endurance. Olympic lifts, such as the clean and the snatch, are great for strength development, but they shouldn’t be the sole focus. Squat jumps, box jumps, medicine ball tosses, push presses, and Olympic variations like the high pull and dumbbell snatch are also effective exercises for building power. Because these exercises require greater neuromuscular coordination than traditional lifts, they may even have more direct crossover to the movements and techniques involved in goaltending. However, because of their high neuromuscular demand, the sets should be small–typically no more than five reps each.

Next you can incorporate a bi-set, using two different exercises back-to-back with different movement patterns. This tandem approach increases the intensity of the workout and makes it more efficient. Devise pairs that challenge the whole body, since activating non-adjacent muscle groups in close succession can help develop coordination along with overall strength. For instance, we like to pair a knee- and hip-dominated exercise with a vertical pulling exercise: Have the athlete perform a lunge or squat for five to eight reps, followed immediately by six to 10 pull-ups. Three to five sets of this rotation provide an adequate challenge. (See “Exercise Breakdown” below for specific exercise ideas divided into movement categories).

A tri-set should follow, focusing on horizontal pulling, pushing, and hip dominance. Choose exercises that relate to the biomechanical movements used in the goalie’s sport–for example, a lacrosse goalie’s tri-set might include a dumbbell bench press, a dumbbell row, and a straight-leg deadlift. The rowing movement helps develop strength and stability in the scapula, which is important for force transference from the core to the upper extremities. This allows a lacrosse goalie to make stronger long-distance outlet passes.

Lastly, core and accessory exercises should complete the resistance portion of each workout. Plank exercises and their variations are great for improving core strength and providing lumbar stability. Three to four sets of a 30-second plank on the elbows and toes can be a good starting point. When the athlete becomes more proficient, try the same exercise with one foot elevated, two feet and one arm extended, and one arm and the opposite foot elevated. You can also use side planks on both sides. Accessory exercises can focus on more isolated types of power and movement, such as grip strength and shoulder external rotation.

Flexible, Fast & Focused

Soft-tissue treatment should also be a part of the goalie’s workout. This can include static stretching to improve muscle length (especially with ice hockey goalies, for whom flexibility is paramount), and using foam rollers to improve tissue density. Focus on areas of tightness and trigger points within the muscle. Periodic deep-tissue massage can also be helpful for goalies, as it improves local blood flow and helps relieve muscle spasms. Massage also promotes relaxation and reduces stress.

Some goalies today are turning to less-traditional types of flexibility development as well, particularly yoga and Pilates. For example, Trevor Tierney, recently retired goalie for the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse, performed yoga not only for flexibility but also to hone his mental focus. He feels the concentration required to perform the various yoga positions and the warm environment in which he performs them help him prepare to be sharp and relaxed under pressure. This type of training isn’t for everyone, but if you introduce it to your goalies, they may be surprised at the positive results.

Interval sprint training should also be part of the program, as it can improve speed, power, and VO2 max. The intervals can be broken down by time or physiological recovery. For instance, a soccer goalie can sprint the width of the goal box for six reps, or an ice hockey goalie can sprint from blue line to blue line. Mike Boyle, MA, ATC, Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Boston University men’s ice hockey team, recommends that the rest intervals during this type of training be determined by the athlete’s heart rate recovery. Using heart rate monitors and simple math, you can prescribe appropriate rest periods during sprinting activity. When the recovery heart rate falls below 60 percent of the athlete’s max, it’s time for the next set.

It’s important to remember that a large focus on aerobic training is unnecessary for goalies, and may even be counterproductive. Aerobic work can reduce the ratio of explosive, fast-twitch fibers to slow-twitch fibers, which is definitely not what goalies want. The right amount depends on each individual, but examples of safe starting points would be six to eight sets of five- to 10-yard sprints for soccer goalies and five- to 50-yard runs for lacrosse goalies.

Vision training is another area that can pay large dividends for goalies. There are many different exercises for honing visual perception along with reaction time, some simple and some complex. For instance, playing ping-pong requires athletes to focus on a much smaller ball than they’re used to. You can also put numbers on soccer balls and have the goalie call out each incoming ball’s number during shooting drills. This exercise forces the eyes to follow and concentrate on the ball more closely than they normally would. (For more vision training ideas, go to www.training-conditioning.com and type “Goalie Vision” into the search window.)

Talk It Up

Implementing these training recommendations can lead to significant performance gains, particularly if your goalies haven’t used position-specific conditioning in the past. But for such improvements to occur, players must understand and buy into the new workout regimen. For that reason, great communication is vital.

If your ice hockey goalie says he hates aerobic training and he has no problems with endurance during games, try eliminating it entirely. If your soccer goalie feels Olympic lifts create bulk that limits her movement, reduce the weight or shift to more flexibility exercises. When working with such specialized athletes, nothing should be set in stone.

Goalies are used to shouldering individual responsibility for their performance, so let them take the lead in customizing their workouts. If you listen to their needs and are prepared to offer targeted conditioning advice, they’ll be better prepared than ever to rack up wins and frustrate opposing shooters.


Boyle, Michael. Designing Strength Training Programs and Facilities. Boston: 2006.

Sahrmann, Shirley. Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes. St. Louis: Mosby, 2002.

Siff, Mel. Supertraining. Denver: Supertraining Institute, 2003.

Sidebar: Pregame Warmup

Before each contest, many goalies follow highly ritualized warmup routines. To ensure they’re preparing themselves optimally, take a look at your goalies’ routines to see if they involve a sensible progression.

The first part of the warmup should involve gross motor movements. These can include jogging, active stretching, and light plyometrics. Most teams perform these activities as a single unit, and there’s no reason why goalies shouldn’t join their teammates for this phase.

Next should come position-specific movement skills. This can include basic hand-eye coordination drills, simulated ladder drills and other footwork, and lateral movements. Flexibility should be incorporated at this time as well, especially in sports where the goalkeeper must be able to execute splits or other similar extensions.

The warmup should then move on to game-specific activity. A good example is moving around the goalmouth while facing shots in a controlled environment. As the goalie gets more comfortable, the shots should increase in speed and variety.

The final step is the introduction of shooting drills. These should be as game-like as possible to help the goalie get into the flow of the action, and they should force him or her to make as many different types of saves as possible. When this warmup is finished, the goalie should be mentally and physically ready for the starting whistle.

Sidebar: Exercise Breakdown

Below is a list of some of the most important exercises for goaltender strength training, broken down into categories based on the primary biomechanical movement involved.

Power/Explosiveness Box jumps Squat jumps Dumbbell snatch

Knee-dominant Squats (Back/Front) Lunges Single-leg squats

Hip-dominant Deadlifts Romanian deadlifts Single-leg deadlifts Good mornings

Vertical Pull Pull-ups Chin ups Lat pull downs

Vertical Press Shoulder barbell press Shoulder dumbbell press

Horizontal Pull Bent-over row One-armed row Inverted row

Horizontal Press Bench press Dumbbell press Alternating dumbbell press Pushups

Trunk Stability Planks Reverse crunches Wood chops

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