By: Dan Garner from HockeyTraining.com
When it comes to performing to your potential and making it to the top leagues in the game of hockey; gone are the days of “winging it” in the gym. There is simply too much talent out there and all of these talented guys who are going to make it to the top are also training hard on and off the ice as well.
The importance of properly training for hockey discussion stretches far and wide to the point where it simply just doesn’t make any sense for an athlete not to participate in sport specialized strength and conditioning. Coaches should be making it a mandatory part of the weekly regime both in the off-season and in-season if they’re serious about their team’s development.
My name is Dan Garner and I’m a professional strength coach working at the Canadian Centre for Strength and Conditioning, and the head strength coach at HockeyTraining.com. Below I will explain why training off the ice is so important for hockey players looking to improve their game.
A properly designed strength and conditioning system for hockey training can:
- Improve strength
- Improve flexibility
- Improve speed
- Decrease risk of injury
- Improve agility
- Improve acceleration
- Improve mobility
- Improve explosiveness
- Decrease time to fatigue
- Improve structural balance
- Improve conditioning
- Improve balance
- Improve body composition
The above give more than enough reason to invest your time into something that gives so much back to your game and health. Some of them have a little overlap in terms of how to train for them but when brought to the ice they all express themselves in very different elements of your game. Additionally, each one of these categories has a variety of little sub-categories that connect them to properly training for the game of hockey. It is not as simple as going to the gym to lift some weights.
Hockey Specific Training
The key is to ensure you are training properly for your sport and not just following some bodybuilding routine or program you saw in a magazine. For off-ice hockey training to be effective at increasing your athletic ability it has to be hockey specific. Remember, you’re not in the weight room to become a better weight lifter, you’re in the weight room to become a better hockey player. Two very different things which require two very different approaches.
Let’s just take one single aspect from the above and discuss its implications on hockey performance; getting stronger.
Hockey is an alactic-aerobic sport from a physiological energy system use perspective which means the game is primarily played doing short duration, high intensity movements interspersed with low intensity movements.
High intensity activity is fueled by the anaerobic energy systems of the body whereas low intensity activity is fueled by the aerobic systems of the body. Think sprinter vs. marathon runner.
Since hockey is a mixed sport (alactic-aerobic) is combines aspects of both sides of the energy system perspective. An example of multiple energy system use would be seeing an open puck, skating as fast as you can down the ice to get it and then firing a shot off at the net which results in a goal being scored. After the goal is scored you slowly stroll to the bench or back to mid-ice. This is an example of high intensity movements interspersed with low intensity activity.
Through a strength and conditioning coach’s eyes, this changes the training program design far from the standard bodybuilding routine. You want to be conditioning and supporting the proper energy systems used in the game during your strength training and conditioning work so you have the most carryover from your training on to the ice.
Knowing this, relative strength will play huge dividends in the energy system aspect of the game that is most important, anaerobic performance. When you are skating fast, shooting, body checking, passing or trying to knock someone off the puck; these are all anaerobic capacity and strength based efforts.
When you increase your relative strength (which is how strong you are in relation to your body weight) you have just done a lot of things for your game.
First of all, the stronger you are the harder you are going to be to knock off the puck. When you’re strong, you have a strong base and when you have a strong base other people cannot move you. In other words, if you have a 180lbs athlete who can squat 200lbs vs a 180lbs athlete who can squat 400lbs, who do you think is going to be easier to knock off the puck?
Strength also expresses itself through several other means on the ice. The core, lower body, upper back, lats and rotator cuffs all play a huge role in puck handling ability, shot power and also in shot accuracy. Additionally, power is created from the ground up. Through the legs, through the hips, across the body and expressed through the extremities. When you develop full body relative strength your ability to express power through the extremities is drastically heightened which improves shot power/potential, body check power, starting speed (quick first step) and top speed.
In a discussion on strength improvement in relation to hockey you can’t leave out the prevention of injury. The stronger you are, the more resistant you are to becoming injured. Injury happens almost always because of a weakness in some area of the body.
Hockey players are notorious for receiving lower body injuries due to ACL/MCL/LCL tears, hamstring pulls/tears, groin pulls/tears among many others both including the lower and upper body. When you get stronger, your susceptibility to receiving an injury drastically decreases simply because you are strong enough the hold your position and not slip into a position of improper movement mechanics.
To put it another way. When you’re strong, the chances of something “giving out” go way down.
Improving the strength balance between the hamstrings and the quadriceps is vital to ensuring knee stability during athletic movement. Ideally, you would want your hamstring to represent 80% of your quadriceps strength. One of the many examples I could provide that is exclusively strength based that has a protective effect on the body during sport.
Also when strength training, putting the body through a full range of motion during lifting increases flexibility and mobility which will in turn improve resistance to injury. Not only will you be strong enough to hold your position but if you get knocked out of position (which is bound to happen in a sport as chaotic as hockey) you will also have a decreased susceptibility to being injured because you will be more flexible/mobile allowing you to endure more awkward movements without pulling or tearing a muscle.
Strength Training Improves Flexibility
Someone who is wound too tight has restricted movement that makes them more susceptible to injury. One of the biggest myths when it comes to strength training is that it will decrease your flexibility. This is complete nonsense. When training properly it will actually improve your flexibility. This is also true even if you gain a respectable amount of muscle mass, flexibility/mobility don’t go away with strength training. They improve.
Hockey specific strength training’s effect on injury resistance also leads to improved performance by default due to the fact that you will miss less games, miss less practices and miss less workouts. When you’re an injury free athlete you’re always improving and if you’re not always improving something is wrong with your training and/or nutritional periodization. Plateaus should never exist, there is no reason you shouldn’t be making some form of improvement in your game on a consistent rate.
If you’re a coach and you don’t want your players missing any games, practices or workouts. Have them properly strength train! This is especially true if you’re a professional coach working with professional athletes who are on a payroll, that money is going nowhere if that player is always hurt.
Strength also has a big impact on speed and when I say speed I mean starting speed, explosiveness, acceleration, agility and top speed.
Speed by itself is a very complex topic but when we are specifically talking relative strengths impact on speed you are benefiting all of the above. The stronger you are in relation to your body weight effects your power potential in your ability to propel yourself forward.
Take the above example of a 180lbs athlete who squats 200lbs vs the other athlete who is 180lbs but squats 400lbs. The 400lbs squatter has a greater potential to push his skate back into the ice and propel himself (and his bodyweight) forward, faster.
Whereas the weaker opponent would not be able to propel himself forward as fast as the other player who is of equal weight. Solely because he doesn’t have the same type of strength to propel himself forward off the ice and overcome his own inertia. Strength is the ultimate determinant in take-off speed/explosiveness when it comes to getting the first quick step in, and out skating your opponent.
Another factor strength plays into the speed aspect of hockey performance is in stride length vs. stride frequency. The two biggest trainable factors of improving an athlete’s speed development is improving their stride length and stride frequency.
Stride length is simply how long each stride you take is and stride frequency is how many strides you can take in an allotted time slot. These two factors make up a large portion of what speed training methodology tries to accomplish.
Getting stronger improves both. Stride frequency is enhanced through a greater speed potential in moving your own body weight due to increased strength at that same body weight. If you are of equal bodyweight as your opponent and yet you have greater total body strength your ability to move your legs faster is enhanced.
Stride length is improved because that same relative strength that pushes you off the ice to propel you forward is the same type of strength that is going to improve your stride length. The stronger you are, the further you can propel your body weight per stride. The further you can propel your body weight per stride increases your stride length by default. An additional by-product of strength training is increased mobility which from a hockey player’s perspective will increase triple extension capability at the hip, knee and ankle per stride which in turn will also improve stride length.
A great example of stride length is actually Usain Bolt competing in the 100m dash in the Olympics. Usain finished the 100m race in 41 steps whereas his opponents all finished it in 44-46 steps. Stride length is huge to becoming the fastest you can possibly be and for hockey players it is highly trainable.
One final aspect the improvement of strength really knocks out of the park is agility. You’re ability to be highly agile, perform high velocity direction change, decelerate and explode from different positions is very strength based.
Agility is simply how fast your body and musculature can switch from an eccentric to concentric muscle contraction. Agility is not stepping in and out of a ladder and agility is not running around cones in a pre-determined movement pattern. Without relative strength, you are not agile. Period.
In conclusion, throughout this whole article I have focused only on one single aspect of proper off-ice training which is improved strength and look at how big of an impact it can have on your overall performance. Think about the discussion involved with all aspects of off-ice training outside of just strength and how much room you have left to reach your true athletic potential.
Different sports all have different requirements so to be a better hockey player you have to train like a hockey player.
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