The NHL season is in full swing as are all of the youth programs around the United States. Here in the desert, hockey often gets overlooked, but one of the brightest stars in the NHL, Auston Matthews, is showing how great talent can be developed even in the hottest of climates! Hockey is a very unique sport in not only the setting it’s played but the demands placed on the players. Because of the many differences compared to its land counterparts, strength and conditioning geared towards on-ice performance should reflect the demands of the sport.
Aside from being played on ice, the biggest factor separating hockey from other sports is the length of time during exertion. Most sports require an athlete to be consistently moving over a long period of time or in the case of volleyball and football, only a few seconds in between rest periods. Hockey, on the other hand, utilizes short line changes to keep players explosive. Even though the game of hockey is generally played over three, fifteen to twenty minute periods, long distance endurance is not critical. Too often, off-ice training programs focus on getting an athlete in shape through long, slow endurance exercises. During the 2016 NHL season, the average shift length was only 44.25 seconds. Hockey players must be able to exert maximal force for this length of time, recovery in the roughly 90-120 seconds while they are on the bench, and repeat. Here are the best tips toward getting the on-ice edge through proper off-ice training techniques.
Power is the single most important aspect of hockey. Whether you’re looking to increase your speed, shot power, or how hard you check an opponent, it all depends upon how much power you can generate. Also, most injuries occur when attempting to decelerate a motion. It is key to train the body to not only be strong enough to generate the initial force but to absorb that power and decelerate the body without injury. The impact of Olympic lifting and plyometrics are vital to keeping an athlete off the trainer’s table. A few great exercises to help development explosive power are single arm dumbbell snatch, lunge jumps (lateral & vertical), and medicine ball throws.
Although sprinting on land has differences compared to accelerating on the ice, there are similar components which can be trained off-ice. Just as with sprinting, skating is explosive and with each stride, the body must generate force to propel forward while then decelerating the leg without injury to reload and fire again. Utilizing overspeed training to train the motor neurons to fire at a faster rate and resisted running to gain strength and power are essential components to gaining skating speed off-ice. Utilizing a treadmill for overspeed and power generation pushes, resisted band runs (forward, lateral, backwards), and slideboard skaters will help to develop you acceleration and top speed on the ice.
In order to maintain proper form and prevent injuries during explosive movements, you must have built a proper base of strength. There are three tips that will help to build the strength you need for on-ice performance. Utilizing “big movers” to incorporate numerous muscles and gain the most strength is an important part of planning your workout. Focus on squat and deadlift variations to build strength in your lower extremities. Pull-ups and push-ups are a great way to build upper body strength.
Filling in your workout with exercises involving offset loads (holding weight on one side of the body vs even-balanced resistance) and unilateral (single limb vs double) movements help to engage the muscles of the trunk as well as correct any strength imbalances. Performing exercises involving offset loads or unilateral movements help to diminish any muscular imbalances or asymmetry while recruiting more stabilizing muscle groups. Skating, as with most sport specific movements, is primarily performed with only one leg in contact with the ground at a time. This means that all of the force needs to be generated and absorbed with one limb. Training your body with the use of offset step-ups, single leg get-ups, and Turkish get-ups will help to improve your on-ice performance.
It has become a hot topic to train the “CORE,” especially with hockey players. Too often we find our athletes partaking in numerous sets and repetitions of crunches and planks. These aren’t bad exercises but there are much better options when transferring to the ice. The primary function of the muscles of your trunk is two absorb the forces of your extremities and transfer them without injury. Even though you swing your arms while taking a slap shot on the ice, the power for the shot is generated in your legs and hips. The trunk must transfer this power to our upper extremities and into your stick to make contact and produce a hard shot. When it comes to training the CORE, there is the debate of Isometric VS Rotational/Mobile CORE training. How much stress do we want to put on the spine with twisting and bending if the trunks purpose is to stabilize? As much as we don’t want to overload the spine, it is a vital component of hockey and numerous other activities. As stated earlier when discussing power and strength, exercises with heavy loads, explosive movements, and offset loads engage the CORE to maintain proper posture during the exercise. These along with Paloff variations are better options to help build your CORE strength. The ability to be strong through the full range and absorbing great forces is the key to staying healthy.
Having proper range of motion is important for preventing injury in any activity. When it comes to hockey, thoracic and hip mobility are especially important. Without proper hip mobility, stride length and power will diminish. Proper thoracic mobility will help with stick handling, shot power, as well as defensive stick use all while maintaining proper skating posture. Work on gaining full range of motion through the use hurdle over-unders, quadruped thoracic rotation, and quadruped hip circles.
Gaining the on-ice edge with proper off-ice programming can be the difference between being a first-liner and not making the team. Use the tips above to help improve every aspect of your game. If you have any questions or would like to take your game to the next level, contact your local FAST!