Too many hockey players and coaches still believe that getting "big" or "bulky" will make you slow on the ice.
If you do nothing else but focus on blitzing and blasting the mirror muscles while avoiding max strength and power work altogether, then yes, your performance will take a dive.
Likewise, eating everything in sight and skipping conditioning work will mean that the bulk of your freshly gained mass is just body fat that slows you down.
Obviously, that's not what we're after. When I'm talking about bulking up for hockey, I mean making gains in lean muscle mass with minimal, if any, accompanying increase in body fat. The goal is to build a lean, powerful and muscular body that looks and performs the part.
What the proponents of the big and bulky myth fail to realize is that there are several benefits to adding more muscle to your frame that directly affect how well you play your sport. That's why any hockey player who doesn't make muscle growth a priority in their off-ice training won't maximize their physical performance.
Here are four key reasons why hockey players should focus on increasing muscle mass.
1. You'll Get Stronger for Longer
When it comes to getting strong, you can't beat low-rep, heavy-load strength work. But unless you vary your training by adding hypertrophy-oriented periods, you'll run into a plateau.
When you can no longer add more weight to the bar on the big lifts on a consistent basis, simply switch your focus to creating a bigger you for a while. After all, a bigger muscle has the potential to be a stronger muscle.
If your Bench or Squat hasn't moved up in ages, watch what happens when you add 5 pounds of lean mass to your frame. I guarantee you'll be back to posting new PRs in no time. Not only does this move lead to bigger gym numbers, it also gives you a much-needed mental break from the grinding toll that big weights impose on your body while sparing your joints in the long run.
Eventually, when you decide to go back to lifting singles, doubles and triples, the extra muscle you've built puts you in a perfect position to eek out new strength gains from moving heavy loads.
2. Muscular Imbalances Slow You Down
I'm not referring to droopy pecs or lagging rear delts when talking about muscular imbalances here.
Hockey players typically develop muscular quads through years of skating. Even though the term "hockey butt" implies matching posterior strength and size as well, this often isn't the case. Once you spend enough time around hockey players, you'll realize most of their butts are sticking out because of excessive lower back lordosis, not thanks to a pair of round, shapely glutes you could rest a drink on.
That's unfortunate, because the glutes and hamstrings play an important role in skating speed. These big muscle groups are responsible for generating lots of force that translates into a powerful skating stride. A flat pancake backside is a dead giveaway that you need targeted hypertrophy work for this underdeveloped area.
You're not going to bring up your puny hamstrings and glutes just by doing heavy Deadlifts or Power Cleans. For that, you need a steady diet of assistance exercises done with sufficient volume in moderate to high rep ranges. Some excellent choices include:
- Romanian Deadlifts (hamstrings, glutes)
- Hip Thrusts (glutes)
- Front-Foot Elevated Bulgarian Split Squats (a quad exercise that hits the glutes amazingly)
- One-Leg Glute Bridges (glutes)
- Band Resisted Back Extensions (hamstrings, glutes and lower back)
3. Increased Protection Against Injury
While groin strains are highly prevalent in today's hockey, my athletes have suffered very few of these injuries over the years.
Because we use plenty of bodybuilding-style exercises to directly strengthen the hip flexors, adductors and lower abdomen. I know some people will call these prehab activities rather than hypertrophy training or bodybuilding, but that's merely arguing semantics.
The smaller muscle groups around your groin respond best to isolation movements and higher rep ranges with a long time under tension. Sets of 15-20 reps (or more) performed with a controlled tempo work very well here.
As much as I'm a vocal advocate of using multi-joint exercises for low reps when developing strength that carries over to the ice, they aren't optimal for this purpose. Good luck trying to build up your core (and its surrounding muscles) with triples or fives on Band Resisted Supine Knee Tucks or Valslide Hip Adductions. The resistance will be too heavy to really feel the right muscles working, and you'll end up compensating with subpar form just to complete the movement. This is one area where I believe you should develop a strong mind-muscle connection, something bodybuilders often talk about, to maximize the training effect.
Additionally, hockey players have to deal with the constant trauma that comes from hard physical contact on a daily basis. The joints in your upper body, especially the shoulders, take a beating on the ice.
Having a bigger chest, deltoids, arms and back won't directly boost your game, but they can act as a sort of "body armor" in heavy contact situations. When someone rams you into the boards while skating at close to 20 miles per hour, having built a muscular upper body in the gym can mean the difference between shaking off the hit and resuming play and spending two months on the injured reserve list due to a broken collarbone.
4. You'll Look Great With Your Shirt Off
This last point is more mental than physical, but its important should not be underestimated.
Seeing physical gains builds self-confidence, especially among younger athletes. And when you look like you're in great playing shape, there's a good chance you really are. If you squat five plates yet look like the Michelin Man, you probably aren't in great shape!
You know what's even better than passing the eye test for physical preparedness?
When your teammates come up to you asking what you did in the summer when you show up to training camp looking jacked. While it's great to see your lifts go up in the weight room, you shouldn't underestimate what positive feedback from the mirror, your partner or your buddies can do for your confidence.
And when you see results, you'll be more motivated to keep training hard and push yourself to new heights. Which leads to even better results. It's a positive cycle that only keeps repeating itself.
Photo Credit: technotr/iStock
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