Although many hockey players work hard in the gym during the summer, few have been introduced to a proper in-season strength training program and the benefits derived from it. As a result, coaches and players tend to overlook the importance of off-ice training once the season starts.
Without an appropriate hockey training program in place, players lose strength and power and fatigue faster, which negatively impacts their on-ice performance. In addition, maintaining lean muscle mass as the season progresses is imperative, since smaller and weaker players are more susceptible to injury in contact situations.
Here are five ways to optimize your in-season hockey training.
1. Lift Heavy
Athletes who don't follow a well-designed strength program during the competitive season get slower, weaker and lose muscle mass. The only way to prevent that from happening is to keep lifting challenging, heavy weights all season long. Most of your work sets should be done in the 3 to 8 rep range, and you should emphasize big basic barbell, dumbbell and bodyweight movements.
A common in-season training myth states that you should be content just to maintain the gains you made during the off-season. I highly disagree with that. There's no reason why maintenance should be anyone's training goal. It might make since at the pro level, where schedules are filled to the brim with games and travel, and players have little time left for off-ice training. But in the junior and collegiate settings, fewer games are played, which means players can definitely train hard and witness notable improvements in muscular strength.
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2. Keep it Short and Intense
To maximize your progress in the weight room while minimizing time spent there, strive to get all your workouts done in 45 to 60 minutes.
A couple minutes rest between main sets is fine, since you want to be well rested for the exercises that most heavily tax your body and nervous system. We're talking about Front Squats, Trap Bar Deadlifts, Weighted Chin-Ups and Bench Presses. But for assistance work such as Glute Ham Raises, Inverted Rows, Back Extensions and abdominal exercises, pick up the pace and shorten your breaks.
With short and intense hockey workouts, you want to give your body the stimulus to gain muscular strength without digging yourself further into a recovery deficit.
Now that you know what to do in the gym, let's look at the extremely underrated flip side of the coin—recovery.
We all know how important a good night's sleep can be for improved energy levels and cognitive function on the next day, but many young athletes still prefer to play the latest NHL video game on PlayStation into the wee hours.
But the bright side is that hockey players who place a premium on restorative tactics will feel much better and perform closer to their potential than athletes who neglect them.
An easy way to get more shuteye is to start napping. Make it a habit to lie down for 30 to 60 minutes in the afternoon following a training session and a quality post-workout meal. On long and boring road trips to away games, unwind by dozing off on the team bus and in the hotel room. Get a pair of quality ear plugs to block out noisy teammates and fall asleep faster.
Another way to boost recovery is to get frequent massages, which I highly recommend for any athlete. A skillful practitioner will be able to work out those nagging knots and kinks in the legs, shoulders and upper back that only get worse over time and cause discomfort if left unattended.
4. Maintain Mobility
Hockey season is grueling. From common bumps, bruises and sprains to potentially career-threatening injuries, the physical element of the game takes a toll on players' bodies.
Equally detrimental to players' long-term health are mobility restrictions induced by playing the game for months on end. Common problem areas in hockey include limited hip and shoulder mobility caused by spending hundreds of hours bent over at the hip and slouched forward at the shoulders, and horrible ankle mobility due to the restrictive nature of skates.
The simplest way to address these issues in training is to perform corrective/mobility exercises as part of your warm-ups before every game, practice and workout.
Here's a sample 3-minute mobility drill sequence targeting the ankles, hips and shoulders. Start implementing it right now:
- 3-Way Ankle Mobility Against Wall — x5 each direction
- Overhead Squat — x10
- Spiderman Lunge with Rotation — x8 per leg
- Cossack Squat — x8 per leg
- Yoga Push-Up — x8
5. Scale Back on Conditioning
Adding up games and practices, many junior teams skate 4-plus times per week, and some include two-a-days at certain points during the season.
On top of that, it's not unusual to see old-school coaches run or skate their athletes into the ground, especially when the team's riding a losing streak. Although that may have been a viable tactic to boost player performance back when Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull were topping the scoring charts, you don't want to make the common hockey training mistake of doing MORE only to end up tired and unable to perform at your peak during games.
Think long and hard about incorporating extra conditioning sessions into an already demanding in-season schedule. An injured athlete who needs to get back in game shape or a player who sees five minutes of ice time per game are obvious cases where additional conditioning may be warranted. For everyone else, working on improving strength, power, mobility and recovery will be time better spent if the goal is to play your best hockey late into the spring.
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