Up here in Canada, hockey is a big part of our culture. In the winter, arenas are busy, and there are many at-home outdoor rinks, even more with the covid pandemic.
When it comes to the summertime, hockey still hasn’t left the minds of many young kids. They are always looking to improve their on-ice performance through street hockey, roller hockey, power skating, and many on-ice drills with various coaches. Just here in Niagara Falls, it seems the number of people offering on-ice instruction is endless.
Though the best way to get better at a sport is doing that sport, you better find other ways to get stronger and faster if you want to get good. Because that’s what every athlete wants, right? You won’t be able to compete with skill alone!
I train a lot of younger athletes to be better all-around athletes. I still believe in having an off-season and playing a wide range of activities. I leave the actual improvement for skating to their on-ice coaches. Being young and on the ice all the time, you should be looking to activities other than hockey and get in a wide range of activities to become more athletic. As you get older and start to narrow your focus down to just hockey, strength, conditioning, and getting faster are the main factors. It is often not realized what can be done in the gym to help them.
As I said earlier, everyone wants to get faster. Skating is a little different than sprinting. As a past sprint coach, I know sprints will help. And the concept behind sprinting and skating is fundamentally the same. Specifically, turnover rate increase leads to speed increase (how fast your leg can get back to starting the next stride). The length of your stride put in combination with your turnover rate should lead to your speed output. That is a straightforward way of putting it. But when you look at them more closely, skating and sprinting are very different in terms of ground/ice contact time (or the time the foot spends in contact with the ground/ice) and the lateral motion of the leg when skating versus the vertical/horizontal motion when sprinting.
The skating motion can be worked very effectively off-ice. I do a few drills with the hockey players that specifically work on the motion of the skating stride, leg strength, explosiveness, and hockey conditioning. These include isometrics holds, lateral jumps/hops, and resisted sprinting. Let’s take a look at each of those and how it relates to hockey.
Dry Land Hockey Drills
It would help if you had the right depth of a knee bend when skating. You won’t get a very long stride if your knees aren’t bent and you’re standing straight up but you won’t be very effective if you are in a deep squat position, either. You need to hold that half-squat position so that the legs can fully extend laterally and towards the back. One drill I find very good is holding a half-squat with one leg and extending the other leg laterally towards the back. If you repeat this drill for about 30-45 seconds, you will feel how this drill mimics the skating strides.
Isometric holds are a great way to build strength. The drill above is great for hockey players, as it builds the strength/endurance needed to hold the position. But more single-leg strength isometric holds can be done. When weight is added to any of these, the difficulty is greatly increased:
- Single-leg Wall Sit (hold for 10-20sec per leg)
- Split Squat (with weight, hold in the bottom position for 30-45sec)
- Rear-Elevated Split Squat (with weight, hold in the bottom position for 30-45sec)
Lateral jumping and hoping can do a lot for generating the power for skating. Straight vertical and horizontal jumps have their place for power generation, but the lateral jumps just offer a new dimension. My favorite lateral jump/hop for hockey players is the right/left/right lateral jump. Start on your right foot, make a short and quick hop to your left foot, then immediately hop laterally back to your right foot. You want to utilize the stretch-shortening reflex after making the first hop, so spend as little time on the ground as possible after that first hop.
The goal is to jump/hop over as far as possible. Resistance can be added to the jumps in the form of a band, or you can even use them in combination with a strength exercise for some contrast training (more on that another time). Just know what you want the outcome to be. I want my athletes to gain explosiveness for and really train that stretch-shortening reflex. So spend very little time in that specific phase for the jump.
As I said, skating differs from sprinting in the amount of time your skate blade is in contact with the ice compared to the time your foot is in contact with the ground in sprinting. As a father said to me, he hasn’t seen a person get faster on the track without getting faster on the ice. As a sprint coach, I agree and train a lot of athletes to get faster. Some things can be done and added to get faster on the ice since it is different from sprinting.
One of the main differences between skating and sprinting is the amount of time your foot contacts the ice/ground. When sprinting, a ground contact time is increased by either pulling a sled, pushing a sled, or even me holding their harness. Since the time their feet are in contact with the ground is increased, so is the amount of force they can generate. The time it takes for your foot to contact with the ice is longer than that of your foot when it is in contact with the ground when sprinting. The ice contact time is needed to generate the skating stride. Unlike sprinting, you don’t just want the foot to make quick contact. You want to keep the foot in contact with the ice so that you generate enough strength and power through the entire stride.
There are two ways to sprint. The first way is to train for speed and the second way is to train for speed/endurance. If you want to get fast, you need to put in your max effort. You can’t do that if you’re tired or fatigued. The key real speed work is getting in the proper recovery. For example, if you’re making 50m sprints at max you need to recover fully before you do another one. This is when the timing heps. Your first 50m sprints should be done at the same time as your last one.
The second way is conditioning sprints. When you look at hockey, you need to look at shift length and the average amount of time you’re on the bench. So, work-to-rest ratios are used but aren’t the whole story. Let’s say you have a 1min shift and spend 3min on the bench. That’s a 1:3 work-to-rest ratio. But in that 1min shift, you aren’t going full out the entire time. I have hockey players sprint for 5 seconds, jog for 10 seconds. That will last 1min, and then they get a 3min rest.
I have mentioned in previous articles the importance of eccentric training for building strength. An eccentric muscle contraction is when the muscle lengthens, such as the downwards motion of a squat. The quadriceps muscles increase, and you are up to 40% stronger. One drawback to eccentric training is that though it is a great way to build strength, it causes more muscle soreness. For that reason, eccentric training is best kept for the off-season rather than risking being too sore for your in-season games.
Hypertrophy Hockey Program
Here is a sample 4 day hypertrophy hockey program excluding the warm-up, which should include skipping, the agility ladder, and dynamic stretching to prepare you for the workout:
Day 1 & 3
- 8 x 30m sprints with full recovery (core exercises in the rest period, eg. planks, dead bugs, bird dogs, woodchops, etc)Strength
- Rear-Elevated Split Squats – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Single-leg Wall Sits – 3 sets x 10-20sec holds per leg
- Horizontal pulls – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Horizontal pushes – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
Day 2 & 4
Depth Jumps – 2-3 sets x 10 jumps
Lateral Fake Throws – 3 shuffles to throw x 12
Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts – 3 sets x 8-12
Single-leg lateral stride holds – 3 sets x 30-45sec per leg
Vertical pulls – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
Vertical pushes – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
Sprint for 5sec, jog of for 10 sec for 1min x 3sets
Read More: At-Home Bodyweight Hockey Workouts