by: Conor Doherty
In hockey, it has always been accepted amongst strength and conditioning specialists as well as the players themselves that the off-season was the only time to really improve your strength and athleticism. The in-season was and still is considered a period where you are looking to maintain the added strength and power that you built up over the off-season. For the most part, I believe this to be true. The hockey season can be extremely demanding on the players’ bodies. Most higher level teams play two or three games per week and have to fit in practices around those games. Most of these players also have school to attend during the day, so that’s just one more thing to eat up at a player’s schedule during the hockey season.
So how exactly are you supposed to improve your athleticism during the season?
As a strength and conditioning coach or a player, the thing to keep in mind when designing an in-season program is your team’s game schedule. The whole purpose for players getting into the weight room is to improve their performance on the ice, so games need to be the focal point of scheduling. You need schedule in some recovery time leading up to games, as well. The last thing to remember is that workouts should not be scheduled more frequently than three times a week. Overdoing it in the weight room during the season is going to be a recipe for disaster in the form of overuse injuries, especially groin strains, which are already very common in hockey players.
Here are four tips for in-season hockey training success:
1. Schedule Workouts After Games
Peter Twist, the former strength and conditioning coach of the Vancouver Canucks started a trend that’s still used today in the NHL. He worked out his players right after games. The reason for this is because if you workout right after a game, that leaves you the most amount of time to recover before the next game.
2. Have a Focus
The in-season is a tough time to get stronger, although it is possible. To be most successful, players should focus on one attribute of their game that they can improve. All in-season programs should revolve around the main movements of the body, like the squat pattern, hip hinge, and core stabilization, as well as pushing and pulling movements. But to improve a specific aspect of your game, you need to include exercises that will have a direct effect.
Let’s look at shot power, for instance. By adding in medicine ball exercises like side throws, you’ll be focusing on building rotational power through the core area, which is a huge key to having a cannon of a shot. Or take speed as another example. Running for thirty minutes to an hour at a time isn’t going to help you get faster, so stop doing that if speed is your goal. Instead, program in intervals of sprints that last anywhere from ten to twenty seconds. Remember a hockey player’s shift is around one minute at a time, but if you look at the players and what they’re doing during that shift, there could be a few stops in action, and the most they’re ever going all out is really around ten to twenty seconds.
3. Include Soft Tissue Work
The game of hockey makes huge demands on the inner and outer parts of your legs, the adductors and abductor muscles. The skating motion causes a lot of stress on these muscles, so they need to be cared for and given treatment during the season. By using a foam roller on these parts of the legs or having your players do so, you’ll avoid overuse injuries and help the legs recover from any kinks or tightness.
4. Avoid the Back Squat
The back squat is the king of exercises, but for hockey players there’s a reason to avoid it. If you don’t have access to a good trainer to make sure your technique is sound, you could be setting yourself up for a lower back injury. Instead, try front squats or single-leg exercises like the Bulgarian split squat. The front squat doesn’t allow you to cheat on your form like the back squat does, so you won’t be able to increase the load unless your form is sound. And the game of hockey is played on one leg at a time when you skate, so why not mimic that with single-leg exercises? The point here is for you as the programmer or you as the player to use what is most effective and efficient, and more importantly, to avoid injury.
With those four tips, whether you are a coach or a player, you should be able to refocus your in-season training for hockey. Remember, there’s always a way to improve – the off-season isn’t the only time to focus on athletic improvement.