The Top 5 Reasons Why Hockey Training Is Different

The Top 5 Reasons Why Hockey Training Is Different

1. Structural Balance:

Structural balance is an absolute key component to achieving maximum speed, agility, strength, prevention of injury and power output. By structural balance, I simply mean you must have proper muscular and strength balance in three categories

A) From your upper body to your lower body
B) From your left side to your right side
C) Between smaller muscle making up larger muscle groups in a localized area. For example, your hamstrings. Your hamstrings are made up of several different muscle and the strength balance between them plays a role in skating performance

When one side performs better than the other, your risk of injury drastically increases as you are putting the body in an awkward position during movement and if one side can output a force greater than your other side, this can very quickly lead to strains and pulls.

There are many structural imbalances hockey players naturally create simply by playing the game. Hockey players are notorious for having strong glutes and weak hamstrings, being imbalanced in their upper body based on which side they shoot with, and also having a poor balance in the quadriceps, mainly a weak VMO. These are just a few examples, and among them, everybody is different.

So incorporating proper program design to address these issues is absolutely vital. You are only as strong as your weakest link, if an imbalance is present, it will hold back your entire bodies performance. So something as simple as correcting an imbalance in your quadriceps could result in much faster skating on the ice. Or correcting weak lats would have a profound impact on your shot power.

Hockey players perform very repetitive motions using the same muscles over and over again. Re-correcting this in the weight room is one of the top priorities for hockey performance training.


2. Tightness:

Hockey players carry lots of natural tightness in their hips, calves, lats and Achilles tendon. I have found that a very large percentage of hockey players over 15 years old have these issues. Tightness in hockey players is a sneaky phenomenon because it can drastically hurt performance, but yet people overlook it because their lifts in the weight room might be going up, yet they aren’t getting any faster or agile.

This issue is very often a tightness issue. It doesn’t matter how strong or co-ordinated you are, if you’re tight, you won’t have the proper movement mechanics to perform to the best of your ability. One of the most overlooked aspects in explosive movement and agility is tightness. How are you expected to be agile and create high velocity direction change on the ice if you are tight? You can’t. No matter how strong you are.

I have discussed this before in other articles and also in many videos, it is very important. With proper training program design and exercise selection, these tightness’s can be addressed both in and outside the gym. When something as solvable as tightness is your main issue, don’t let it hold you back.

It’s tough to give options to a large audience for this issue but one thing I can tell you is that split squats are fantastic for hockey players. They really, really attack this issue, especially for the hips, and are great to have in your training. Switch it up with front foot elevated, flat, and rear foot elevated split squats. You will be doing yourself a big favour.

Additionally, something everybody can do is get some fascia stretch therapy or active release done of them to improve these adhesions. Provided you have a good therapist, this is a sure fire way to get the job done quickly.


3. Energy System Training:

To put it very simply, the body operates on certain energy systems that are either anaerobic or aerobic.

Anaerobic movements typically consist of high effort movement between 0 – 2mins. This energy system is primarily fuelled by creatine and carbohydrates.

The aerobic system on the other hand is the system you use throughout your day for light, physical movement or for long, steady state cardio (bike, jogging, etc).

One thing that is extremely important to note is that hockey is an anaerobic sport. You need to train anaerobically in order to properly train the energy systems that are most conducive to your sport. When you train anaerobically, those systems will become stronger and more conditioned. This will lead to you being stronger and more conditioned on the ice.

Just think about a hockey shift for example, this is usually 60 secs of all out skating as hard as you can, shooting as hard as you can and lots of explosive, high velocity direction change. These are all high-effort, short duration movements that your anaerobic energy system is backing. On the other side, when have you ever seen a hockey shift that has resembled anything of aerobic nature? Is hockey more comparable to jogging for 30 minutes or is it more comparable to sprinting for 30-60 secs? Of course sprinting!

It makes zero sense for a hockey player to be jogging off the ice to build “cardio” or for a coach to have his player’s coast around the ice doing 20 laps for “cardio”. It has no crossover to the game. Train anaerobically if you want to perform anaerobically.

Not only will aerobic training not improve your game, but it will actually hurt your anaerobic conditioning. Your body will adapt to what it is exposed to most, the intracellular signalling and hormonal cascade are different from anaerobic to aerobic so your body has the adapt somewhere in the middle because it doesn’t know what you want to excel in if you are trying to do both.

So let’s say you strength train 4 days a week, but also go for a few jogs per week, your body is going to adapt somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in the middle is not where you want to be, you want to be on the anaerobic end.

In another example, let’s say you and your buddy both train together. You started working out together 3 days a week. He decides he is going to add 2 “cardio” days (I keep putting that in quotations because it is ridiculous, strength training is just as good for the heart as aerobic training, “cardio” and cardiovascular health are not interchangeable, it is stupid) but you decide you are going to add just 1 sprinting day. You’re conditioning on the ice will be superior to his conditioning on the ice even though you only added 1 extra workout per week and he added two. Why? Because you’re training the proper energy system and his body is adapting somewhere in the middle between an anaerobic athlete and an aerobic athlete.

Let me make this very clear, this is no such thing as fitness. The question always is, fit for what? This is where the physiology behind training comes into play and ensuring your program design matches all qualities behind hockey performance even to the cellular level.

Good options for anaerobic training are weight training, prowler pushes/pulls, sprints and hill sprints.


4. Periodization:

Proper periodization of your training efforts can make or break athletes. If you’re focusing on the wrong training adaptations at the wrong time it can create big issues, particularly during the in-season. Big issues being that you are sacrificing on-ice performance for in the gym performance. Look, hockey players looking to become better hockey players are not in the gym to become better weight lifters, they are in the gym to become better athletes. That should always be your prime focus.

But it is up to the strength and conditioning coach to provide proper periodization of training phases to allow for the best results both on and off the ice. In the offseason it is the best time to focus on your most glaring weaknesses as you can apply the most amount of your time and effort into these phases without worrying about game time or travelling.

Properly periodizing your training phases in a certain order to maximize the required adaptations from training during that time of the season will make leaps and bounds difference with your performance.

For example: Peaking for tryouts, maintaining your strength and endurance during the season, maximizing your strength and weak points during the off-season, addressing the physical speed qualities for hockey training and all the transition plans in between.

Textbooks have been wrote on periodization and each sport varies depending on the length and frequency of the competitive season and to try and wing this aspect of the strategy will come right back to bite you in the ass.

A typical season should include the following phases:

A) Preparatory
B) Specific
C) Precompetitive
D) Official and league competitions
E) Unloading
F) Transition

Each of those phases all include goal setting, speed training, strength training, mental training and nutrition to support and maximize the process. Incorporating these properly into the hockey in-season and offseason is a long conversation, one that separates entirely from other forms of training and makes hockey training very different.


5. Exercise Selection and Order:

With the above 4 considerations to hockey training, they all affect the 5th and final category for this article. For exercise selection the reason is simple, some exercises are better for hockey players than others, but the reasons behind the reason are very complex.

What muscle groups are recruited during the exercise and why is that important for hockey. What are we trying to get out of the exercise, is it for speed, power, structural balance, flexibility, explosiveness, prevention of injury, energy system conditioning or agility?

All of these factors come into play when training for hockey and what exercises you choose and the order in which you perform them in will all have a major impact on how successful your training program is going to be. This is the major downfall for trying to follow any magazine or “Googled” training program, none of the above considerations are taken into account simply because they aren’t programs built for maximum hockey performance.

I hope I was able to open up some key concepts to why hockey training, and more specifically, why hockey players are different in this article. I would like to conclude it by repeating one of my above lines.

There is no such thing as fitness, the question is “fit for what?” Strongman competitors are lean and muscular, would they be good hockey players? No. But would you be able to call them unfit? Also, no. The question always is, fit for what?

Different sports have different requirements based on a wide variety of human performance so to be a better hockey player you have to train like a hockey player.

Pavel Horak