Hockey Strength & Speed

This Post is for all you Hockey coaches and parents out there.

I never cared for the term “sport-specific.”  I feel its a slick way to market strength and conditioning programs to parents who don’t know any better.  There are really no unique or individual exercises or movements specific to one sport.

With that being said, I do believe there are certain areas that must be addressed in order to improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury in every sport.  In order to effectively prepare an ice hockey player for the season, it is necessary to have a thorough understanding of the specific demands of the sport.  The main differences for ice hockey reside in the playing surface, biomechanics of skating, and the substitution patterns. These differences require special attention for optimally preparing an athlete for the competitive season.

I have had the opportunity to work with some of the areas great ama

Specific Demands for Hockey Players

Energy System Considerations (this is way to geeky for most, but call if you have questions)
The energy system demands of ice hockey are unique from many sports due to the substitution patterns seen during game play. The game is played at a fast pace and players substitute “on the fly” during gameplay. This is in contrast to most sports where substitutions take place only during stoppages in play. Recent data reports that forwards average shifts about 45 s in length while resting 57 – 90 s between shifts. This results in about 6 – 8 shifts per period for a player. It is estimated that players spend about 23 s in some form of high-intensity activity (sprinting, striding, skirmishing, etc.) during each shift.

When looking at adenosine triphosphate (ATP) supply from individual energy systems, the phosphagen system is the dominant system for short, high-intensity activity lasting 0 – 30 s. After 20 – 30 s, the glycolytic system becomes the dominant supplier, while the oxidative or aerobic system supplies ATP for long duration, low-intensity activity. Comparing this information to the time and intensity demands of the hockey player, it can be inferred that the phosphagen and glycolytic systems supply the majority of ATP during a shift. During rest between shifts, the oxidative system is relied upon for clearance of hydrogen ions accumulated during anaerobic glycolysis and regeneration of ATP and creatine phosphate.

An hockey player with a large aerobic base may recover faster and more efficiently between repeated, high-intensity efforts, allowing them to skate harder and longer on the ice. Therefore we utilize high-intensity interval training to improve ice hockey performance and improve Vo2Max.

We always train all three energy systems in order to maximize on-ice performance.  We vary our methods by utilizing different modes (e.g., skating, cycling, running, rowing, slideboard work, etc.), work times, rest times, and volumes.

Strength Considerations

Skating requires powerful legs, strong hips, and a stable torso to allow efficient transfer of force from the body to the ice. Performance differences between lower and higher level hockey players of the same age group are suggested to be primarily due to disparities in rate of force development. This could be because athletes rarely have enough time to produce maximal force in most sports movements. In theory, an ice hockey player with a greater RFD will therefore be faster and more powerful than one with a lower RFD. This highlights the importance of training RFD for ice hockey athletes.

For these advanced ice hockey athletes, greater focus is given to explosive training to increase power and RFD. Power and RFD can be trained with many methods, including weight training with submaximal weights (40 – 80% one repetition maximum), plyometrics, sprinting, and Olympic-style weightlifting. Advanced athletes with sufficient levels of maximal strength can shift more of their training to focus on maximizing RFD and speed.

Injury Reduction

In order to prepare a hockey player, it is important to understand common injuries and causes of injury in ice hockey. Injuries during competition cannot be fully prevented as many injuries occur because of the inherent contact in ice hockey. Research shows that over half of all injuries during a game are caused by contact. Injuries to the knee, shoulder, head (including concussions), and face are commonly caused from contact. The most common injuries occurring in practices are non-contact soft tissue injuries including strains of the hip and pelvic muscles.

It is unlikely that injuries occurring from contact can be entirely prevented by any specific training. We spend extra time training the muscles of the head and neck to reduce the risk of concussions.

Hip and pelvic strains may be reduced by strengthening the hip flexors, extensors, abductors, and adductors. Along with strengthening, it is necessary to ensure ice hockey players have adequate hip mobility for all exercises in the weight room and for on-ice skating demands. Ensuring that the hips are both strong and mobile will allow the ice hockey athlete to perform proper and efficient skating mechanics on the ice.

Joint mobility drills for hockey

Ankle mobility is extremely important for hockey players, especially at the high school level if they are multi-sport athletes. I have several athletes who play hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the spring. These kids are basically going from having their foot and ankle in a cast (i.e. ice skate) every day for four months and then asked to sprint on the lacrosse field. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Our ankle mobility work typically consists of dorsiflexion and plantar flexion drills, which we perform during almost every session.

Hip Rotators

Hockey players have a tendency to develop tight external hip rotators, resulting in a toe out gait.  Joe Defanco’s Limber 11 warm-up along with Hip and Glute activation exercises usually works wonders for our Hockey players.

Movement drills and core work

The warm-up portion of each training session consists of basic movement drills such as skips, side shuffles with arm and leg movement, and cariocas. These drills serve to increase body temperature and ready the athlete for the work ahead. Warrior lunges and lateral lunges may be performed in addition to these drills on lower body days to work on dynamic flexibility prior to squatting or cleaning.

After the movement drills, we perform our core work. We all know that the core is important. This is the transfer station between the upper and lower extremities. I have been using core circuits as part of the warm up for my athletes for quite some time with great success.

Our core circuits typically consist of three or four exercises including Palloff cable press outs, anti-rotation landmines, front/side plank variations, barbell rollouts, and hanging leg raises.

Strength training template

Here is a variation of what I have used as a three-day strength training template for my hockey players. Again, nothing is set in stone and it isn’t uncommon to make some adjustments on the fly.

Workout 1

  • A1 Power clean, 5 X 3
  • B1 Front/back squat, 3 X 5
  • C1 Reverse cross-over lunge, 3 X 8 ea. leg. (Skate Speed)
  • D1 Glute Raise /Posterior chain, 3 X 8
  • D2 Single Leg/Arm cable row (Balance and Power)
  • E1 Med-Ball Push-ups, 3 X 6 Each Side
  • E2 Row variation, 3 X 12

Workout 2

  • A1 Pull-ups, 3 X 5
  • A2 Rotational Med-Ball 3 x 8 (Increase Shot Power)
  • B1 Incline bench dumbbell press, 3 X 6
  • B2 Rear delt rows, 3 X 8
  • C1 Elbow flexion, 3 X 8
  • C2 Elbow extension, 3 X 10
  • D1 Forward & Side cross-over sled drag, 8 X 50 feet

Workout 3

  • A1 Trap bar deadlift, 3 X 5
  • A2 Jump Lunges 3 x 5 (Dynamic Leg Movement)
  • B1 Weighted push-ups, 3 X 8
  • B2 Single arm dumbbell row, 3 X 8
  • C2 Landmine rotations 3 x 6 each side
  • C2 Dumbbell step-up, 3 X 8

Each of these strength training sessions ends with flexibility work. I typically have my athletes perform a combination of lower body and upper body stretches. This is also the time where we work individual movements and stretches into the program.

This article isn’t to market myself as some kind of hockey expert but a way to offer a glimpse at what I have used with some success with my athletes. I understand this isn’t the only way to approach it, and when I come across something I feel would better my programs, I make the necessary adjustments.

As always, feel free to contact me directly anytime

Coach Kevin Haag



Author: K2 Strength and Conditioning

Kevin owns K2 Strength and Conditioning in Summit, NJ. K2 focuses on athletic performance training for athletes of all ages

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