School has started. Some hockey teams have begun practices. Some of you have been to camps this summer and some have played and /or worked out this summer. The question is, are you in shape for hockey? You’ll know when you sprint down the ice a few times in your first practice and you feel like you are sucking air. The problem is not your lungs, but rather your legs. The single most important conditioning element for hockey players is getting your hockey legs back, what we call developing your anaerobic stamina. Of course to be ready for hockey there are many skills you need to develop such as skating, puck handling, shooting, checking, etc. However, to make good use of those skills in a game situation you must have excellent anaerobic conditioning so let’s explore that term.
My definition of excellent anaerobic conditioning is when you can play at 100% intensity without losing quickness, speed, strength, and/or skill for any shift, of any period, for the entire game. You may be a great skater, and fast as well, but can you skate with 100% intensity the entire game and not feel those legs get weak? When you’re not in hockey shape the acids and enzymes build up in your leg muscles and you begin to feel that burning sensation in your thighs. Your legs start to feel weak; they won’t move as fast. Your knee bend goes away. Your stride becomes short and choppy, and you begin to bend over at your waist. Guess what? Your opponent skates past you!
The good news is; it’s not too late to get in shape for hockey this season. But you need to get started very soon, because it will require six or more weeks of conditioning exercises to produce significant improvements in anaerobic stamina. The question to ask is, “What kind of training will get me in shape?” I asked Mike Farrell of the NHL Nashville Predators what his approach was to getting ready for his season. “The key is you have to be sport specific. That means skating! That’s the only way to get your legs in shape. There are many training elements that are all important; such as weights, running, biking, plyometrics, but you must skate. I like the hockey treadmill because mentally I feel like I’m really benefiting. The uphill skates are tough, but when I get on the ice I feel I have a jump and a kick that I didn’t have before. I feel physically and mentally it gives me a big advantage going into Training Camp.”
Training programs using the hockey treadmill are available at Acceleration Indiana and several other sites in other states. This training technology is now becoming an integral part of several Division 1 Hockey Programs. University of Minnesota (NCAA Champs last two years) has trained their players on the hockey treadmill the last few years and is now installing this equipment at the university specifically for their hockey team. University of Ohio and Cornell University have also recently added the hockey treadmill to their training programs. In my 30 plus years of playing, coaching, and training hockey players, I find this tool the most effective training method that consistently produces outstanding results for players of all ages. Skating two times per week for six weeks on the hockey treadmill will greatly improve your anaerobic stamina. The time you can skate all out will increase between 20 and 80 percent depending on the age and ability of the player being trained. Your recovery time will decrease by up to a factor of 2. That means that in the third period after a hard shift on the ice your body will fully recover while you’re on the bench. Your next shift on the ice you can play with the same speed, quickness, and intensity as you did in the first two periods. That will clearly produce more marks in the win column for your team. While skating on the hockey treadmill you also receive one on one instruction on proper skating mechanics and receive immediate visual feedback by watching your form in mirrors. You will do interval sprints uphill as the hockey treadmill can incline up to 30% grade. That feature allows you to build powerful legs and hips which in turn mean longer more powerful strides, resulting in increased acceleration, speed and stamina.
If you don’t have access to a hockey treadmill then begin an uphill sprinting program uphill with your roller blades, or run or bike. You should sprint for five to ten seconds followed by a recovery time of 30 seconds. Gradually work up to fifteen to twenty second all-out sprints followed by a rest time of 60 seconds. This is how you train for hockey endurance. If you run, roller blade, or bike for 15 to 30 minutes you are doing aerobic endurance training which means you’ll be able to go long distances, slowly! High school track athletes provide a realistic analogy. Sprinters are 40% to 50% faster (in mph) than milers. If you are going to play hockey think and train like a sprinter, not a miler.
On Ice Practices
When you get on the ice give your coaches 100% effort in practices. You need to practice at game speed. Suggestion for coaches: when you have your team do line sprints (with hockey stops), limit them to 20 seconds with adequate recovery time (1 min) between sets of line sprints. Your players will make much more rapid improvement compared to doing line sprints for 50 to 60 seconds. We have tested a lot of hockey players and beyond 20 seconds all players will be 15% to 50% slower. Remember we want to practice at game speed not slow speed. Watch your players’ skating form and you’ll see significant deterioration in form beyond 20 seconds. That means in a 50 second sprint drill the player is practicing bad form for 30 seconds. The body learns what you practice, so practice intensely for 20 seconds with good form, then recover for one minute and repeat the 20 second sprint.
Pre season conditioning programs are essential for the players who want to excel. As Mike Farrell says, “I do whatever I can to feel like I’m at the top of my game before I report to my team. Work hard, listen to your coaches, give 100% effort, have fun, and have a great season!”
Acceleration Indiana offers a variety of training programs for hockey players, mites thru pros. For information call (317) 842-2702.
By: President Gary Nelson in 2003