It could be said, and rightly so, that hockey players are made in the off-season. The success that a player has during the season can in many cases be traced back to the work they put in as the season ended in the spring and the long summer months leading into the fall pre-season.
Whether you are an older, advanced hockey player or a young up and coming player, here are a handful of goals any good off-ice training program will have in order to have you playing at an optimal level come September/October.
Due in large part to the long season spent on the ice, players typically have developed a handful of postural and muscular imbalances that need to be addressed. Anyone who works with the hockey population can rattle these areas off in an instant. Any type of physical assessment, whether it be the Functional Movement Screen or any other screening tools that you use, can quickly bring some of these issues to your attention. Typically, a handful of these issues you will find are;
• Lack of shoulder mobility
• Lack of hip mobility
• Lack of ankle mobility
• Tight hip flexors
• Weak glutes
• Over-worked/strained groins
Think about the position a hockey player finds themselves in all the time; hunched over in a flexed hip posture. Players are not only in this position on the ice, but when sitting on the bench, sitting in the locker room, and on the bus going to and from games. It’s no wonder they have so many predictable issues.
Though any well thought out off-ice program should be performing it year round, spending ample time focusing on mobility exercises that target areas prone to imbalanced and stiffness needs to be a top priority. Movements like V-Stance T-Spine, Floor Slides, Quadruped Adductor Rock, Spiderman variations, and Ankle mobility exercises are highly recommended on a daily basis to keep athletes moving well and efficiently.
In addition to making mobility a priority, a well designed strength program can help to improve many of these issues, and probably in a relatively short time. In addition to making mobility a priority, it is critical that early in the off-season hockey athletes pay special attention to uni-lateral strength training in order to help ‘balance’ an athlete out. This leads right into the second point.
Not to say it is impossible to get stronger during the in-season period, cause it isn’t, but the off-season is obviously the time that the most gains in strength will be seen. And it doesn’t have to be and probably shouldn’t be very complicated. Our basic menu of exercises are made up of the following…
• RFE Split Squat
• 1-Leg Squat and Dead Lift
• Trap Bar Dead Lift
• Chin Up
• Bench Press
• Anti-Extension and Anti-Rotation Core work
During the off-season we spend a lot of time lifting and lifting heavy. Our rep ranges we rarely get above 8 reps (they may at times) for a strength exercises and will generally stay between 3-8 reps.
We also spend a ton of time getting strong on one leg. Beyond the fact that skating/hockey is a sport played on one leg, training on one leg helps to balance out some of the postural/muscular imbalanced previous discussed. Getting strong (preferably on one leg) will correct a lot of potential issues and also go a long way in keeping a hockey player healthy in the upcoming season. Just don’t be afraid to load them up!
When young athletes walk into the weight room it is somewhat easy to get them more powerful – simply getting stronger on the basic lifts is going to accomplish the goal of increasing power and/or explosiveness.
However, as athletes get older and become stronger simply increasing max strength will contribute less and less to improving explosiveness. At some point, building a bigger bench press or a bigger squat will do very little when it comes to developing a more explosive athlete. There becomes a point where strong enough is strong enough, otherwise powerlifters would be some of the best team sport athletes in the world.
This is why placing an emphasis of movements that have the potential to increase power, increase explosiveness, increase speed need to be a part of the program. Keep it simple when it comes to developing power with exercises/movements like;
• Olympic Lifts/Variations
• Linear Speed Development
• Lateral Speed Development
• Med Ball Throws
• Sled Work
Currently we have played around with pairing many of these power movements together in order to have our athletes working through what we would consider a ‘power’ block. After our warm up period, we will have a power period that looks something like this;
• Sled or Speed Development
• Med Ball
• Med Ball
Our thought process is that pairing these exercises in a sequence like this allows us to train all these qualities but also supply enough time to rest between each individual movement. I am not 100% sold on this, but it is what we tried in this previous off-season.
One of the places that I think most off-ice programs miss the boat is conditioning – or the lack of conditioning in the off-season. Being strong is great. Being powerful is great. But you need to have the ability to express that strength and power over the course of a hockey game – you need to be in great shape and focus on conditioning year round.
Hockey is an alactic-aerobic sport, meaning an athlete needs to perform high intensity efforts for a short period of time followed by lower intensity intervals. As a result, the off-ice conditioning program needs to revolve around high intensity intervals followed by low intensity (rest) periods. Things like…
• Tempo Runs: great for slowly building the aerobic system
• Shuttle Runs: high velocity sprints along with change of direction
• Slideboard Work: conditioning in the frontal plane along with conditioning the groin for the rigors of a long hockey season
Additionally, not getting out of shape is probably the easiest way to get into shape.
Minimize Time On Ice
Though it may be unpopular with most players, getting off the ice in the off-season is one of the best things a hockey player can do for themselves. As previously mentioned, summer is the only time when the hockey player can correct some of the muscular and postural issues that occur as a result of a long season. Getting off the ice is the only way that these issues can be fixed.
As a side note, this hip flexed rounded over posture is the reason the majority of our conditioning consists of some type of running in the off-season. Getting players out of hip flexion and into hip extension is vital. In an ideal world we would spend very little time on a bike in the off-season.
Additionally, from a psychological standpoint, getting off the ice and spending some time doing other things will only help when the season rolls back around. Getting off the ice, feeling better physically, feeling rejuvenated mentally, will lead to an excited and motivated player once they hit the ice in the pre-season.