Strength and conditioning workouts are very different for hockey players of different ages and populations. Hockey players of younger ages should absolutely still be involved in a comprehensive program but it must be modified because of their biological age and the physiological changes their bodies are going through. Younger athletes may have muscles that are stronger than their growing bones which could put them at risk for stress fractures if they face exercise too intense or repetitive. These greenstick fractures occur at the growth-plates of bones and warp the bone shape as well as possibly retarding limb growth in the future. Weight and intensity should be kept light to moderate for younger populations until they start showing major signs of physiological maturity such as secondary sex characteristics and muscle hypertrophy. Even at this point, a strength and conditioning coach must keep in mind that most people are not fully developed until they are older than 18. Younger athletes should be taught the proper techniques of all major lifts and older teenagers can be slowly introduced to the Olympic Lifts (snatch, clean and jerk variations) once they have mastered the basics
Gender is also a factor when developing strength and conditioning programs. Females have about 2/3 of the upper body strength relative to their bodyweight compared to males so the weights they lift for upper body exercises will no doubt be lower. It might also be difficult to include too many difficult bodyweight exercises such as pullups, chinups, dips, and pushup variations unless the athlete is very strong or advanced. Females also have a much higher prevalence of ACL tears due to several factors so the knee joint and surrounding musculature must be strengthened to prevent this. Stability work and single leg exercises are also needed to ensure joint health during plyometrics, agility, speed, and sport training.
The first portion of any hockey strength and conditioning workout should be the warm-up. Basic scientific practice requires that the athletes to complete a general warm-up of 5-10 minutes that raises the core body temperature, increases blood flow to the muscles, increases heart rate, and makes the muscles more pliable. An effective example of this is usually 5-10 minutes on the bike, elliptical, or treadmill. A more sport specific warm-up should follow in a similar length of time including low-impact exercises that more closely mimic the sport such as lateral shuffles, lateral jumps, and single leg toe-touches to name a few. The specific warm-up also needs dynamic stretches that rapidly go through joint range of motion. Static stretching is not usually ideal at the beginning of a workout since the workout will be more explosive in nature and the stretch should mimic the workout movements.
Power exercises and plyometrics should be usually be done early in the workout when the athlete is the greatest amount of energy. Power exercises should include the Olympic Lifts or at least variations of them for overall body power, balance, and coordination. These exercises have relatively good carryover into hockey like when you are checking an opponent and other explosive movements. These total body exercises will allow hockey players to become faster and more powerful in nearly every aspect of the game from skating, shooting the puck, making line changes, and changing direction. While female ice hockey players do not check each other, it is still a contact sport and they can benefit greatly from explosive Olympic lifts and the increased power they create.
Cleans should be taught starting with the deadlift to ensure they have proper technique standing up with the barbell and a neutral spine. Once the athlete has mastered this lifting motion, they should proceed on to an explosive shrug at the top of the deadlift, after the first pull. After this technique is done effectively, they can add in a high pull to the top of shrug to work on pulling the bar as high as possible before the catch. Once all of these movements have been mastered, they can finally put it all together and finally catch the bar across their front deltoids and clavicle with their elbows up. Younger hockey players can start this progression with something as light as a PVC pipe or a hockey stick to work on technique. The jerk after a clean should only be done after the athlete has mastered a normal shoulder press and a push press first. Snatches can also be learned with a hockey stick and one-arm dumbbell snatches are also a very useful tool in learning the snatch or by themselves as an excellent single arm power exercise.
Plyometric exercises are used for the same reason and should be done prior to muscle fatigue to avoid injury risk. Plyometrics are usually pretty intense on the joints so they should only be done about twice a week to allow 48-72 hours rest in between sessions. A variety of plyometrics have excellent carryover into the sport of hockey including a variety of hockey and skater jumps. These jumps entail jumping forward and the left jumping off your right foot, and landing on your left foot. Then you proceed to jump off your left foot forward and to the right landing on your right foot, repeat. These skater jumps should be done emphasizing height and distance as well as a controlled, stuck landing. Eyes must remain straight ahead and chest up to maintain proper skating posture. This can also be done jumping laterally back and forth over a hurdle. The plyometric or clap pushup is an excellent way to explosively work the upper body and create some power for cross-checking a player. Medicine ball throws and catches are also always effective plyometric exercise for any athlete. Agility exercises, or the ability to change directions quickly and precisely, also comes in extremely handy in the sport of hockey. Agility ladder drills such as the Icky Shuffle, 2 feet in 2 feet out, hop scotch, alpine hops, cross-country skiing, and cross-over steps can develop speed, agility, and coordination in an explosive manner. Several agility bag drills and jumps will also help when it comes to pushing off the boards, quickly changing direction, or making a save at the net.
Speed and conditioning are also major elements in strength and conditioning for hockey. Performance on off-ice conditioning work has been found to translate into performance on the ice so it can be very influential to sport performance. Intervals of running have been found to correlate strongly with increased skating speed and endurance on the ice. Since most hockey players only play for barely over 15 seconds before substituting back out, anaerobic power is very important. Common sense dictates that sprinting would be extremely important for increased anaerobic power. Sprints of anywhere from a 40 yard dash to a 400 meter run would be useful for hockey players followed by adequate rest period that would mimic sitting back on the bench. Including lateral and multidirectional exercises along with that running can also be beneficial such as throwing in some cariocas, wide shuffles, high knees, and backpedaling. When doing cardiovascular exercise, it is much more sports specific to hockey to do 15-30 seconds of high intensity running, biking, swimming, etc. emulating those intense seconds on the ice followed by about a minute of low intensity mimicking resting time on the bench. These interval cardiovascular sessions should usually last for 20 minutes or slightly longer to imitate one of the three 20 minute periods in a hockey game. At the end of each period in a hockey game, both teams take a significant break before the next period starts. This cardiovascular exercise can also be extremely useful in preventing or minimizing lactic acid buildup and fatigue which could be the difference between winning and losing a game.
Non-Olympic weight-lifting is a huge factor when it comes to strength training for hockey as well. Weight training is the primary form of exercise used to improve muscular strength, power, and especially muscular hypertrophy. Weight training can also improve anaerobic power and endurance which are needed for every aspect of the game.
A variety of weight training exercises can be done specifically to prevent or rehabilitate injuries common in hockey. The wrist joint can be strengthened with wrist curls, wrist extensions, hammer wrist curls, finger shoots, heavy shrugs or deadlifts, and towel grip pullups. The elbow joint can be strengthened with tricep extensions, bicep curls, hammer curls, and dips. The shoulder joint can be strengthened with shoulder presses, lateral and front shoulder raises, chest presses, and rows/pull-downs. Shoulder stability can be somewhat improved by strengthening the rotator cuff muscles with movements such as shoulder abductions, adductions, external rotations, and internal rotations. Neck strength and stability is extremely important in hockey for preventing catastrophic neck injuries during a fall, collision, or check into the boards. Neck strengthening and stability can be increased to some degree with partner 4-way neck and trapezius shrugs. The spine is obviously the most important place to protect in the body during hockey besides the neck. The spine can be protected to some extent by strengthening your upper body overall, especially the lower back and abdominals. The erector spinae muscles of the lower back can be strengthened with exercises such as supermans, back bridges, stiff-legged deadlifts, good-mornings, and trunk hyperextensions off of a roman chair. There are almost endless numbers of abdominal and hip flexor exercises that can be done including side leans, Russian twists, crunches, situps, leg raises, . Groin exercises
Stretching to increase or maintain flexibility and full range of motion is just as important in hockey as it is in any other sport, perhaps more important. Hockey players constantly use their posterior leg and hip muscles for pushing off the ice and forward momentum but rarely use their anterior hip flexor muscles. On top of this, they are usually hunched over forward over the puck or reaching for the puck which can reduce range of motion in their hips and trunk.
Periodization is the method of manipulating training variables at different macrocycles to produce the greatest progression and physical performance for competition. It is imperative to periodize all strength and conditioning programs to prevent overtraining and injuries also. Hockey’s off-season is a relatively long time span (end of spring to end of summer) and during this time period the hockey players workout should be modified to achieve higher levels of hypertrophy and muscle endurance than at other times during the year. This gives the hockey players a solid base of general fitness as well as the increased muscle cross-sectional area needed for power and strength training later on. They should be doing minimal-moderate sports training during this time and should be doing strength and conditioning workouts 3-5 times per week depending on age and level. Having an excellent base of hypertrophied muscle, as long as flexibility is maintained, can also be crucial for preventing injury during a long and arduous hockey season. During preseason (end of summer and beginning of fall), hockey players need to transition to more of a focus on strength and power exercises. They also should be doing more sports specific exercises at this time such as balance and stabilization exercises, movements mimickng skating, and movements in a hockey stance position. Hockey practices will start increasing in frequency so strength and conditioning sessions will start decreasing proportionally During the long season (late fall to early spring) the hockey players should be lifting about twice a week (usually one light day, and one heavy day) to maintain their muscle mass, strength, power, and endurance levels (Domowitz et al 2000). They should also “pre-hab” by strengthening their muscles at locations vulnerable to injury and rehabilitate any injuries they currently have by strengthening and stretching. A brief post-season focus of a few weeks should be taken to do very minimal amounts of hockey training and focus mostly on cross-training and general fitness. This period should simply be considered “active rest” and allow the athlete to recover from a difficult season both mentally and physically.
Overall, a strength and conditioning program needs to be safe, effective, sport-specific, and population specific. It must also be a scientifically based program for the good of the players, the team, and your career. Hundreds of studies have been done with hockey players and strength and conditioning so there is a large body of information to tap into when creating your own hockey training program.
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