Hockey Training Programs

Keys to Designing and Analyzing Ice Hockey Training Programs

If you want to create more effective ice hockey training programs, then you need to analyze the sport and the athlete you are training (even if you are writing the program for yourself!)

To write ice hockey fitness training programs, you need to follow the same guidelines as you would for any other sport, which research and real world results have proven to be successful time and time again.

First, analyze the sport...I mean, really take a closer look at what is involved from a physiological standpoint.

Then, do some research to determine the most common injuries of the sport.

Once you understand the physiological needs, plus the most common injuries, it is time to start putting some ideas for training on paper.

Follow this with a comprehensive performance evaluation, and you’re ready to get started.

Programming Guidelines

Prior to designing a hockey specific training program, the following should be considered:

1. Perform a Needs Analysis to determine the specific physiological demands of ice hockey.

In order to design a more effective program, you should know:
  • What energy systems are used?

  • What muscle groups are used to execute movements?

  • What are the nervous system requirements?

  • What additional balance, stability, or core training issues need to be addressed?

  • What are the most common injuries?

  • What are the most common imbalances?

  • How long is the season?

  • How long is the game?

  • How long are the shifts?

  • Are there any gender considerations?

  • ETC.

2. Perform a Functional Kinetic Chain Assessment.

This Assessment should be used to determine if the player has any weaknesses/imbalances--which will become apparent when s/he executes various movement screens and assessments, plus static and dynamic postural assessments.

Corrective exercises can be prescribed from the results of these assessments.

3. Perform a Sports Fitness Evaluation.

Finally, a sports fitness evaluation can provide information about the player specific to his/her fitness levels and baseline performance levels.

Performance and Fitness tests need to be relevant to the demands of the sport, or more importantly, relevant to hockey specific training.

For Example: top end speed in hockey vs. acceleration--each would be tested differently on ice and off-ice.

Physiological Demands Of Ice Hockey

What are the physiological demands for hockey specific training? In other words, what does the sport of ice hockey require from the human body in order to be successful at the sport?

Ice hockey is an extremely physically demanding and unique sport when it comes to the specific physiological demands needed to be successful.

Because it is played on ice, and the player must balance on a very tiny "sweet spot" of the hockey blade, which is a fraction of an inch wide, all while making athletic movements similar to high level football, soccer, or lacrosse players, and while holding a stick, watching a puck, integrating tactical systems, and moving at fast speeds, there are many different facets that need to be addressed to properly prepare an ice hockey player to be successful at any level.

A hockey player must have good strength, speed, power, strength endurance, power endurance, excellent conditioning (for bursts and for recovery between shifts/periods/games), flexibility (especially in the hips), balance, kinetic chain balance, and mental toughness to compete at a high level in hockey. Hockey consists of short intense intermittent bouts of skating, with aggressive body contact, and some fighting.

Common Ice Hockey Injuries

Due to the high level of physical contact in hockey, players are very prone to injury during competition and during practice sessions. According to a Canadian document with statistical data about hockey injuries , athletes between the ages of fifteen and nineteen that play ice hockey have the highest number of head injuries (primarily concussions) when compared to other contact sports.

Furthermore, injuries are three times more likely to occur in the preseason when compared to the regular season and the post-season.

Moreover, injuries are forty-two percent more likely to happen during the third period of play. Injuries occur during the pre season due to lack of conditioning during the offseason.

That is why it is extremely important to get involved in a year-round training program that will specifically prepare you for higher level competition and reduce your risk of getting injured!

Furthermore, 3rd period injuries are more common due to a lack of conditioning which causes players to be tired at the end of the game.

Fatigue can be the combination of improper physical preparation (not the right type or amount of conditioning) and improper nutrition (not getting the right kind of nutrients to fuel the body during intense exercise).

Additionally, 42% of the injuries affect the head and face area, whereas thirty-one percent affect the lower limbs.

Lastly, the body check is the most commonly reported cause of both soft tissue and severe trauma injuries.

What to Consider When Designing Programs for Ice Hockey

(In addition to the needs identified by the needs assessment, the functional kinetic chain assessment and the performance and fitness tests, the following areas/issues need to be considered when designing programs for ice hockey.)

1. Mutli-planar Movements--almost all sports require movements in all three planes of movement (sagittal--ie. Forward and backward; frontal--ie. Side to side; transverse--ie. horizontal rotation), and many sports movements occur in all three planes at once--think hockey slapshot while skating forward

2. Mutli--Muscle Actions--due to the changes of speed and direction in hockey, the ability to accelerate and decelerate is extremely important--for this to happen, concentric, eccentric, and isometric muscle actions need to be trained. The body must be able to reduce force, and produce force for safe, efficient mutli--speed movements.

3. Core Training (lumbo-pelvic-hip complex)--while 'core' may be a fitness buzzword, it doesn't deny the fact that it exists. The core needs to be trained for strength, speed, stability and power, using multi-planes and multiple muscle actions.

4. Corrective/Prehabilitative Exercises--the body functions best when it is in balance. Compensation from previous injuries, muscle tightness, or weaknesses may cause imbalances that could predispose a hockey player to an increased risk of injury.

5. Balance/Total Body Stability--yes, research has shown that balance is important in ice hockey. For more skilled players, balance training specific to skating is best done on ice. But, balance training is also beneficial because it creates a greater neurological demand which creates greater muscle recruitment AND proprioception helps create co-contractions and other neuromuscular actions that help promote improved stability.

6. Uni-/Bi-Lateral Movements--both single (uni) and double (bi) leg movements are important, such as squats and lunges (multi-planar); recent research has shown that there was a greater transfer of single leg movements to skating performance (when compared with squats)

7. Strength Training--skating performance (especially top speed) is directly influenced by force production; additionally, strength training helps improve muscle fiber recruitment, which promotes greater neuromuscular control and greater force production.

8. Speed Training--speed is extremely important, and needs to be addressed not only in the weightroom (with specific programming), but also on dryland (drills) and on ice.

9. Power Training (including plyometrics)--recent research shows that plyometrics that focus on greater stretch shortening cycle response (reduced time from force reduction/muscle stretch to force production/contraction) have a greater effect on acceleration and quick starts, while power training that focuses more on greater force production (with less emphasis on contact time) will have a greater effect on top speed skating; Olympic lifting.

10. Flexibility Training--muscles perform optimally at a specific length--this is known as the length-tension relationship; when muscles are too tight, the nervous system inhibits force production to prevent injury; when muscles are over stretched, they are usually overactive so they fatigue easily, and again, physiological and biomechanical issues exist that prevent optimal force production; the research on the role of flexibility training in injury prevention is still inconclusive, so flexibility training is recommended for optimal performance and to enable the hockey player to achieve better skating technique (stride length, proper mechanics, etc.)

11. Specific Metabolic Conditioning--hockey players need to be conditioned specifically to achieve multiple maximal sprint efforts on an intermittent/shift basis. Sprint interval training also improves aerobic performance--so it is not necessary to execute any long distance running. In fact, research has shown that long distance running can impair one's sprint performance.

12. Dynamic Vision Training--research over the last 10 years has shown that it is possible to improve a hockey player's ability to 'see the ice,' 'pick up the puck,' or anticipate where other players will be on the ice--this type of training is called dynamic vision training, and it is especially important to goalies.

13. Periodization--all programs need to be progressive; there are a multitude of options--any type of training works, but nothing works forever—needs to change to grow with the athlete. Undulation, linear, step-type, block; meso, micro, macro cycles.

Additional Considerations for Hockey Training Programs:

  • Each specific athlete's needs must be addressed, along with specific positional demands.

  • During in-season training, hockey players that do not receive much ice time during the game will need to do extra workouts to prevent losing any conditioning, speed, strength, power, or flexibility benefits achieved during training prior to the season.

  • Players that receive a lot of ice time during the game will need to adjust additional workouts accordingly.

  • Lastly, research has shown that skating alone is not sufficient stimulus to elicit strength, power, or speed gains, or for maintenance during the season.

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COACH HOY'S READING CORNERCoaches reading corner

Kingdom Man: Every Man's Destiny, Every Woman's Dream

By Dr. Tony Evans

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