Throughout the summer, we have talked about many exercises that are common in the training programs of hockey players. We’ve discussed the importance of a proper warm-up and how the off-ice training program of a goaltender should be specific to the position. Another area of discussion should also be tailored to be specific, although to the sport itself, is conditioning.
The sport of hockey demands that a player performs at a very high level of intensity for 30 to 75 seconds. Although the actual activity level can vary during that small time frame, depending on if the player is on a power play or penalty kill, for example, they need to be able to explode reactively in any direction as quickly on the end of their shift as the beginning if they are going to be able to beat an opponent to the puck.
All too often I hear of hockey players not putting as much thought into their conditioning program as they do their strength training program. A 20-minute bike ride “to get a good sweat” sounds challenging, and it can be, but how much is really being accomplished? Sitting on a machine, elevating your heart rate for an extended period of time hardly sounds like the demands of a hockey shift that lasts around a minute long.
Although there may be times in a hockey program where a player is simply trying to flush their legs to aid in recovery, if conditioning is the goal, then the effort must be near-maximal to a point that they cannot sustain the effort for more than a minute. They must be on their feet, doing a movement which uses as many muscles as possible, with their legs being the prime movers. And when they are resting between those high-intensity shifts, they must be resting. A hockey player doesn’t go for a slow skate at the end of a hockey shift; they sit down! It is important to develop the ability to fully recover between shifts without the aid of gentle movement.
Several activities can be used in interval training to develop hockey conditioning. I am a firm believer that if you can get off a machine you will be better off, so if possible, doing sprints up hills or up staircases are great options: the entire body is being used in explosive movement. If you are doing the stairs indoors and can find a big enough staircase, think about taking the elevator down! Remember what hockey is like: total rest in between bouts of intense movement. The elevator will simulate the rest period as much as the stairs simulate the hockey shift.
Often we will use exercise machines to perform interval training, including a versa-climber, treadmills and elliptical trainers. All of these have the player on their feet and using move muscles to perform the movement. They will go hard for 45-60 seconds then reduce the workload (or even step off the machine!) for a minute or two.
Intense interval training is very challenging and stressful on the body, but it will have incredible benefits in the off-ice training of a hockey player. As with any exercise, make sure you check with your physician and a qualified trainer about how to implement interval training into your program.