How To Deload and Recover For Better Hockey Performance

If you want to become a better hockey player, it’s important to go all-out in your training. You shouldn’t be holding back when you’re in the gym or on the track doing your dryland work.

You need to be intense.

You need to be focused.

And sometimes…you need to train angry.

This is why I tell my athletes that when they’re with me – they have to give me their 100%.

You’re only training for an hour each session, all the crap in your life from your relationship, work, and school need to disappear. You’re here for a reason – so let’s get after it.

But on the flip side, the real work begins once you leave the gym.

You have to understand, all the work in the gym breaks your body down, it doesn’t build it.

The building part comes when you step back into the real world and is exclusively dependant upon your attention to recovery.

Getting Your Mind Right

The unfortunate part here is that so many hockey players don’t get this. I constantly get e-mails and messages along the lines of:

“Hey Dan, is it ok if I do more speed training on top of this program?”

“How much can I do on non-training days?”

“Can I still do conditioning during my deload?”

“I want to be my best this season, what else can I do for workouts when I’m not doing this program?”

What makes me genuinely sad here is that these are the hockey players who are so hungry that they want to be better, and yet they don’t realize they are their own worst enemies. More is not better, pouring water into a glass that is already full will not get you more water – it will just make a mess.

Unfortunately for these players, they remain the same and rarely improve. Then, because of their broken “do more” mindset, they seek to do even more which makes their problem even worse. They can’t see that their answer lies within the old saying “less is more”

You need to recover.

Training only provides a stimulus, it does not provide the adaptation.

Your warrior mindset won’t take you to the next level in your progression because the warrior in your mind is being led by a general whose obsession about becoming better is not concerned with the well-being of his troop’s ligaments, tendons, nervous system, muscle repair, or adaptation.

Over time, if your mindset is that of a general who seeks to never stop – even the hardest of warriors will break down. Whether this is physically, emotionally, or mentally – it’s going to happen. Trust those words from a coach who’s seen it all.

When you’re constantly in attack mode, you may have some early victories which initially infatuated you with this way of living – but as the legendary Sun Tzu (author of “The Art of War”) said:

“He who knows when he can fight, and when he cannot, will be victorious”

You cannot always be on the attack in your training. An army needs time to rest, eat, let the wounds heal, and take rest from the pressures of battle.

This philosophy behind “attack then rest” is relevant to hockey players just as it is within the battlefield.

It’s imperative to know when to work “out” and attack, and when to work “in” to recover.

This is the representation of a mature hockey player who will reach his potential. I know it feels “right” for the warrior to always be pedal-to-the-medal, but the truly best way to reach your athletic potential is to train hard – but then rest just as hard. We do this primarily by introducing programmed deloads into your yearly periodization.

Deloading for Hockey

A deload is put in place to give your body, nervous system, and mind some rest and recovery.

In our day-to-day lives, we are constantly stimulated by external stressors. Although these stressors are 10% what they are, and 90% how we react to them; they are still stressors nonetheless.

Stress from training is a good thing…that is only if you are sleeping well, hydrating well, and sticking to our nutritional programming with good consistency.

But if you train hard and ignore these things, not only will you not adapt from your training – but you have just added more stressors that you can’t recover from to your day-to-day life.

Recovery is just as important as your training. People get this weird way of thinking that the training is the most important, it’s not.

Let me tell you something and be crystal clear – your training means jack *%$& if you don’t adapt from it.

Recovery needs to be looked at as much a part of your training as lifting weights is.

Recovery IS a part of the program, not a separate entity.

Programmed deload weeks will have a tremendous effect on your body’s ability to rebuild broken down tissue, rebalance your hormones, and give the branches of the nervous system time to recover.

The combination of those above factors will create a HUGE benefit towards your mental and emotional recovery as well which reinvigorates your fire for hard training. Put another way, allows your warrior to fight when it’s actually supposed to.

It should be noted that if you aren’t training with high loads or high volumes then you likely don’t need a deload as badly as someone who is doing those things (AKA the athletes doing the hockey training programs).

But for those of you who are training hard, or coach athletes who train hard, the deload is beyond vital toward your long-term progression.

What you do during this deloading period is have the goal of “active rest”.

This requires you reduce your overall training volume by at least 50% — and completely drop out any explosive movements (for example, box jumps and sprints). Sometimes, leaving the gym all together (and not just cutting volume back 50%) after a particular stressful program and/or playoff series is another great idea.

Meaning, just don’t go to the gym at all for 1-2 weeks. Sleep as much as you can, eat lots of high-quality food, and partake in low-intensity “active rest” type activities such as hiking, swimming, and mobility routines. Allow the body and mind to recover.

I do this for my pro hockey athletes all the time after playoffs – I tell them I don’t want to hear from them for at least two weeks. By the time they come back to me, they have a totally renewed zest for training and feel absolutely great because they are recovered, and all of their nagging injuries are gone.

Finding A Balance and Doing it Right

Although I emphasize recovery hard, don’t embrace it too much. Let me remind you of how I started this article: you need to train hard, and I don’t want you to be afraid of crushing the gym.

What I want you to understand most is that it is a teeter-totter game. Your recovery intensity needs to match your training intensity. When you train hard and recover hard, that’s where the real transformations are made. Overtraining is not your enemy, under-recovering is.

It bears multiple repeating because I have seen so many athletes not get results due to so many years of overdoing it. They ask me “what should they do” – and when I tell them to recover it falls on deaf ears and they just keep thinking “more is better”.

This mindset takes them out of the league, not into it.

If you apply intense stress to the body, it needs time to rebuild and come back stronger.

It’s also important to not screw up your deload. So many athletes place themselves in this grey-area of not training hard enough to make progress, but training too hard to call it an actual deload.

In essence, you’re now not making any progress but also not recovering – this isn’t the point of training or deloading, it’s a grey area world that doesn’t make any sense within sports science.

Work hard and recover hard. Decrease your training volume a minimum of 50% once every 4-6 weeks or so (depending on your phasic structure).

Some of you will understand this and implement, and some of you won’t and will need to learn the hard way.

I hope this article has steered you clear of the hard way, because that only results in injury, frustration, and unrewarding training.

If you’re ready for a proper hockey training program that includes deloading to maximize your performance on the ice check out what we have to offer on our Hockey Training Programs page.

About the author

Dan Garner

Dan (or Coach Garner) is the head strength and conditioning coach and nutritional specialist at HockeyTraining.com. He holds 12 of the top certifications in both training and nutrition, as well as a formal education in both functional medicine and health science. Dan specializes in hockey performance, having worked with hundreds of athletes from the youth leagues, right up to juniors, AHL, KHL, and NHL.

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