Hockey Goalie Training

In this article, I’m going to lay out some of the foundational concepts surrounding how ice hockey goalies can start maximizing their off-ice training to become more explosive, improve their mobility, and become an all-round better goalie. 

I know many goalies follow us here at HockeyTraining.com and they have been waiting for more goalie specific articles, videos, and programs to come out so they can start working hard (and smart) towards their goals.

We at HockeyTraining.com are answering that call now and you can expect a lot more goalie content on all of our platforms in the very near future.

On top of that, we are launching an all-new “done for you” in-season goalie training program that you can sign up for here.

I can’t wait until you see everything we have planned. 

But for now, let’s talk about what makes goalie training different than hockey training for forwards or defensemen.

Why Hockey Goalie Training Is Different

It’s amazing to me how some coaches act as if goalie training is the same as training any other hockey player. 

From a sports science perspective, this is an oversimplification at best, and completely ignorant at worst. 

Would you put a wide receiver in football on the same training program as an offensive lineman?

Do you think a pitcher improves their ball speed by doing an outfielders program? 

Of course not, these sports positions and the unique demands that each one of them brings are wildly different from one another. 

The same is true for goalies and the other players on their team. It’s super important to train goalies appropriately because they are the most important player on the ice. 

They are the last line of defense and the degree to which they perform has a massive impact on the outcome of a game. 

Because of this, in order to train smart, we must know what we need to focus on most, here is a short list of the most glaring differences goalies have from the rest of the players on the ice.

10 Reasons You Need Goalie Specific Training

  1. Goalies require much more mobility, and they must improve their mobility in goalie specific ways.
  2. Although goalies are on the ice the entire game, their conditioning demands are different from the forwards and defensemen as they don’t cover nearly as much ground per game.
  3. An average shift for a hockey player will last around one minute or so, whereas the goalie is on the ice for the entire period. The work to rest ratio is extremely different here.
  4. Goalies must be incredibly explosive and have this explosive ability built through both physical and mental development. Speed of decision-making and reaction time is just as important as the speed of movement.
  5.  Hockey players almost never go down to their knees or belly and then have to spring back up, yet, goalies do this sometimes dozens of times per game. This creates a whole new training stimulus demand for what we can consider goalie-specific training off the ice.
  6. Forwards and defensemen are very much “forward and backward” athletes, meaning, they spent the overwhelming majority of their efforts either skating forwards or backward. Conversely, a goalie very rarely skates forwards or backward and spends much more time moving laterally.
  7. The strength and mobility requirements for the hips of an elite goalie are on a different planet than their forward and defensive counterparts.
  8. Back-up goalies do not get much action in comparison to the starting goalie and should, therefore, account for that in their total weekly training volume (i.e. if you’re not expending energy on the ice you should do more conditioning work in your programming to bring your total volume up to that of the rest of the team).
  9. Goalies have very different equipment, padding, and sticks than the other players. This changes their range of motion at times and can add a lot of extra weight on their body.
  10.  Above all else, goalies need to be mentally and emotionally strong athletes. Having the tools available to you to deal with intense pressure is mandatory for optimal goalie performance.  

How To Become A Better Hockey Goalie

Although you can clearly see there are many differences between the goalies and everyone else, but what you can’t see is all of the remaining similarities.

Let’s not forget, before we treat them like goalies let’s treat them like a human

What does the human physiology need to do/have in order to optimally respond to a specific training stimulus? 

Well, you would need:

  • A great diet to fuel performance and support their body composition goals. 
  • A strength training and mobility program created by a true professional who understands the unique needs of goalie athletes. 
  • An overall emphasis on recovery practices to increase training quality and overall muscular adaptation. 
  • Stress management techniques. 
  • 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep every night. 
  • A periodized and calculated yearly training system that includes the unique demands of the in-season, post-season, off-season, and pre-season.  

These are crucial elements to all hockey training program design. The reason I am pointing them out is that it’s easy to get too goalie specific in your training prescription. 

Some coaches will want to make it seem like goalies are from the planet Saturn and thus every last thing they do in the gym and with their dryland training drills must match the unique alien-needs of their species.

All joking aside, you will certainly come across statements from coaches that are made for marketing purposes and not for educational purposes.

Much of the foundational strength training movements found in any well-designed plan will still be found in a goalie program.

Goalies, like other hockey athletes, will need:

  • Vertical pressing strength
  • Horizontal pressing strength
  • Vertical pulling strength
  • Horizontal pulling strength 
  • Upper and lower body unilateral strength 
  • Squat strength 
  • Hinge strength 
  • Core strength

Now the way in which we go about utilizing the above movement patterns in a truly goalie specific way will be different than how the other players are training (primarily due to the different injury prevention methods and performance-based coordination patterns that are required from position to position).

But, you should never think a goalie program isn’t goalie-specific if it contains movements such as barbell back squats, pull-ups, rows, and other foundational movements. 

These are required and WILL improve goalie performance on every level — not everything you do in your dryland work needs to look like a save (and for the love of God, stop doing dryland work with your equipment on to make it “goalie specific” — that is insanity and a total waste of time). 

The Difference Lies In The Execution

Although a good chunk of the goalie performance pie is foundationally comparable to the forwards and defensemen, a remaining sizeable chunk of that pie can and SHOULD be truly goalie specific. 

General training will only get you so far, at some point an athlete is going to require specific physical preparation to get specific results out on the ice. 

A few great examples of this when it comes to goalie specific training is the overall need for incredible hip mobility (so you have no movement restrictions out on the ice and transition from one position to the next with maximal efficiency), explosive lateral speed (to get from one end of the net to the other in a flash), and the extreme need for “up and down” strength and conditioning (for example, during a penalty kill you may need to make many saves and will need to have serious endurance to keep up the pace). 

Here are a couple of examples of what you can do to focus on those goalie movement patterns to optimize your performance. 

Hockey Goalie Dynamic Hip Mobility Routine

A1: Bodyweight split squats x 12 per side

A2: Alternating T-Stands x 12 per side

A3: Zombie squat with reach through x 12

A4: Supine bridge with reach x 12 per side

A5: Deep squat hold with alternating reaches x 12 per side

A6: Rollover into V-Sit x 12

A7: Iron cross x 12/side

Repeat circuit one time through on off days or as a part of your warm-up or cool-down routines. This is something that can be done every day until desired hip mobility has been reached. 

Hockey Goalie Explosive Lateral Power Protocol

A1: Skater bounds x 3 per side

A2: Cossack squats x 8 per side

A3: Half-kneeling lateral hops x 3 per side

A4: Ankle pogo hops x 5

Rest for 1-2 minutes in between circuits and repeat 2-4 times. 

Hockey Goalie “Up And Down” Finisher

A1: One leg knee tap squat x 8 per leg

A2: Cossack squat x 8 per leg

A3: Lateral reaching lunges x 8 per leg

A4: Vertical jumps x 5

Rest for 1-2 minutes in between circuits and repeat 2-4 times.

Why Goalies Need To Lift Heavy Weights (At Times)

I have worked with goalies in the youth leagues, juniors, AHL, and all the way up to the NHL. Having worked with many goalies all the way up to the highest levels, I can tell you that goalies should NOT be training like their teammates.

Unfortunately, this can be an easy trap to fall into since you want to train with your friends and teammates and not just by yourself.

To make matters worse, there is very little good content on the internet today that can clearly articulate the differences between the offense/defense players and goalies.

Instead, they provide more “generalized” plans and throw you on a BOSU ball so they can pretend to call it sport-specific.

The small areas/nuances goalies must concern themselves with in order to become the fastest, most reactive, and explosive goalies they can be with designing training programs that incorporate both personal experience and the cold-hard sports science research.

Today, we’re going to discuss just one of the many factors that separate a goalies yearly training periodization from other hockey players.

The greater emphasis on the physical characteristic known as relative strength.

Relative strength is the maximum amount of force an athlete can generate per unit of bodyweight irrespective of the time it takes to develop that force (so, power is not accounted for).

To use relative strength in an example, think of Ben Johnson. On steroids or not, this guy had ridiculous relative strength.

He regularly floated between a 170-180lbs bodyweight, but was known in the gym to squat 600+ pounds (Greater than 3x his own body weight). Most guys around 170-180lbs only squat around 250lbs if you go to the average gym.

In this scenario, Ben Johnson has greater relative strength than his equal weight counterparts because although they are the same bodyweight, Ben is much stronger pound for pound.

Having a high amount of relative strength is critical for performance in athletes who need to:

  1. Move their entire bodyweight through unpredictable ranges of motion
  2. Be explosive
  3. Be agile
  4. Be conditioned
  5. Have a high resistance to injury

That looks a whole lot like a game of hockey in between the pipes to me.

Training relative strength for goalies properly requires utilizing training methods and tactics to improve neural drive, and not necessarily make the muscle any bigger.

A common myth in the locker room is that you always have to get bigger in order to get stronger, this just simply isn’t the case.

The reality is that you can get much more relatively strong by training your nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers per contraction than it was previously.

Meaning, we lift heavy weights using certain protocols to allow the nervous system to get us stronger without any real structural change to our muscle tissue.

This is why sometimes you see in the gym, little guys out lift the bigger guys. Or, smaller powerlifters/Olympic lifters moving weights much larger than even the biggest bodybuilders.

Size is correlated to strength, sure.

But, you can get a whole lot stronger without getting any bigger. See Ben Johnson for this example, or, Michael Jordan’s famous Air Jordan dunk.

This is all very important for goalies to care about because to be a brick wall in the net, the overall size of your muscle tissue reaches a definite point of diminishing returns. Do any of the all-time great goalies look like bodybuilders?

Nope.

But, are these all-time great goalies explosive as hell?

Yup.

This is largely due to relative strength.

When a goalie reaches his or her optimal size that they feel the most athletic at, too much training focus towards absolute strength and hypertrophy can begin to hurt performance more than it supports it.

This was heavily supported when research conducted by Richard et al demonstrated with a time-motion analysis that goalies spend 75.2% of the game in low-intensity movement, 3.2% of the game in moderate-intensity movement, and 21.6% of the game in high-intensity movement.

Long story short, you need to be explosive because that 21.6% of the game is where you are making all of your big saves and game moves.

This time-motion analysis also gives you some good insight on how your conditioning programming should look (hint: if you’re pushing prowlers around for longer than 10secs at any given time, you should probably stop).

The biggest reason why I have my goalies incorporate relative strength programming (sets of 1-3 reps) more often than my offense/defensive athletes is the sheer importance of the need to be as fast and explosive as possible when pushing from one end of the net to the other.

Let me take you through an example.

For simplicities sake, let’s say you can leg press 600lbs for 1 rep, and your friend can leg press only 500lbs for 1 rep. You are now considered more relatively strong than your friend.

Now picture this leg strength driving into the ground, you are able to emit 300lbs of force per leg (600lbs / 2) into the ground whereas your friend can only emit 250lbs of force into the ground per leg.

Goalies rely heavily on single-leg lateral explosiveness to go from one side of the net to the next (think of driving your right skate into the ice to propel you to the left side of the net).

So if you and your friend are both equal bodyweight and you are emitting 300lbs of force into the ice to get to the other side of the net whereas your friend is only emitting 250lbs of force into the ice to get there…

How do you think is going to get there faster?

100% of the time, the guy who is relatively stronger.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive to some people who don’t fully grasp the “under the hood” mechanisms behind muscle physiology, but goalies should be lifting heavy and should have phases built into their yearly training periodization in order to account for this importance.

Some people would think:

“I’m a goalie, I don’t need to lift heavy. I need to work on being explosive and agile”

You’re correct in that you need to work on being explosive and agile, but you are incorrect in your dismissal of heavy lifting.

Relative strength directly brings you improved performance, maximum muscle fiber recruitment for explosiveness, improved neuromuscular efficiency, quicker feet, fewer injuries (due to being stronger throughout your ranges of motion), and greater agility due to the strength allowing you to switch faster from an eccentric to a concentric contraction.

Beyond this, relative strength gets even better as it allows you to provide a greater ceiling of potential for your power output, which relies on your total strength limit.

Strength can help you be more powerful, but power isn’t going to make you stronger. These are two very different things and are both equally important for goalies, but it’s important to understand that it’s your relative strength that is providing the ultimate ceiling for your power potential.

Ideally, for relative strength development, the total time under tension per set should be fairly short.

We do this to shift the emphasis off hypertrophic muscular development and place it on neural development, accessing only high-threshold motor units responsible for goalie performance.

Additionally, by keeping the tension short you increase the athlete’s propensity to utilize the high-energy stored creatine and ATP that should be the primary fuel source for goalie performance.

Typically for programming, I’ll have goalies perform 1-4 reps per set during these training blocks, and of course, apply very short rep tempo strategies to keep the total time under tension minimal (i.e. train fast to be fast).

A 30X0 tempo works great here, meaning, you lower the weight for 3 seconds, have no pause at the bottom, explode up as fast as you can, and have no pause at the top before you start your next rep.

Also, intent matters. It’s been demonstrated in the research that even if you aren’t moving the bar as fast as possible (possibly due to fatigue) if your mind is locked in on the idea that you are truly trying to move the bar as fast as possible, you will still gain neural adaptations in the muscle that will contribute to relative strength increases.

Get your mind right!

Example Hockey Goalie Lower Body Workout

Bringing this to real-world application, below you will find an example of a single lower-body relative strength-based workout for hockey goalies utilizing the Cluster Training Method.

A1: Barbell back squat* – 5 x 1,1,1,1,1

Rest 120 secs

A2: Barbell stiff-legged deadlift* – 5 x 1,1,1,1,1

Rest 120 secs

B1: Dumbbell goblet Cossacks squat – 3 x 5-7

Rest 90 secs

B2: Barbell reverse walking lunges – 3 x 8/leg

Rest 90 secs

The Goalie Workout Explained

For exercises A1 and A2, choose a weight that is 90% of your 1-rep max.

Perform 1 rep, rest 10 seconds, perform your second rep, rest 10 seconds, and repeat until you have completed all 5 reps. That is one set.

From here, rest 120 seconds before moving on to BB stiff-legged deadlifts and performing the same style of repetitions.

Once completed the 5 reps of BB stiff-legged deadlifts, rest 120 seconds and return back to Barbell back squats to start the second round, complete 5 rounds total.

For the B1 and B2 exercises, you will complete 1 set of 5-7 reps of DB Goblet Cossack Squats, rest 90 secs, perform the Barbell Reverse Walking Lunges for 8 reps per leg, rest 90 seconds and repeat the superset.

Final Thoughts on Goalie Training

My goal with today’s article was to point out the fact that goalies are very different than the other players on the ice and should be treated as such within their training program design. 

Sure, there are similarities, but there are MORE than enough differences in order to warrant a different training program design and periodization strategy. 

If you want instant access to the brand new In-Season Goalie Training program designed by myself that makes sure you’re checking all the boxes you need in order to become a fast, conditioned, explosive, and mobile goalie that other teams get frustrated to play against — then click here and let’s get started today. 

Written by
Dan Garner
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