In-Season Hockey Training

In this article, my primary aim is to break down the why and how of approaching strength and conditioning during the in-season so you can maintain and even build upon all the progress you made in the offseason.

From a hockey performance coach’s perspective, when we are talking about in-season program design we are primarily periodizing it in order to maintain and build upon the same physical qualities we gained in the offseason.

More specifically, we are talking about maintaining and/or improving upon your:

  1. Power – so you can stay explosive and fast all season long
  2. Strength – so you can win puck battles and improve your shot power
  3. Hypertrophy (Muscle Mass) – so you can stay strong and injury-free this year

Let’s talk about how you are going to do exactly that.

Off-Season vs. In-Season

With offseason program design, I have much more leeway to train hockey players extremely hard because performance isn’t the main priority; adaptation is.

“What’s the main priority of the in-season then? Isn’t it still adaptation?”

No!

Performance is always #1 during the season.

Do not train with the same type of intensity, frequency, and volume as you did in the offseason because if you do, you will not improve and your performance out on the ice will suffer.

A lot of hockey players don’t train during the season because they think it fatigues them too much, but this is only true if you are running a hockey training program not specifically designed for the demands of the in-season.

A true in-season program carefully monitors fatigue and works extensively to ensure you have your best season ever.

You want to leave the really grueling workouts and programs for the offseason.

The offseason is truly where a lot of ground is made in physical development.

A well-designed offseason can simultaneously improve a hockey player’s size, strength, conditioning, mobility, agility, and speed when done properly.

If players are slacking off in the offseason, they can’t expect to get better over time because it is actually in the offseason where the best physical progress is best made.

As a memory tool, I want you to think about the offseason and the in-season like progression vs. expression.

The offseason is the best time of the year to make the largest and greatest physical development progress (because you have the schedule and availability to train as hard as possible) and then come time for the in-season time you are able to express this newfound ability and skill.

Offseason = Progression in all hockey specific performance qualities.

In-season = Expression of all hockey specific performance qualities.

Each offseason, you increase your physical ability and are therefore better able to express your skills and even learn new skills out on the ice (for example, if you improve your hip mobility this offseason now you are able to add Mohawk turns to your toolkit out on the ice).

Picture it like taking one step up the hockey performance staircase each offseason.

If you don’t train in the offseason and you’re just expressing your current skill and current physical development all the time while not putting the time in the gym to make new gains; you can picture this like staying on the same step on the stairs year in and year out. Never getting closer to your peak hockey performance potential.

Stalled progression = Stalled expression. It’s really as simple as that.

Training is your only job in the offseason so you can make leaps and bounds of hockey specific progress with the right programming.

In-Season Hockey Program Design

If you’re like most hockey players right now, you are focused on the in-season because it’s coming up real soon (and for some of you, it’s already here!)

What you have to know is that when setting up your programming it’s vital to understand and be aware of what’s known as “physical quality decay rates”

That is the minimum effective dose of training volume/intensity that’s required to maintain to what you gained during the offseason.

For example, how much do I have to lift to maintain my size during the season?

How heavy should I go if I want to maintain my strength during the season?

How about my explosive speed? What should I do?

Luckily, with advancements in sports science knowledge, we can answer these questions quite confidently now.

Here’s how it breaks down in a nutshell:

Hypertrophy: Muscle size can be conserved indefinitely with only strength training and zero hypertrophy work. That is, training with loads greater than 75% of your 1-Rep-Maximum.

Strength: Strength can also be held indefinitely with only strength training and zero hypertrophy work. That is, training with loads greater than 75% + of your 1-Rep-Maximum.

Additionally, peak strength levels can be maintained during a tapering phase for up to 3-Months. So if you’re in-season program design includes a tapering and peaking phase prior to playoffs you now know what you should be looking for.

Speed: Speed levels without speed training exposure will begin to decline after only two weeks.

Power: Power output rates without power training exposure will begin to decline after only two weeks as well.

What Can We Draw From All Of This?

Well, if we incorporate loads with 75%+ of our 1-Rep-Maximum throughout the season we can maintain both our strength and our size.

This is incredible knowledge to apply straight away because these play a huge factor towards stride length, how strong you are on the puck, shot power, and injury prevention.

But, what we also know is that without frequent exposure to speed and power work you can begin to lose those physical characteristic qualities within 2 weeks.

These two qualities are by a long shot the most “sensitive” to physical decay rates and unless we program properly for that you can begin to slow down even within the first month of the in-season.

Let me ask you something, have you ever intuitively noticed that as a hockey player yourself?

You train your butt off all summer and come into tryouts or camps like a blazing fire.

Then, perhaps only a couple of months later you just don’t feel like you’re at the same level of speed or strength.

You think that this is just “feeling the grind” of the in-season, and although that’s partly true, more accurately these are physical characteristic decay rates being played out in real life.

What’s funny to me is that many hockey players avoid training all together during the season because they feel “the grind” too much, yet, “the grind” represents an athlete that isn’t training enough — and not training too much!

“The grind” is a decrease in performance due to poor in-season training program design and nothing more complicated than that.

What Should Hockey Players Do?

Lucky for us, knowledge is power (quite literally here?).

Now, as a disclaimer about two things you probably already know because I beat them to death in everything I write but I have to say here as well.

Physical decay rates don’t mean a thing unless you are eating and recovering properly.

Always remember:

You aren’t what you can do. You only are what you can effectively recover from.

If your recovery from games, practices, and training is sub-optimal then all of your characteristics can begin to decay regardless of your training strategy. A fatigue-debt is a fatigue-debt no matter which way you spin it… and debts of fatigue gone unpaid will result in overtraining and eventual burnout.

In the same vein, if you aren’t eating a diet specifically for hockey athletes then all of your characteristics can begin to decay as well (again, regardless of training strategy).

Recovery and diet always need to be in place, they are the foundation for which all things hockey performance rely on. I talk about hockey-specific recovery more here if you need a refresher.

Emphasizing recovery means that you are prioritizing hockey performance because you will be entering each game and practice as your best self rather than an overtrained version of you.

Knowing this, if all is where it should be regarding nutrition and recovery (which it should be if you’re serious about hockey) these research-based decay rates that I listed above are incredibly accurate.

When mapping out your in-season hockey program design and periodization strategy to optimize performance and minimize decay, here are some quick and effective guidelines you can use right away.

The Top 10 In-Season Hockey Training Tips You Can Use Right Away

  1. Ensure loads of 75%+ 1RM are included in every in-season strength training phase all season long to maintain both strength and hypertrophy.

     

  2. Ensure these loads are distributed across total body musculature as decay rates are muscle specific. For example, squatting 75%+ 1RM weights will not preserve chest musculature.

     

  3. Strength training frequency should be 1-2 sessions per week max based on dryland conditioning and on-ice level of activity to ensure proper fatigue management and recovery. I prefer two days per week of weightlifting and find my hockey athletes perform best in that zone.

     

  4. Strength training, speed training, and conditioning sessions should never be performed on game day or even the day before games. Keep these a minimum of two days away from any games.

     

  5. Training sessions should not last longer than 60mins to optimize training quality and recovery.

     

  6. The big compound movements should always be present in your foundational in-season programming. Horizontal press variations, vertical press variations, horizontal pull variations, vertical pull variations, knee flexion variations, hip extension variations, well-rounded core programming, and weighted carries.

     

  7. Power and speed should be trained weekly throughout the whole season incorporating both vertical power-based exercises and horizontal power-based exercises.

     

  8. Aerobic conditioning does not need to be trained in your dryland work as your in-season on-ice exposure maintains this quite efficiently. Having said that, anaerobic conditioning needs must still be met in your dryland drilling if you want to have fresh legs all game long.

     

  9. Mobility, as well as special skills (coordination, reaction time, balance, puck tracking, etc.), can and should be used all season long as forms of hockey specific active recovery methods.

     

  10. You should be using a 2 Reps-In-Reserve (RIR) strategy all season long when it comes to your load selection. Meaning, if a program calls for you to perform 10 reps of a given exercise I want you to pick a weight that you could perform 12 with, but then still only do 10. Do this all season long for all of your strength training workouts (I discussed this extensively here).

BONUS TIP: Follow hockey-specific game-day nutrition guidelines, you would be amazed at how much this impacts both your performance and recovery. I wrote a complete guide on it over here for you.

A Special Note On In-Season Mental Training

As stated many times throughout this article, the primary goal of the in-season is on-ice performance. 

It’s not to shoot for an all-time personal best in the squat. 

It’s not to get 18 inch arms. 

And it’s definitely not the time to prioritize anything that you can’t directly correlate to both optimized recovery and potentiating on-ice performance throughout the season. 

Thus far, we have covered the entire physical aspect. 

You know exactly how you’re going to stay explosive, conditioned, agile, and strong all season long. 

But, in order to reach your hockey potential you need to marry that to mental performance training. 

Ask any professional athlete and they will most certainly tell you that a major percentage of the game is all mental. 

Puck tracking. 

Reading the ice. 

Reaction time. 

Offensive and defensive awareness. 

Predicting your opponents moves. 

Knowing where the puck is going to be and not just always chasing it. 

Having an all-round “hockey sense” that allows you to be patient with the puck when you need to be. 

These are all things that put you many steps ahead of your opponent whether you are as physically developed as them or not. 

That is why is all of the in-season programs I have created here at hockey training I include mental training on top of everything else because:

  1. It is a major component of on-ice performance
  2. You can perform it without impacting your recovery status 
  3. It will potentiate all aspects of both your physicality and your skill level
  4. It will optimize reaction time, coordination, and balance out on the ice
  5. It will elevate your game to the next level because the mind tells the body what to do, it doesn’t work the other way around

You need to see plays as they are happening and have lightning quick decision-making speed. 

It doesn’t matter what type of hockey player you are because this works for both goal scoring and play making. 

This is why I include it in the youth program, the in-season domination program, and in the goalie program — the main differences being that the goalie drills are much different because their mental performance, puck tracking, and reaction time needs are different than that of the offense and defense. 

I recommend a minimum of once per week to perform these types of dryland drills, and it’s also something you can do the day before a game because it will not deplete your recovery status like a strength, speed, or conditioning workout would.

Example In-Season Hockey Player Schedule

DAY 1: Strength Training

DAY 2: Mobility Circuit

DAY 3: Resistance-based Conditioning

DAY 4: Mobility Circuit

DAY 5: Coordination, Balance, And Reaction Time

DAY 6: Off (or) Game

DAY 7: Off (or) Game

Example In-Season Hockey Goalie Schedule

DAY 1: Total Body Strength And Power Circuit

DAY 2: Mobility Circuit

DAY 3: Total Body Strength And Power Circuit

DAY 4: Mobility Circuit

DAY 5: Coordination, Balance, Reaction Time, And Puck Tracking

DAY 6: Off (or) Game

DAY 7: Off (or) Game

Example In-Season Youth Hockey Player Schedule

DAY 1: Bodyweight resistance-based conditioning

DAY 2: Mobility

DAY 3: Bodyweight resistance-based conditioning

DAY 4: Mobility

DAY 5: Coordination, Balance, And Reaction Time

DAY 6: Off (or) Game

DAY 7: Off (or) Game

Example In-Season Hockey Player Strength Training Workout

A1: Vertical jumps – 3 x 3 with 10 secs rest

A2: Broad jumps – 3 x 3 with 90 secs rest

B1: BB front squat – 3 x 5 to 7 with 10 secs rest

B2: Wide pronated grip pull-ups – 3 x 5 to 7 with 90 secs rest

C1: BB good mornings – 3 x 5 to 7 with 10 secs rest

C2: Chest supported DB row – 3 x 5 to 7 with 90 secs rest

D1: Standing alternating neutral grip DB shoulder press – 3 x 5 to 7/side with 10 secs rest

D2: One hand on medicine ball offset push-ups – 3 x 5 to 7/side with 90 secs rest

E: Elbow on knee DB external rotations – 3 x 5 to 7/side with 60 secs rest

*To perform the above supersets (except for “E” which is just performed in a straight set fashion), you are to perform all of the reps for the first exercise, then take 10 seconds rest before going to the second exercise and completing all of the reps there, then rest 90secs before repeating the superset for 3 total rounds. Complete all three rounds of a superset before moving on to the next one.

Example In-Season Hockey Goalie Strength Training Workout

A: Jump back vertical jumps – 5 x 3 with 60 secs rest

B1: DB goblet squat – 4 x 5 with 30-60 secs rest

B2: BB good mornings – 4 x 5 with 30-60 secs rest

B3: Flat DB bench press – 4 x 5 with 30-60 secs rest

B4: BB Pendlay row – 4 x 5 with 30-60 secs rest

B5: Elbow on knee external rotations – 4 x 5/side with 120 secs rest

C: Half-kneeling lateral hop – 3 x 3/side with 60 secs rest

“A” and “C” are both performed in a standard straight-set fashion. The B-Series is a strength circuit, perform all exercises back-to-back with 30-60 secs rest in between, and then take 120 secs rest at the end of the full circuit before starting your next round.

Example In-Season Youth Hockey Player Bodyweight Workout

A1: Skater bounds – 3 x 3/side with 0 secs rest

A2: Alternating anterior reaches – 3 x 5/side with 0-30 secs rest

B1: Close-grip push-ups – 3 x 10 with 0 secs rest

B2: Alternating forward reaching lunges – 3 x 10/side with 0-30 secs rest

C1: Superman reps – 3 x 10 with 0 secs rest

C2: Bicycle abs – 3 x 10/side with 0-30 secs rest

D: Crossover step-ups – 3 x 5/side with 30-60 secs rest

*To perform the above supersets (except for “D” as it is a standalone exercise), you are to perform all of the reps for the first exercise, then take no rest before going to the second exercise and completing all of the reps there, then rest 0-30secs before repeating the superset for 3 total rounds. Complete all three rounds of a superset before moving on to the next one.

Final Thoughts

The above is proper in-season hockey strength and conditioning training program design 101.

I have read all the research and taken care of all of this for you and structured a very well thought out in-season specific training system for optimal progress.

Every last detail has been taken into account to ensure you have the best season of your life while simultaneously keeping all your hard-earned gains from the offseason.

The more you know, the better.

Now you just need to put in the work and apply it.

And if you want my complete in-season strength and conditioning programs for youth, elite players, and goalies (covering ALL of your on-ice and dryland needs) — check out the program selection here and let’s dominate this season.

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