Plenty of trainers and athletes have been running hills since the dawn of sports training, and for a good reason too – it works.
Running on an incline demands that you use your own body weight as a form of resistance while trying to travel upwards. This is excellent because adding unnatural resistance (weighted vests, ankle weights, etc.) in many cases will disrupt your running technique, and thus make the workout less productive and increase your risk for injury at the same time.
But, when done properly, hill sprints can improve a hockey athlete’s acceleration, explosiveness, and top speed level.
Why Hockey Players Should Do Hill Sprints
When running on an incline, you force yourself to change your mechanics without anyone even coaching you.
Your stride length shortens slightly.
You maintain a low and driven upper body angle.
Your arms pump more.
It helps heel-to-toe runners switch to running on the balls of their feet.
It avoids shin splints for those with ankle/tibialis issues.
It lowers hamstring injury risk during running due to increased activation of the glutes during extension.
And you force the body to lift the knees higher with each stride to push forward.
…pretty good so far right?
But I think we still have a cherry on top here, they’re free. Everybody has a hill in their neighborhood and you’re not going to need any expensive, fancy equipment. Just you, your shoes, and a stopwatch. That’s all we’ll need to increase your acceleration, top speed, explosive power—and drop plenty of body fat along the way.
Outside of the physical development, there is a mental component to this as well.
You don’t need me to tell you how important mental toughness is for hockey. It translates into being able to handle a crazy in-season schedule, intense off-ice training schedule, and juggle all your school, life, and job responsibilities as well.
There’s something unique about making it to the top of a hill, and beating the time you did it in previously. It feels brutal, but the feeling of satisfaction you create from breaking through new barriers carries right over into game day.
A mentally stronger version of you is a physically stronger version of you.
If you have never done a hill workout before, it’s very important that you warm up and increase your heart rate before you start getting into the serious part of the workout.
If you need an example warm-up, check out the Hockey Warm-Up Article I’ve written.
But, if you’re zapped for time, just jog for 10-15 minutes or so and throw in a few dynamic stretching movements.
Beginners should also be aware of the hills they are choosing. The goal isn’t to find the steepest hill in the world, a nice steady incline of 30-45 degrees is likely best in almost all scenarios.
For your first workout, don’t go crazy. Your muscles and tendons aren’t used to this type of work yet and sprinting drives some high-level forces throughout the body, so you do not want to risk injury.
3-6 sprints of 20-35 yards is going to be more than enough.
Your rest period should be relatively short as well, just run back up the hill after you have walked back down.
After this, finish up with some core exercises and then you’re on your way home.
Moving on to the folks who want to enter the big leagues for hill training!
Now that you’re mindful of the hill you’re working with and you have developed both the energy system conditioning as well as the muscle/tendon conditioning you need to not get injured on these hills, you’re ready to take things up a notch.
At this stage, I’m assuming you are following my pre/intra/post-workout nutrition and hydration guidelines, you’re going to need this type of support here for performance and recovery.
As far as total training volume goes, we are looking at a gradual build-up over time from 6 to approximately 12-15 runs. It should look a little something like this:
Week 1: 6 x 30 yards
Week 2: 7 x 30 yards
Week 3: 8 x 30 yards
Week 4: 9 x 30 yards
Week 5: Deload, no hill sprints.
Week 6: 8 x 30 yards
Week 7: 9 x 30 yards
Week 8: 10 x 30 yards
Week 9: 11 x 30 yards
Week 10: Deload, no hill sprints.
The above would be a logical way to progress into the advanced category for hockey conditioning. But eventually, it would be great to have you at 12-15 hill sprints per workout while still being fast in the later rounds.
Rest periods for the veterans can and should increase as now we are passed the general conditioning stage (beginners) and want to be moving in the direction of increasing your total power output per run. Rest periods can be anywhere from one to three minutes in between each run.
Beyond the advanced range of hill sprinting tactics already mentioned above, you can use a variety of other tactics as well to increase total training volume per workout, disperse the training load to other muscle groups, and allow for a more complete lower body workout while still not using any equipment.
Advanced techniques you can use as an add-on to your hill sprint workouts can be:
- Uphill skater bounds
- Uphill lateral shuffle
- Uphill backpedaling
- Uphill lunges
- Uphill bear crawl
- Uphill reverse bear crawl (bear crawl backward uphill)
These advanced techniques can all be added in from time to time to enhance the training stimulus for more speed, explosiveness, and acceleration.
The only note I want to make here is that I wrote uphill before all of those for a reason, I really don’t recommend doing any downhill work.
If you’re jumping or sprinting downhill, you’re going to create very large forces on your knees which hockey players already have enough problems with from skating.
Avoid the downhill work, and focus on everything you can do uphill.
Advanced Hockey Hill Sprint Workout
If you’re ready to go all in, give this one a try:
A: 6 x 30-yard hill sprints with two minutes rest in between runs
B: 6 x 15-yard double leg broad jump into sprint uphill with ninety seconds rest in between runs
C1: 3 x 20-yard uphill walking lunges—no rest, just walk back down to the bottom and start C2
C2: 3 x 10-yard uphill bear crawls—no rest, just walk back down to the bottom and start C1
Hill training is a form of HIIT training since it is highly intense bouts of effort separated by low-intensity bouts of effort (walking back down the hill), but the hill has many unique added benefits that other forms of conditioning do not, making it a welcome addition to any hockey speed or conditioning system.
Drink plenty of water, enjoy the sun, and love the grind!
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