Welcome to the Hockey Speed Training guide. This is the complete guide to hockey speed and learning how to skate faster on the ice.
In addition to reading this guide, I would highly recommend downloading the FREE Explosive Speed Package here where you will get instant access to even more content and hockey workouts to make you a faster skater that is not available here.
Whether you are a hockey player looking to learn how to skate faster or a coach of any kind looking to help out hockey athletes, this is the hockey speed guide you will want to read.
Because this Hockey Speed guide might be tough to finish in one sitting we’ve included a table of contents that you can use to come back to resume your reading. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
- The Nuts and Bolts of Hockey Speed
- Speed vs. Conditioning
- Stride Length vs. Stride Frequency
- The Importance of Acceleration
- Why You Need To Be Strong To Be Fast
- Structural Balance Leads to Complete Speed Expression
- Vertical and Horizontal Power Training for Optimal Hockey Speed
- How To Properly Train Your Core For Speed Development
- How to Warm Up for Speed Training
- Sample Warm-Ups
- If You’re Not Lean You’re Not Fast
- 7 Tips to Get Lean Without Tracking Calories
- Putting It All Together
- Sample Hockey Speed Workouts
Hockey Speed Introduction
If there is only one fact that we know for sure about hockey athletes, it would be that speed kills.
Speed makes you stand out on the ice to your team.
Speed makes you stand out on the ice to the fans.
Speed makes you stand out on the ice to the scouts.
Speed makes you stand out from your team on the scoresheet.
Those who possess speed have the ability to create devasting effects on their opponents. It’s no mistake that when you review the literature on sports science that speed of movement is the number one physical characteristic an athlete can have in order to make them a high-performer.
I have been working and researching for many, many years now on hockey performance. It is a dream of mine to create a manual that is considered “The Standard” guide that all coaches should refer to when delivering fast results for their hockey athletes.
I think that this article accomplishes that dream, and I hope you will agree once you read through it carefully and then give the methods an honest chance once you complete it.
I really believe that hockey athletes are in dire need of an unbiased resource that will provide them both the scientific evidence and the real “in the trenches” experience that I have building athletes from the ground up.
Because speed is an incredibly complex topic, and to both quantify the needs as well as qualify the protocols is an extremely delicate process.
A ton of credit needs to be given to the researchers that I discuss throughout this article because they have contributed their lives to sports performance research and yet they go almost completely unrecognized while the coaches are the ones who gain all of the credit.
Some of the information I will be discussing with you has been around for decades, some of it is new cutting-edge material. One is not better than the other, the magic is always in the application of whatever tool you are using, and not the tool itself.
I have done my best to keep this as simple and accessible as possible for all of the coaches and athletes out there, but some topics can only be made so simple before you start disrespecting what they truly are. So, I did exactly what Einstein said:
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”
It is my hope that you will have a firm grip on the technical aspects of speed training once you have completed this article, but if you have any questions, you can always contact us and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
I’m being completely honest with you when I am telling you that I am pouring every bit of speed knowledge you will ever need to know after you read this. I appreciate you for reading my content, I love making hockey athletes perform better, and I want to help you succeed as much as possible.
All aspects training hockey players fascinate me, I have spent years of my life and a totally absurd amount of money on my education because learning, analyzing, watching, researching, and applying training techniques to improve hockey performance is my greatest passion in life.
Speed truly is one of the most athletic actions a hockey athlete could ever express, and it is one of the most secretive areas in my industry of strength and conditioning because nobody wants to share their systems.
I am not one of those selfish people.
Everybody wants speed, and I am going to show you exactly how to get it.
The Nuts and Bolts of Hockey Speed
Hockey is a sport where the smallest fractions of error can make or break a shift. A quarter of an inch can be the difference between you getting the puck or not, or you stopping a breakaway from happening on your net or not.
This all comes down to speed. The fastest players are almost always the most dangerous players.
But how do we train for speed?
What are the nuts and bolts behind what we are actually after?
Well, if you had a peak at the table of contents, you know you’re in for a long ride here.
Speed is a question that stumps a lot of coaches, primarily because speed is the intersection of so many different physical performance qualities. Meaning, speed isn’t something you train in isolation, it is something that must encompass your entire training program.
Strength, conditioning, and nutrition are all found in the research and in textbooks in extraordinary detail and have been studied in sports science for multiple decades at this point.
But, speed development really hasn’t been researched in heavy detail yet – and what’s currently available online for hockey players by other content creators is more or less a collection of random exercises and workouts as opposed to a system of principles and methods.
When you know the systems and principles, you are able to truly understand speed in a way your opponents don’t, which allows you to create and/or tweak your own program for real results.
You can think about speed like a bunch of different puzzle pieces that have to be organized and placed together in the correct manner in order to properly create and train hockey speed development.
Speed cannot be oversimplified and is its own entire component of athletic development.
Strength training is an important part of speed development, but speed training is also different from strength training. One allows you to produce force, another allows you to properly express that force.
Conditioning is an important part of speed development, but speed training is also different than conditioning. One produces absolute speed, another determines your ability to repeat those efforts. Physiologically, these are two very different things.
Mobility is an important part of speed development, but speed training is also different than mobility. One will allow you to have the proper movement mechanics for optimal speed, whereas the other will determine your actual speed potential once those mechanics are down.
Athletic skill coaches and strength and conditioning coaches often grossly oversimplify speed and will often only ask their athletes to go outside and “go for a run” to get faster.
And yet, how many of them actually get faster?
They probably get a little more aerobically conditioned, and also likely increase their general fitness level. But it’s rare I see true hockey specific speed development with an approach as basic and simplistic as that.
And if there is any development at all, it was likely due to the athlete having “beginner status” in the gym and making progress doing basically anything in the initial stages of strength and conditioning.
These speed results will likely plateau quickly as they enter an intermediate stage of athletic development.
Put another way, don’t get excited if you are a big fish in a small pond. Just wait until you get into the ocean, then we’ll see how fast you think you are.
The main reason for the somewhat lackluster results here from taking a more generalized approach is because speed is truly its own area of development independent of other areas of performance training. Other areas help, no doubt, but they aren’t the complete approach.
Professionally designed hockey speed programs by coaches who actually know what they’re doing take many things into consideration, such as:
- Training age
- Biological age
- Warm up quality and specificity
- Upper and lower body mobility
- Strength training program design
- Fatigue management
- Total body relative strength
- Total body power
- Structural balance in the upper and lower body
- Stride length vs. Stride frequency
- Top speed
- Starting speed
- Hockey specific energy system conditioning
- Nervous system capability
- Running technique
Beyond these specific speed indicators, a well-educated strength and conditioning coach understands that these factors have varying levels of importance in the hierarchy of speed depending on the sport their athlete is competing in.
For example, speed training for hockey is going to look different than speed training for a 400m or 800m track athlete. Even though both athletes are running, a hockey athlete has many more factors to take into consideration (being on skates, having a different motor unit recruitment pattern, and you know, other people trying to knock your head off).
Moreover, a hockey athlete has an entirely different speed and conditioning demand as an 800m sprint would absolutely never happen on the ice in a game situation. This is where the principle of training specificity needs to come into play.
If it’s not in some way specific to improving performance on the ice, then drop it. Yes, I’m looking at you; hockey players who run traditional bodybuilding programs and then pretend it’s for hockey.
Hockey is an incredibly explosive sport and demands very short duration moments of extreme physical demand. This is also known as being an alactic-aerobic dominant athlete, but we’ll get into that a little later.
For now, just understand that these intricacies are why bodybuilding programs are not suitable for hockey athletes – a more specific approach needs to be taken.
Bodybuilding is for cosmetics; hockey training is for performance.
What you have access to within this article is the absolute best methods that incorporate all of the “nuts and bolts” to use to bring up your hockey specific speed development to make you that go-to player out on the ice, or, make you that go-to coach who everybody knows is “the guy” to go see for speed development training in your area.
Legitimate application of the information I am providing you in this manual will bring your game and your team to an entirely new level.
Speed vs. Conditioning
What’s the deal with speed and conditioning?
Is there really a difference between these two qualities in a hockey player?
Yes, there definitely is.
Speed is one of the most inaccurately trained qualities in the entire hockey world because so many coaches have their athletes train for speed as if it is a factor of conditioning.
Sure, there is plenty of overlap between these two, but for the most part these two qualities are vastly different and need to be treated as such.
Let’s get clear on something right now:
Speed is your ability to perform a given task faster.
Conditioning is your ability to perform a given task longer.
Coaches consistently fail their hockey athletes when designing their speed programming. First off, they are afraid to reduce the conditioning workout frequency in a program in fear that the athlete will instantly lose his/her conditioning levels (and simultaneously forget that there is a reason for an “off-season”). They can’t seem to grasp the idea that you need MORE rest in order to get faster, and not the other way around.
Old school coaches have their athletes “go out for a run” in order to get faster, or, do 50 laps around the ice—and then are for some reason baffled when their athletes don’t get any faster, and yet they never actually allow their athlete to recover back to a state of 100% readiness in order to move fast, and not just for a longer period of time.
You might be thinking:
“How can an athlete get faster if they are not conditioned?”
I’m not saying that, I’m saying they are two different qualities. You need to train for speed, and you need to train for conditioning. These are two different things and you should be programming and periodizing both within your “big picture” in-season and off-season programming.
To make matters worse, most coaches feel that speed, is a genetically-based skill that cannot be improved.
Speed is a quality that can be taught, learned, and improved by anyone to a considerable and noticeable degree, even if they don’t have good genetics. You’re not stuck with the same speed forever, not by a long shot.
Training for speed or conditioning can be separated by one thing; your level of fatigue.
If you are highly fatigued going into the work set = Speed low and Conditioning high.
If you are fully recovered going into the work set = Speed high and Conditioning low.
This is the relationship you want to notice when working in the gym yourself or working with athletes if you are a coach. Put yourself in this situation:
Imagine yourself exhausted at the end of a workout, could you run or skate fast?
What about your first few shifts of a hockey game – you’re flying around, right?
Your speed is high because your high-intensity energy substrates and neuromuscular systems are fresh, untapped, and incredibly ready to deliver at full capacity. We only have a limited amount of energy coming from our central nervous system and we have to make the most of it if we want to get better.
If you want to improve your speed, work at all-out levels, less often (this is as simple as increasing the length of your rest periods).
If you want to improve your conditioning, perform your work sets in a pre-fatigued state in order to maximize your ability to perform during fatigue (this is as simple as shortening the rest periods).
This brings up the next point and principle which is the “Speed Reserve.” I adopted this term from Charlie Francis.
Basically, the faster or stronger you are, the more work you can do at lower intensities. When you are fatigued and tired during a game, you naturally operate at a lower operational output, but the person who is faster overall will still be able to do more work and act faster if they are in great condition.
Can the NHL’s fastest athlete probably still run faster when he is just as tired as a high school hockey player?
Absolutely, and it’s not because he is in better condition.
Remember they are both in an equal fatigued state. It’s because he is faster and his 60‐70% is going to be higher than the high school kid. You have to raise your peak. And you can only do this by getting faster, and this requires you to be completely fresh going into every set. Here are some numbers to make this real clear:
Athlete A Running a 40 Yard Dash
100% effort = 4.8 seconds
75% = 6 seconds
50% = 7.2 seconds
Athlete B Running a 40 Yard Dash
100% effort = 4.2 seconds
75% = 5.3 seconds
50% = 6.3 seconds
…see the major differences here?
You could choose any distance and any intensity, and you would see the same outcome. The faster athlete is way faster even when tired due to the speed reserve he/she has earned.
The big lesson here is that you need to raise your “peak speed” to get as fast as you can, for as long as you can.
Conditioning on the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, is the ability to perform an activity for a longer duration of time, which will have to be the topic of another massive article.
Conditioning could also be viewed as our individual work capacity, or how much hockey specific work we can do. The more work you can do, the longer you will last and the better conditioned you are.
More specifically, it’s the ability of body structures to be able to deliver more energy and fuel to target areas so that we can train harder and longer.
The key for hockey athletes is to identify what type or types of conditioning they need perform to best prepare their body and support activity in competition.
There are 3 different types of conditioning and/or energy systems, the lactic, alactic, and aerobic – I will go into more detail on these later in the energy system sections.
But, what I do want to point out in reference to conditioning’s relationship to speed is that if you spend too much time focusing on your aerobic system and lactic systems trying to “find the burn” – you can actually make yourself slower in the end.
This sucks because you are literally being punished for working hard but working hard doesn’t always mean working smart.
In this case, you’re doing something that can actually hurt your hockey performance as opposed to supporting it.
Nobody cares if you’re really well conditioned if you’re so slow that you’re always behind the play.
“The burn” is not the desired effect we want in our bodies when we are speed training.
The burn you’re feeling is just a natural by‐product of energy production in the body. The kicker is that a large majority of hockey teams are creating conditioning and speed workouts in this conditioning zone, so why are coaches, trainers, and athletes still so adamant about it?
I have no clue. Especially since you’re literally teaching your body to move at moderate speeds during competition, and not peak speeds. Zero speed development, zero speed reserve.
We approach things differently.
You need longer rest periods and a gradual build-up in speed specific work each and every week so that you can operate at peak levels every time you have a session, and not operate at conditioning-focused levels.
So many athletes have contacted me asking me if they can shorten the rest periods or “add something in between”
If it was a conditioning session?
Sure, knock yourself out.
But this is a speed session, so no. Be quiet and get to a full state of recovery.
This means you are not out of breath anymore, and you should almost feel bored/antsy to go again. That’s how recovered you need to be in between sets during speed workouts.
Conditioning is super important, but that is only ever trained so we can repeat our efforts in a fatigued state. True speed training demands you being fresh, so we can push your “peak” to a whole new level, which will ultimately give you more conditioning in the end anyway due to the effect of having a greater Speed Reserve.
Stride Length vs. Stride Frequency
Consider this; it’s always great to be the big and strong guy on the field or have one of these behemoths on your team. But, when you think about some of the best players of all time and also some of the best modern hockey players of our day, they are rarely ever the biggest and most intimidating guys from a physical stature standpoint.
Their speed and skills get them to where they want to be and that alone is enough to change the pace of the entire game.
The big guys are missing two major ingredients, stride length and stride frequency.
Stride length: The length (or) distance covered in one single running stride.
Stride frequency: The number of steps taken per unit of distance covered.
These two stride measures are the biggest factors of speed development in any sport. When it comes down to it, any and all speed training methods are utilized to create an improvement in either one or both of these qualities.
Anything that we do in the gym, on the ice, or out on the track to improve speed has to effect either stride length or stride frequency in a positive manner in order for it to be an effective technique to improve hockey speed.
This not only includes the training but also the mobility work as well because if you can’t properly reach full extension at the hip, knee and ankle with efficiency, your speed on the ice and your speed when trying to train are going to suffer.
Everything we do is driven by improving these two aspects. There is no other way.
Stride frequency is a tricky one and is less trainable in the “big picture” of your career than stride length. This is because stride frequency is largely nervous system based and is most effectively developed during the youth years of 6-13 years old.
This is why I am such a large advocate of youth training in hockey and why all of the myths surrounding its dangers have to die, but we’ll save that conversation for another day.
What you need to know now is that during these youth years, the nervous system is being molded like clay to prepare itself for your adolescent and adult life.
The way in which you can allow your youth athlete to have the greatest chance at being the best possible athlete, having the most well developed nervous system, and having the greatest possible stride frequency is allowing them to be exposed to the greatest amount of different movements and skills as possible while they are growing.
I encourage all kids to play outside with their friends (you know, as opposed to staying inside on their tablets all day) and play each and every sport they can during the various seasons. Doing this helps them learn how to properly move.
One of the biggest problems with the generation growing up right now is they don’t know how to move. Yes, you read that correctly.
Kids can’t move properly anymore and have troubles with even the most basic of human movements such as squatting and lunging. These poor movement patterns are a breeding ground for structural imbalances, mobility issues, and poor athletic nervous system development.
Spend a lot of time sitting down?
Probably going to have tight hip flexors and an increased lower back pain susceptibility.
Spend a lot of time on computers/tablets?
Probably going to have a tight chest and internal rotator cuff muscles from being in a hunch back position all the time.
Spend a lot of time playing video games?
Well, that’ll be a combination of both of the above.
These aren’t death sentences for mobility and movement, but, they should be counter-balanced with plenty of sports, outdoor playing, and well-designed youth hockey programs.
It’s very common for parents to bring their kids to me for youth athlete development and they can’t even properly squat, this is a big problem. Too much time being sedentary leads to poor movement patterns (which is a statement that could also be applied to everybody).
It is during these years where they have to be moving in all planes of motion to ensure their nervous system capability will not hold them back later in life.
This is very important to care about because the nervous system is involved in intensely important hockey speed qualities such as total body relative strength, explosiveness, running stride frequency, agility, balance, and overall body awareness/co-ordination.
To give your kids the best chance at excelling in athletics and speed development you need to:
- Have them learn to move
- Have them learn to play
- Have them perform as many sports as possible when they’re young
- Strength training at a young age should first begin with body weight and can progressively move to training with loads around ages 12-14
Once you understand movement in sports, you understand that it demands perfect timing and perfect execution to be one of the best.
Competing in as many sports as possible allows children to develop strong motor patterns and movement ability in all planes of motion. This translates perfectly to each and every sport as many sports have areas of crossover that allow you to be a more complete version of yourself in all positions/angles.
Very young children should be playing, running, climbing, running backward, throwing balls around, jumping, crawling and playing with their parents so they can learn from the parent’s movement patterns.
From being children to a more teenage age, in these years you should enroll your kid in as many sports as possible, but not at the same time.
Do not overwhelm your kid with the sport of hockey, keep it in every year, but other sports should be rotated in as well based on the season.
Martial arts is one of the best things you can do with a child for increasing athletic ability, confidence, and mental discipline. Additionally, martial arts help to build muscular strength with plenty of explosive bodyweight movements such as jumps, punches, throws, and kicks.
Gymnastics is also just as excellent as martial arts for all of the same reasons.
If you enroll your kid in martial arts and gymnastics, you’ve got an athlete in the making on your hands. I promise you that.
Following these guidelines, in my experience, will give your child the best base to build from and properly develop the nervous system.
Various sport exposure at a young age develops body awareness, coordination, balance, speed development, and will give them a massive advantage over the other players.
For more information on the youth end of things, I have written multiple blogs on this topic and have also authored a youth hockey training book that comes with a full program as well, you can check it out here.
As previously stated, this nervous system molding window of opportunity tends to shut down once the onset of puberty begins at approximately 13 years old on average. Once this happens, stride frequency becomes much less trainable and the emphasis should be placed on stride length.
I don’t want you to think stride frequency training is done forever, that’s not what I’m saying at all, and your stride frequency will still increase by following the outlines in this book. But, it’s relevance falls slightly in comparison to all of the tools we have at our disposal in order to create a positive impact on stride length.
Emphasizing stride length changes the rules of optimization now.
Stride frequency demands that you do not specialize in hockey too early in life and allow your youth athletes to play as many sports as possible which will ultimately play towards a more intelligent approach to their long-term hockey development.
Additionally, stride frequency training doesn’t include any resistance training or advanced methods either as they are still in their youth years and don’t require advanced methods to create positive adaptations in performance.
Whereas stride length training encourages resistance training, hockey specialization, and much more advanced methods to continuously create higher top speeds, acceleration, and start times.
As we continue to go over stride length vs. stride frequency, it’s tough to determine if either is of any greater importance.
Your youth training years quite literally set the stage for your long-term athletic potential. How often have you ever seen a totally unathletic kid end up making the NHL? Never? But in most cases, most of the time people find that out too late.
Whereas stride length, on the other hand, is very trainable and can be used as a tool in your arsenal for the rest of your life to develop.
For these reasons, I feel stride length training creates the biggest impact on an athlete’s speed development, but, that doesn’t make it more important either. It just simply means it created a bigger impact because that’s what they have available to train at this point in time.
But… combining the two?
That’s where you get the freaks who are at the puck or flying away from you in a flash.
Stride length training offers hockey players the chance to have their “breakout” year because if they have never trained it properly before, this type of training can turn a good athlete into a great athlete.
Stride length is a key factor here for these breakout years as they normally come much later in life during the peaks of their athletic career.
The perfect example of how powerful stride length can be is using the example of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt. He is the fastest man ever recorded to run the 100m sprint and is a multiple time gold medal champion in both the 100m and 200m sprint.
Usain covers a 100m in only 41 steps (8.01 feet per stride!) whereas everybody he competed against in the final run covered it in anywhere between 44-46 steps.
This is a clear-cut example of what a good stride length can bring to the table even at the most elite level of speed the world has ever seen. When you take less steps to cover the same distance as your opponents, you will be getting there faster. Period.
Stride length is highly trainable in all stages of life and involves two key factors for maximal speed development:
- Relative strength. Which is how strong you are in relation to your body weight. For example, if two athletes are both 180lbs and one squats 400lbs whereas the other one only squats 300lbs—the 400lbs squatter is more relatively strong in relation to his body weight.
- Mobility. Specifically in throughout the hips, lower body (all of it), and upper back.
I know what you might be thinking here “How would the strength I gain in the gym allow me to run faster? What’s so important about relative strength? Won’t that just help me lift more weight and be stronger?”
Relative strength is absolutely vital to speed development because speed potential is highly dependent on strength development.
The stronger you are, the greater your stride length is going to be due to the force you can produce per unit of body weight. Let me explain.
When you get two athletes of equal everything and yet one is stronger than the other, the stronger athlete will always dominate him. He will not compete with him, he will dominate him.
Strength in terms of its relationship to stride length is vital because it is strength that is propelling you forward at the fastest rate possible.
When you press your foot down into the ground to push backwards and propel your body forward; the speed at which you explode from the starting position is entirely dependent on how relatively strong you are.
For example, if you have a 180lb hockey player who can squat 180lbs vs. a 180lb hockey player who can squat 400lbs. Who do you think is going to be faster?
The 400lbs squatter!
Every, single, time.
Because he has that much more strength to overcome his own body weight in order to push and propel himself forward from the starting position.
This same relative strength that is increasing your “starting speed” is also increasing your stride length because you are strong enough to propel your body further per stride taken.
To keep the squat analogy, think about the 400lb squatter emitting 200lbs of force per leg into the ground when exploding, whereas the 180lb squatter is only emitting 90lbs of force per leg into the ground when exploding.
Since they are both equal body weight, the person emitting a greater amount of force into the ground is going to propel himself forward faster and further than the less relatively strong athlete. This works for jump height as well for all of the same reasons.
The weaker athlete, relative to his/her body weight, will not be able to propel their self forward with enough strength to take as long of a stride (thus, reducing the stride length per stride. And therefore, the overall speed potential).
Whereas the stronger athlete, once his/her foot makes contact with the ground, it is strong enough to propel his/her body off the ground not only faster, but also further. Each step he gains a new advantage, leading to total domination.
Keep in mind, this is relative strength and not absolute strength. If total strength limit alone determined speed, then powerlifters would be the fastest athletes in the world, and we all know that’s not true.
Relative strength must be accompanied by the proper technique for skating, mobility to allow for optimal movement, and a high-power output so that you can produce that relative strength force and the highest rates possible.
But now, no conversation about stride length would be complete without touching on the mobility aspects of its execution. Hockey athletes most commonly run into tightness issues within their hips, calves, Achilles tendon, and vastus lateralis.
I know that sounds like a lot, but any unilateral sport creates a structurally imbalanced body. Unilateral sport meaning that you always do something with only one side of your body, so it creates imbalanced strength/weakness/tightness throughout the body.
For example, you always shoot on one side of your body, hold the stick on the same side, and constantly rotate your torso in the same direction. Hockey is highly unilateral which drives several structural issues that need to be addressed for optimal speed development.
Ideally, for optimal speed it’s good not to be tight anywhere and to have a well-functioning body all round. But for speed mechanics, the big ones to focus on are the hips, lower body in general, and the upper back.
Proper range of motion, stability, and strength within those tight areas is crucial to achieving optimal stride length for the simplest reasons.
If you’re not flexible enough to achieve triple extension at the hip, knee and ankle during motion then your stride length is limited to only the available range of motion that you have.
Think of somebody in your life who is grossly inflexible, since they have a hard time extending their leg outwards this immediately reduces their stride length.
In this scenario, strength training is no longer the priority, we need to learn how to move like an athlete first.
Additionally, if you’re not flexible and mobile you will not only be hurting your stride length, but you will also be affecting your skating mechanics and skating technique, which also has immediate deleterious effects on your speed potential.
To skate with optimal speed and energy efficiency you need both lower and upper body mobility.
At the end of the day, speed is determined by your stride length and your stride frequency.
Our job is to review the specific needs of hockey athletes in accordance to the sport’s demands and determine the best possible way in which we can enhance one or both performance opportunities for speed development.
The Importance of Acceleration For Hockey Speed
In most cases most of the time, hockey athletes should be focusing more on acceleration tactics than overall top speed.
Acceleration referring to how quickly we can create speed, and your top speed representing your ultimate capacity for speed, no matter how long it takes you to get there.
For example, a Honda Civic and a transport truck may both top out at 140km/h, but it’s going to take the transport truck way longer to get to that speed then it is the Honda Civic. Same top speeds, difference in acceleration ability.
The thing is, we can have great speed or have the capacity to move fast, but not be able to produce that speed immediately if our acceleration is less than optimal.
The main take-home point here is that almost everything you do on the ice is functions of your acceleration first, and your top speed second (if at all).
“In sports where average sprint distances range from 10 to 30m, it would appear that the ability to achieve maximum velocity within the shortest time frame is more important than the maximum velocity itself. That is, acceleration rather than maximum velocity would seem to be of greater importance”
This is a direct quote from a research paper conducted by Young, W.B. in 2006 in a paper called “Transfer of strength and power into sports performance” where they essentially scientifically examined what type of training works for athletes, and what doesn’t
Now of course, there is greater speed when you have faster acceleration because you are increasing speed at a simultaneous rate, but the bigger issue here is how quickly can a hockey athlete accelerate and increase speed in a given direction, and not how fast they can skate if allowed more time (like a speed skater—not very relevant to a realistic and chaotic hockey environment).
For example, Athlete A has FANTASTIC top speed, faster than anyone else on his hockey team. But, it takes him awhile to accelerate and reach his top speed (40-80yds).
Due to this, Athlete A actually appears very slow out on the ice and can’t get any goals because the majority of hockey games occur in very short/quick bursts (5-25yds).
In order for Athlete A to be successful, he has to reach his speed-potential much sooner, and the only way he can do this is if he works on his acceleration ability.
Athlete A represents many hockey athletes in the game today, they fail to create their speed sessions using very short distances.
Some think sprinting 10-15yds is “too short” or ask, “why am I only doing 2 broad jumps for my whole set?”
My response: Acceleration
Most people refer to speed and only think of “top speed” – whereas I feel that acceleration much more accurately describes “game speed” for hockey athletes.
Being able to put the gas pedal down and go from 0-60 as fast as possible is much more important than having a top speed of 140.
When was the last time you reached or maintained absolute top speed levels for any reasonable amount of time out on the ice? If ever at all?
If you look at the data on running, even the most elite sprinters do not reach top speed until approximately 40-80yds.
This means when you’re out on the ice, I’m at a very strong belief that top speed almost never occurs. This isn’t to say top speed isn’t important (remember Speed Reserve?), it is, but acceleration is at the head of the pack here.
Many hockey athletes generally never come close to reaching top speed in a game, but they constantly have to accelerate, decelerate, and re‐accelerate as fast as possible in multiple directions. And now that we know more about the value of acceleration and speed, how do we go about obtaining these abilities in our training?
The answer is to develop more POWER, since it will be the make or break skill in this department.
This means Contrast Training, plenty of vertical and horizontal jumps, short distance sprinting, and working in plenty of reactive agility exercise to remain explosive in all directions.
So, the next time someone asks you why you’re only sprinting 15yds, you can remind them that this is what real hockey speed training looks like. Acceleration is king.
Why You Need to Be Strong to Be Fast
In order to recruit more muscle fibers, you have to undergo training phases lifting some really heavy weight.
I’ve been asked a couple times why I have my hockey athletes lift heavy weights within their offseason training periodization–sometimes going as heavy as sets of 1-2, or 2-4.
As a hockey athlete, you can increase your muscle size two ways:
1. Myofibrillar hypertrophy, which is increasing the size of your actual muscle fibers.
2. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which is increasing the fluid volume of your muscle cell (think getting a “pump”).
Both components have their place for athletic muscular development. The limiting factor in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the nutritional and hormonal status of the athlete.
If they consistently mess up their nutrition, or if they have hormonal imbalances, their gains here will be very limited.
For longer-term development, focusing with a slight emphasis on myofibrillar hypertrophy is a smarter gameplay. A classic intensity of working within 70-80% of your 1-Rep-Max will do the trick here. This is approximately working within an 8-12 rep range.
But, German exercise physiologist Jurgen Hartmann demonstrated that although working within the 70-80% 1RM range is beneficial towards hypertrophy, it does NOT affect how many muscles fibers you can contract at any one given moment.
In order to contract more muscle fibers at once (and thus, create force at a higher rate), you must undergo training phases working within 85-100% of your 1RM.
By implementing this into your hockey training program (ideally the offseason) at strategically placed intervals, this is where you get an extra edge out on the ice.
To put all of this shortly, alternating between higher rep phases and lower rep phases yields far better results for hockey players than just staying in the higher rep ranges due to your newfound ability to contract more muscle fibers per muscular contraction.
This means you are more explosive, have greater acceleration, can shoot harder, and are harder to knock off the puck.
Even with everything I have already talked about regarding more muscle fiber contraction at once in combination with the importance of relative strength, some coaches still try to make the argument that barbell movements aren’t specific to hockey performance.
Although I know they mean well, when this claim is made I immediately know that they haven’t properly reviewed the literature, and only god knows how they are training their athletes.
Look, training heavy and training with barbells is still extremely specific to hockey speed development. I find it kind of humorous when they will make the claim that barbells aren’t specific to hockey performance, but then they still incorporate static stretching? Or some form of unstable training nonsense?
The fact of the matter is that movements don’t have to look exactly like skating in order to create a carryover effect to the ice.
Using powerlifting movements to create speed development in hockey athletes is no different. Let’s just talk some common sense first before getting into the science.
How can every Division 1 American football team incorporate heavy weight lifting into their offseason and still produce the fastest athletes in team sports?
Why do elite sprinters lift heavy weight and use barbell movements year-round and still become the fastest people on the planet?
Of course, it makes them stronger, but if you talk to any coach who knows their sports physiology you would know that it makes them faster too.
You would also hear this from all of my athletes, who get both stronger and faster at the same time when working with me.
A large amount of hockey speed programs out there completely dismiss weight training, and that comes at the expense of every athlete who trusted them to make them better. Let’s discuss why.
In 2002, Caterisano and his colleagues found that “as squat depth got deeper, the gluteus maximus becomes more active during the concentric contraction of the lift. Muscular contribution shifts from the biceps femoris, vastus medialis, and lateralis to the gluteus maximus. This suggests that the gluteus maximus is the prime mover during the concentric phase of the squat, and the other muscles play a secondary role.”
What we are looking at with this study is that the hips, especially the glutes, are more active than the quads during a barbell squat when performed properly.
In 2002, Escamilla performed a study and found that the majority of muscle activity was in the quadriceps and glutes when greater knee flexion angles were present, whereas the hamstrings were very dominant with less knee flexion in the deadlift.
In 2011 it was found when analyzing active muscle groups in the squat, deadlift and vertical jump that the hips and glutes were prime movers in the vertical jump. The glutes and hamstrings contributing up to 60% of the activity in the vertical jump pattern.
Research in 2004 by Greiner and colleagues found that muscle activation in the standing long jump was most heavily contributed by the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
In 1995, Dr. Wiemann and Dr. Tidow utilized EMG testing to analyze muscle activity levels during sprinting. They concluded that the muscles mainly responsible for forward propulsion during a full speed sprint are the hamstrings, glutes, and the adductor longus. In the end, the hamstrings were singled out as the most important contributors to produce the highest level of speed.
At this point, you can clearly see how important your hips and glutes are in movement with a strong relationship between many athletic movement of the lower body. Not to mention, the vertical jump, horizontal jump, and sprint have all already been correlated within the research to improved on-ice skating speed.
With all of this in mind, the main point I am driving home here is that when you increase the strength potential of these specific muscles through “non-specific” exercises such as the squat and deadlift, you will now be able to effectively drive more force into the ice to skate faster as these key muscle groups will now be stronger.
Moreover, the squat and deadlift are more similar to sprinting then we give them credit for. This has to do with “torque angle curves” – don’t worry about the scientific-sounding terminology, it just means that it is range-of-motion specific to the angles. When you analyze a sprint, from the landing up until mid-stance our hips, knees, and ankles will be bent, just like with a squat or deadlift.
The more force you can drive out of a squat or deadlift, the more force you will produce during this phase of movement. And since these ranges and planes of motion are sprinting and skating specific, it should be no surprise that improvement in these areas is a “piece of the puzzle” (as I eluded to in the beginning) towards optimizing total speed outputs.
It’s also no mistake that popular Olympic sprinters have these lifts:
Tyson Gay is 177lbs and squats over 400lbs.
Donovan Bailey is 200lbs and squats over 500lbs.
Ben Johnson is 180lbs and squats over 600lbs.
Asafa Powell is 194lbs and squats over 500lbs.
If you looked at Football athletes, I bet you would see the same thing. Strength, when done properly, potentiates your speed. That’s what I want to leave you within this section.
Strength does not make you instantly faster, strength potentiates your speed.
Meaning, strength can improve your speed potential, but whether or not you can express that potential depends on the rest of the puzzle pieces.
Structural Balance Leads to Complete Speed Expression
Ideally, hockey athletes should be structurally balanced from the upper body to the lower body, and from the left side to the right side.
Structural imbalances, from a skeletal muscle perspective, can be found in the muscles through certain structural balance tests. Certain movements during testing (such as a step up, jump, or overhead squat) can assess how the athlete moves and expose certain structural imbalances.
We all have a “dominant hand” – but this can happen in other areas of the body as well and end up creating a cascade of negative outcomes.
Depending on which tests you use; front squats, body weight squats, push up, range of motion, single leg hopping, step ups, external rotation with dumbbells, or simply just assessing how they carry themselves and how they move can all tell you something about what is going on structurally.
You want to be able to meet the strength of one part of your body with another part of your body to drive optimal movement.
What I mean by this is, you will always be sacrificing optimal performance if you are structurally imbalanced because no matter how strong you are, your movement mechanics will be sub-optimal.
When your movement mechanics are sub-optimal; you lose speed, athleticism, explosiveness, strength, and you also move with less efficiency which leads to quicker fatigue due to unnecessary energy expenditure.
See how important this stuff gets?
If you’re not balanced you’re not moving correctly. If you’re not moving correctly you start the domino effect that knocks down all categories of performance a certain percentage of what you could have otherwise accomplished had you been balanced.
Structural imbalances completely plague the hockey world. From a strength perspective, these are primarily in the hamstrings, rotator cuffs, quadriceps, and core. Oddly enough, they are primarily relieved through weight training, but hey, that’s supposed to be non-specific right?
The way in which hockey players move and which muscles they primarily activate drives imbalances. From a strength coaches perspective, working with hockey players is constantly correcting strength imbalances due to the unilateral aspects of the sport that I mentioned previously.
In one example, if you look at a hockey player he is bent over at the waist for pretty much the entire game. This shortens and tightens for hip flexors which can lead to a whole host of postural issues including pain in the hips during movement negatively affecting explosiveness, tightness in the hips negatively affecting speed and lateral agility, rounded shoulders, shoulder impingements, and a forward lean.
This is just one example of a cascade of events that kicks off with hockey players who don’t take their structure work seriously. But, due to the nature of the sport, structural imbalance issues pop up all over the body for hockey players. If you want to learn exactly where check out this article.
For now, I want to dive into some aspects of structural balance that I haven’t touched on yet before. They were too small for their own blog, but not big enough for their own project. But in this massive speed article, they will fit in just fine!
One of the things I like most about the main movements (chin-ups, rows, pressing, deadlifts, squats, weighted carries) is how they natural balance your body when they are implemented properly – which is absolutely essential to unlocking both your strength and speed, not to mention training with weights properly has been repeatedly demonstrated within the research to reduce injury risk.
Becoming and maintaining structural balance is arguably one of the most important factors towards keeping an athlete healthy and maximizing their ability to improve over time.
Here are three key reasons why structural balance is crucial for hockey speed development:
#1: Muscle shortening
If you stay in a position for too long, your body tends to tighten up and want to stay in that position, this is also known as adaptive shortening.
For example, this process can occur quickly in office workers who sit at a desk all day, and the result is a poor posture in combination with plenty of imbalances.
What happens when you stay in one position for too long (like the example above for hockey players being chronically bent over, and then probably going home and sitting down which keeps flexion at the hips constantly) is that one muscle group becomes tight and hyperactive, whereas the opposing muscle group will become loose and underactive.
Beyond this, it also increases neural drive to the hyperactive muscle, and reduces neural drive to the underactive muscle.
This is crucial to correct because if you are offset both structurally and neurally, your co-ordination has no chance for optimal speed development and you are also setting yourself up for a greater chance of injury.
#2: Length-tension Optimization
The length-tension relationship represents your muscles stretch to strength ratio.
There is an ideal length where your muscles can produce the most force, but, if your muscles stretch too much or too little, you will lose force potential.
Just looking at a vertical jump will allow you to understand this concept – if someone loads up not enough, they won’t go very high. But, if they load up too much, they still won’t go very high.
The ideal length-tension relationship lies somewhere in the middle of those two, and you will never have an optimal length-tension relationship if the structural balance relationship of the muscles in question is off to begin with.
#3: Forced Relaxation
Forced relaxation can occur when the body recognizes that a weaker and smaller muscle group cannot support the weight you are using during your exercise that the bigger and stronger muscles want to move.
An easy to understand example of this phenomenon occurs when looking at the bench press.
The pectoralis muscles are a prime mover, whereas your rotator cuff muscles are prime stabilizers for the shoulders during this movement. If your pectoralis muscles are too strong for the rotator cuff’s stabilization strength, then your body will shut down contractile ability in your pectoralis muscles in order to save your rotator cuff from harm.
Unfortunately, this is one of the main reasons why hockey athletes can’t maximize their relative strength, and thus, can’t maximize their speed potential.
If you are not in balance (which most hockey athletes aren’t unless they are working with a coach who has experience in this stuff) then you are limiting your own force production ability.
I used the bench press as an example because it’s very example-friendly, but this effect happens all over the body depending on where your issues are.
If you care about your speed, then you need to care about your structural balance. This means weight training properly and utilizing the exercises that help hockey athletes the most in their issues.
If you don’t, it will always be your “speed anchor” no matter what other programming you do.
Vertical and Horizontal Power Training for Optimal Speed
Debates have long existed between strength and conditioning coaches on whether or not vertical and horizontal explosive power development exercises translated into real speed development.
Some coaches will say they don’t incorporate it.
Some coaches say that vertical does nothing, but horizontal is the best.
And finally, some coaches say that horizontal does nothing, but vertical is the best.
Like most things in life, the truth is found in the middle.
The best approach to take is the approach that intelligently incorporates both areas for performance enhancement and doesn’t alienate any options.
When you can do this properly, horizontal and vertical power exercises are both monsters for both creating and predicting an athletes speed potential.
This makes complete sense biomechanically, as skating involves both apply force into the ground (power output) as well as the different forces that are transmitted during an explosive start and stride (vertical and horizontal).
You will never reach your force production potential without a large amount of both (vertical and horizontal). This isn’t just opinion either, this is very abundant within the data that we have on these types of exercises and how they translate into improving functional outputs in athletes.
For example, vertical force production has been demonstrated to be incredibly active during bouts of sprinting. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research did an excellent compilation of the data on force productions during the sprint and found that vertical force productions top out at around 2500 Newtons, whereas horizontal productions top out at around 800 Newtons.
This isn’t even a contest; vertical force production is upwards to 3x more active during the sprint than horizontal force production – and this is super important to care about because sprinting speed is one of the best correlates on the planet for predicting skating speed.
Don’t mistake this to represent the idea that vertical force production is more important than horizontal – it’s not, and we’ll discuss that soon.
I think it’s also important to point out to some of you who may be scratching your head on how vertical force production can play such a large role in an event that looks so horizontal.
Seems weird right?
Biomechanically, this is because of gravity.
As your foot lands during a stride, braking forces push back against you, which is then offset by your forward momentum, which then propels you forward horizontally. But, the only way to continue driving this motion is to drive up vertically to overcome gravity.
This is why you see things in the research such as Peter Weyland’s work in 2000 when he found that faster runners created 1.26 times as much force vertically at top speeds.
Moving on to horizontal power outputs, it’s easy to try and write off horizontal forces after reading the above data, but this would be a misrepresentation of movement mechanics.
When you are in a starting position, your body is running at a 45-degree angle, so naturally, you are utilizing more vertical force production to fight gravity.
But, the more and more you “stand tall” as you approach your top speed, the more and more active horizontal force production becomes.
In fact, horizontal force production has been found to be at its highest during both top speed and deceleration.
Meaning, not only can horizontal force production improve your top speed (and if you remember, this means more Speed Reserve), but it is also going to have a major impact on your agility (deceleration is a major component to optimizing agility).
So, if you want to make it easy on yourself to understand, just remember:
Vertical power exercises help more so with explosive starting speed and acceleration, whereas horizontal power exercises help more so with top speed and deceleration.
This is why it’s no mistake that over a dozen studies correlate both vertical and horizontal force production to improving speed outputs in athletes.
Here are some of my favorite exercises to incorporate into a hockey training program for all of the above purposes:
- Box jumps
- Single leg box jumps
- Vertical jumps
- Split squat jumps
- Split jacks
- Squat variations
- Deadlift variations
- Lunge variations
- Step up variations
- Broad jumps
- Single leg broad jumps
- Sled pulls
- Hamstring curl variations
- Good mornings
How to Properly Train Your Core for Hockey Speed Development
The primary role of the core is to create stability across the entire body and protect the spine. When you move the conversation to hockey performance, the function of the core is to transfer ground reaction forces up through the kinetic chain, across the hips and torso and into the upper extremities.
Core stability and strength is also crucial towards absorbing force during deceleration, changing directions, and sport specific sequences such as taking a slap shot or turning on the dime out on the ice.
Depending on the integrity of your core and the mobility of your body, forces are either accumulated and transfer to create high power outputs, or, they are dissipated and inefficiently displayed.
This is function vs. Dysfunction – you could also see it as a form of “Forced Relaxation” like I talked about earlier. If your core can’t take the force, it won’t allow you to create it. And since all lower body forces transfer through the core, this will immediately decrease your speed.
For optimal skating speed, tension and forces is transferred from hip to opposite shoulder.
For example, when you take a skating stride, if the right arm is in extension, the left leg will also be in extension. On the other side of the body, the left arm will be in flexion and your right leg will be in flexion as well.
For pendulum type movements like skating, this highly sophisticated cross-coordination of force transfer is primarily mediated by the core musculature.
It is also this musculature that allows your upper body to remain stable during top speed, and keep your spine protected whenever you get smashed into the boards.
A hockey athlete will only ever reach their highest potential for speed if they have an appropriate level of core strength to balance out the cross-directional forces of the upper and lower body.
Structurally speaking, the core should be looked at not in segments, but as one large functioning unit that depends on different components to communicate and fire properly to support and promote movement for the torso or to keep it stable during extreme forces.
Think of stability during extreme forces like you bracing before getting punched in the gut, this is an automatic natural movement by the body to keep the spine stabilized and safe before contact. Therefore, keeping you safe and injury-free, although your bracing strength is limited by your core strength so if you don’t have a lot of core strength and you get smashed you could also be getting carried away on a stretcher.
The core functions as one, solid unit. But, for ease of discussions sake it can anatomically be broken down into three segments:
1. The inner core
2. The anterior outer core (anterior chain)
3. The posterior outer core (posterior chain)
The inner core contains the diaphragm, transversus abdominis, multifidus, QL and the muscles of the pelvic floor. This is where you need to start if you have never done core work before.
The anterior core chain involves the much more familiar rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques and the hip flexors. This is what you typically see most often worked in “core circuits” or other types of exercises you see in typical programming.
And finally, the posterior core chain involves some major muscle players including the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, lats, rhomboids, and the traps.
These are the muscles that stabilize the efforts of the anterior chain and it is these co-ordinated and controlled contractions that lead to moving correctly and with complete control.
For you, that means moving with the greatest amount of energy efficiency.
As a general rule, if you’re new to the training game it’s wise to have a greater emphasis on building up your inner core stability first, adding something like:
A) Plank: 3 x 30-45secs with 1-minute rest
B) Low back extension ISO hold: 3 x 15-30secs with 1-minute rest
*Both exercises performed 2-4x per week
This would be a great idea to throw in. Do this either on its own day or at the end of a practice, game or training session in the gym.
As your strength progresses overtime and you need a new challenge, incorporating an approach such as the example listed below is ideal and becomes a very beneficial strategy:
1) Ab wheel: 4 x 8-10 with 60-90 secs rest
2) Rotational medicine ball throw from waist: 4 x 3 explosive throws per side with 75 secs rest
3) Hanging leg raises: 3 x 15 with 60 secs rest
*All three exercises performed 2-4x per week
Using the above strategy, you build up the inner core first and then move on to a greater emphasis on the anterior outer core.
Once you have moved onto the anterior outer core, still keep the inner core work in and continue to progress in both areas while your posterior chain work should be primarily tackled using compound movements during your current resistance training regime.
As far as timing and placement of exercise selection go, if you place core work before deadlifts for example, your deadlift strength potential could suffer because you have already done core work to pre-exhaust it.
This isn’t a wise strategy as deadlifts are a major movement and offer much more than just core development, so to pre-exhaust them with core work beforehand would be a defeating strategy.
But, watch out for the core trap!
Want to hear the most complicated sounding trap in the world?
It’s called the iliopsoas and psoas trap.
Although that title isn’t selling any blockbuster movie weekends, those two things are muscles and they are very large, very active, and very strong leg muscles.
The iliopsoas is composed of the psoas major, psoas minor, and the iliacus. The is super important because this muscle group creates flexion in the hip and tilts the pelvis forward.
This highly active muscle seems to be the most active in the exact positions used when people are trying to train their abs. And since this muscle group is strong and active, if you don’t know how to properly train your abs, a lot of your “ab training” can simply be dominated by the iliopsoas muscles.
Research is very clear that the muscles of the iliopsoas are active throughout the sit up, Travell and Simons even demonstrated that the iliopsoas is the most active for the first 30-degrees of motion.
This action is even more rigorous when the knees are bent (which is what pretty much everyone does. It feels “easier” to have your knees bent because you can activate more iliopsoas).
Further research by Travell and Simons found it to be even more active during the last 60-degrees of a sit up. This starts to really beg the question if a sit up is a good ab exercise choice at all.
Rasche and Burke 1978, and Janda 1983 both showed the condition known as the “Psoas Paradox” resulted from incorrect abs training. This condition is the result of people with weak abs attempting sit-ups to strengthen the area (so basically everybody).
What happened was that these patients developed spinal hyperextension which is the effect expected as the psoas hyperextends the lumber spine, and the iliacus tilt the pelvis forward without restraint from the abdominals. This is often exactly why many people claim they hurt their backs from training abs.
The solution then is to train the abs correctly by eliminating recruitment of the iliopsoas.
There are a few tricks you can do:
- If you are somebody who has a hard time developing their abs, never use equipment or sit up boards that allow you to anchor your feet/shins as this is exactly what is over activating the muscles that are not your abs. This means decline sit-ups and things like the Roman chair can be a complete waste of time for you.
- Range of motion is critical for development. To activate the rectus abdominis through their full range of motion, you need only crunch up with your body to the 20-30 degree mark. Put another way, this is barely rolling your upper back off the ground and trying to touch your rib cage to your pelvis as best you can while keeping a conscious continuous tension on your ab muscles specifically with both your body and mind. As soon as your mid back leaves the floor, the range of motion for your abs during a crunch is complete. Yes, the total range of motion for your abs is that small during this movement.
When doing a sit up, crunch, or leg raise—put a small pillow or ball in between your legs (just above the knees) and squeeze it in there throughout the entire set. This helps to deactivate the non-ab muscles, and when you combine this with a mindful approach to activating your abs and using the proper range of motion, you will feel a major difference.
As a closing note for this section, I also want to make clear that incorporating instability equipment to “engage the core” during movement is a poor strategy in most cases for hockey players looking to improve their strength, speed, and stability.
This type of equipment is incredibly overhyped and under-supported in the research and should likely only play a small role in your training approach throughout the year, mostly for ankle stability and/or neural effects and not the core.
How to Warm Up Properly for Speed Training
Warm-ups are the most forgotten integral part of any proper training program, even among extremely advanced trainees. In fact, the more advanced a trainee is, the more they can benefit from actually performing a warm-up.
As counter-intuitive as that may sound to some of you, the more advanced you become, the more important proper and effective warm-ups become as well. This is true for workout performance, workout readiness, injury prevention, and even recovery.
As you get more advanced, you’re able to achieve higher and higher levels of intensity in the weight room, on the track, and out on the ice. This all by itself makes your warm-ups more important.
But you also have to account for the fact that as you get more advanced, it becomes increasingly more difficult to balance forcing muscular adaptation and recovery. Warm-ups, put very simply, help in both of these aspects.
Some guys like to rush through the warm-up because they feel it is boring or unnecessary but trust me if it was unnecessary or it wasn’t going to improve your performance I wouldn’t be writing about it.
Proper warm-ups increase body and core temperature which is going to improve your mobility and in turn decrease your risk of injury.
When you’re doing speed training or sprints, the amount of power output and velocity that is required puts you at a high risk for injury if you are not properly warmed up.
You simply can’t go from cold to speed training, you’re asking for trouble. More accurately, you’re asking for poor performance and an injury – not exactly ideal for hockey performance.
Once the body has reached top speed during a sprint, the forces coming down on your joints/muscles/tendons/ligaments on each stride can reach 5-6x your own body weight.
That is a tremendous amount of weight when you think about it. Especially when you consider how many sprint steps are taken during a given workout. These forces will also increase even further if you are training on stairs or hills.
Being warmed up to properly absorb these massive forces is critical to your long-term training life.
To give you some numbers, this means a 180-pound hockey player is exerting forces of 1080 pounds per stride on his body during a training session. Does it seem very smart to not warm up for that?
Beyond that, a proper warm-up stimulates the central nervous system which is going to improve performance earlier within the session. You know that feeling you get half-way through a workout and you’re like:
“Man, I’m really killing this thing I feel great!”
That’s your central nervous system waking up.
The objective of a proper warm-up is to get that nervous system to wake up at the beginning of the session, so your performance is strong right from the beginning and all the way through.
Warm-ups also serve a very real and noticeable mental purpose.
Many times, hockey athletes show up to the gym with other things on their mind. That’s life. The warm-up acts as a transition from the stresses of the day to getting down to the business of training.
A lot of people take this mental element of fitness for granted, but that’s a major mistake in my opinion.
Your warm-up should not be mentally demanding or draining, nor do they require a locked-in focus like your workouts should.
It needs to act as a specific (yes, warm ups should be specific to whatever workout you’re doing) way to transition both your body and your mind to the task at hand. Not skipping this will serve you well every single time.
Sample Speed Training Warm-Up
1. Jog for 3-5mins
2. Jumping jacks x 30
3. Bodyweight split squats x 10 each side
4. Leg swings forward/backward x 10 per leg
5. Leg swings laterally x 10 per leg
6. Hip circles x 10 each direction
7. Arm circles x 10 large circles in each direction
8. Arm circles x 10 small circles in each direction
9. Curtsy lunges x 8 per leg
10. A-skips 15 yards there and back
11. B-skips 15 yards there and back
12. Iron cross x 8 per side
If You’re Not Lean You’re Not Fast
When you become lean you immediately become a faster skater solely because of the fact that you just dropped body fat. It’s arguably the fastest possible way any hockey athlete could improve their speed out on the ice.
If you’re carrying around 20+ pounds of extra weight, it’s no different than carrying around 20+ pounds of weight plates around with you on the ice. It doesn’t serve you any purpose.
Getting lean all by itself will allow you to skate faster (via improved relative strength and power outputs), even if you don’t even change anything about your current training program.
Beyond this, becoming a leaner version of yourself will have you not just skating in a straight line faster, but it will also automatically bring positive benefits to your agility because you are of equal or greater strength now and are simultaneously carrying less body weight. This leads to quicker high-velocity direction change and faster stop/start times.
It’s not a strange correlation that the overweight guys/girls are also always the slowest.
In addition to the above benefits on speed and agility, you will also improve your conditioning as well. Without carrying around that extra weight, you simply aren’t carrying an additional load that your body has to deal with that would otherwise tax your energy systems.
When you’re lean, it is all functional muscle mass working as a unit. This may be the greatest effect you see out of all the above, athletes of mine who spend a summer getting lean find tremendous conditioning improvements come try-out time. Your recovery time in between sets at the gym and shifts on the ice will improve drastically.
When it comes to strength, for some reason people think if you’re fatter you’re stronger. This is foolish thinking. You can’t contract fat like a muscle contracts. Fat does not contract. In no way shape or form is a fat guy stronger than a leaner man with equal muscle tissue. It doesn’t work like that.
To wrap this point up, the reverse of all of these points are also true.
You will have slower direction change, slower stop/start times, equal strength as your leaner and lighter peers, and poor conditioning.
Some from here also argue the fact that if you weigh more you’re harder to knock off the puck, and this is true. But I believe muscle weight is much more effective here than body fat weight.
Sure, you can say a man with higher amount of body fat is harder to knock down, but since he is moving that much slower, there is also that many more opportunities to knock him off the puck or just take it right off of him.
Bottom line here is that there is no nice way to put it – if you’re not lean, this is probably the first thing you should do in order to improve your hockey speed.
7 Tips to Get Lean Without Tracking Calories
Tip #1: Eat a High Protein Breakfast
Research has shown that simply eating eggs in the morning as opposed to bagels can help you lose more weight in the long term.
How can this be?
It turns out it’s pretty simple, those who eat eggs for breakfast end up eating fewer calories at lunch and for the rest of the day – and in one study, it was found that those who eat eggs will consume fewer calories for the next 36 hours.
It’s important to point out that there isn’t anything magical about eggs, what matters most is that you have a high protein breakfast. That’s where the magic is coming from.
Research is very clear that increasing your protein intake (overall, not just with breakfast) will decrease your appetite through several different pathways, including altering your hormones related to hunger and satiety signaling.
The satiating effect not only applies to a high protein diet in general but to individual meals as well.
For example, we have seen in the data that high protein meals are much more satiating than high-fat meals, this makes you much less likely to overeat.
Not to mention, fat contains more than twice the number of calories per gram (protein being 4kcals per gram, and fat being 9kcals per gram), so not only are you effectively reducing calorie load here, you’re also feeling fuller because of it. That’s the best of both worlds.
And before you ask, eggs aren’t going to have a bad outcome on your cholesterol profile or increase your risk for heart disease. Many studies have completely debunked these claims and this myth is long dead. Eggs are a cheap, healthy food to add to your diet.
Tip #2: Decision Fatigue
Your brain has something known as “executive function” that can override what your natural instincts are telling it to do.
For example, this executive function can hold you back from punching people in the face who irritate you, and it can also hold you back from eating things you know you shouldn’t.
Think about it as a logical thinking center that is trying to make decisions based on your future greater good, as opposed to thinking only in the now.
The problem here is that executive functioning can fatigue with overuse, just like a muscle can. This is why people usually have no willpower at night time, over the course of the day they have created a “decision fatigue” within the executive functioning centers on the brain.
The metaphor continues between executive functioning and our muscles because just like your muscles can be trained to get stronger, your executive functioning can get better at overriding your natural instincts with practice.
This comes from awareness, you need to notice when you’re not thinking logically and understand that executive functioning is low, and still make decisions for the greater good.
This would be considered a major “win” in your life, just like a new personal-best would be at the gym during a lift.
Beyond this, plan your day so that you don’t rely on a weak brain to make decisions for you:
- Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry
- Always shop with a grocery list – systemically purchase what you need and leave
- Don’t leave your meal prep to after work
- Don’t leave your training to the end of the day
- Create an environment that doesn’t have foods in it that you have to try and stay away from. For example, if you always eat crackers or peanut butter as an indulgence, why the heck do you keep buying it? Or if you know your pasta servings are too large, why do you keep buying that?
The biggest solution for decision fatigue is to avoid it all together. Manage your stress and create an environment that supports your goals and not forces you to “stay away from the cupboards” at night.
Tip #3: Eat Plenty of Low-Calorie High Fiber Foods
Fibrous foods with a high-water content, like most vegetables and some fruits, are an excellent tool in your arsenal for maintaining health and preventing weight gain.
They are extremely filling and yet hold very little calories. This ultimately regulates your overall calorie intake because you become less hungry and also consume fewer calories.
And of course, they are completely loaded with performance-supporting disease-fighting antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Here are some of your best options to stay full and minimize calorie load:
- Green vegetables (green beans, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, asparagus)
- Melons (all kinds)
- Dark leafy greens (spinach and kale being the most ideal)
It’s best to eat 4-6 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, a serving size is approximately the size of your closed fist.
In a perfect world, this would ideally be 2 servings of fruit, and 4 servings of vegetables. I have found this combination to work extremely well for preserving and improving health and body composition.
Tip #4: Serving Size
One of the brain’s primary signals for how much we “should” eat is availability.
In the background, our survival mechanisms are constantly gauging how much food is available. This makes sense from an evolutionary angle, if there isn’t much food around, it doesn’t make sense to waste willpower on hunger cues.
You may have experienced this before by eating a smaller serving size then you thought you were going to get, and yet it was still satiating anyways because you knew that that was all you were going to get.
Or in reverse, when food is around, you naturally eat more. Put a bag of trail mix or some crackers beside someone’s computer, those will all be gone by the end of the day.
The big tip here is to not buy food that doesn’t support your goals or that you don’t intend to eat. Simply knowing it’s there will increase your appetite due to availability. A good way to implement this is at the grocery store.
So many people say to me:
“I just have a problem wasting food, I eat it. It can’t go to waste”
WELL THEN STOP BUYING TOO MUCH FOOD.
That seems like a very simple solution.
Figure out what food you’re going to need for the week by creating the grocery list we discussed above, and only buy that list.
Buying more than what’s on the list will only lead to overeating or food wasting, both of which are not conducive to your health and happiness.
Just looking at the research, larger servings sizes account for an average of 30% more calorie intake then we actually needed. That’s a big number, 30% more food makes it impossible to maintain a lean body.
Beyond this, humans try to eat at least 92% of what it given to them, in accordance to our “clean plate effect”
When you instruct people to bring awareness to their serving sizes, it has been repeatedly demonstrated to cause weight loss within the literature. Which is pretty cool because even though they are aware of the serving size “hack” you’re placing on yourself, it still works.
So, to wrap this tip up:
- Only buy as much food as you need from the grocery store
- Choose high quality and high satiety foods for your grocery list
- Only eat as much as you need, this will be far less than a mountain on a dinner plate
Tip #5: Use Smaller Dinnerware
Similar to the above point on food availability, our brains will also use the size of our plates and even the size of our cutlery to determine how much food should be consumed.
For example, research has found that when snacking on M&M’s in front of the TV, people consume 129% more calories when they are eating out of a large container.
When children eat cereal out of a large bowl as opposed to a small bowl, they eat 52% more.
Even nutrition experts eat 31% more food in larger bowls, so no one is safe here.
Using smaller spoons/forks and using smaller plates autocorrects this brain mechanism and allows us to eat more appropriately for our size and goals.
Tip #6: Hunger Training
Hunger is something that you can train the body to feel. In fact, this is how most people operate on a normal everyday basis.
Few people actually wait until they feel hunger, they just eat lunch because “it’s noon” or they eat dinner because “it’s 6 o’clock” – whether or not their bodies actually needed nutrients at these times isn’t considered.
In fact, our bodies can go extremely long durations without any food whatsoever (I don’t mean hours, I mean weeks/months), so hunger training becomes something that we do to stay on top of the food chain and keep ourselves nourished.
The problem in modern times is that due to extreme food availability, what used to be a survival mechanism has now turn into overindulgence.
Put very simply, you can train yourself to be hungry when you normally eat. This is one of the ways in which your brain can predict food availability (as discussed above), based on its own hunger circadian rhythm clock.
Switching your eating times can be difficult, but it disrupts your bodies trained eating times. When you eat at different times, you now have to cope with the hunger feelings while your circadian rhythm clock tries to adjust to the new eating times.
To avoid these hunger pangs, do your best to eat on a normal schedule.
You don’t have to eat at the exact same time every day, but, your meal times should fall within a 90-minute window of what’s normal to avoid the inevitable increases in appetite that could otherwise cause you to make bad decisions and cause you to overeat.
For example, if you go out to do errands today and you miss your normal eating window, you might get too hungry while on the road and pick up drive- through.
If you keep strict eating windows, you can avoid this all together.
Tip #7: Sleep
Sleep is incredibly important for total daily energy balance as well as appetite regulation. Not getting a good night’s rest can reduce your metabolism, increase your hunger signaling, decrease your satiety signaling, and can also disrupt your blood sugar stability (which will likely lead to further appetite swings, as well as energy lows. Affecting both the energy in and energy outside of the equation).
One study found that people that slept 5 hours had 15% lower leptin levels (hormone for “fullness” signaling) and about 15% higher ghrelin levels (hormone for “I’m hungry”signaling) than people that slept 8 hours. Unsurprisingly, researchers found that the less people slept, the fatter they generally were.
This is arguably the most important factor towards regulating your food intake when not tracking your total calories. Everything is regulated by your sleep, and I mean everything.
If you want to stay lean, you need to sleep well.
Getting Lean Conclusion
You have now just read what is likely the most practical and easy to follow way to effectively lose weight for hockey that is available in the industry today.
Implementation of these seven tips in combination with your hockey training schedule will take you all the way to the point of having a six-pack.
You understand how to create satiety in the body, you know which foods you should be choosing, and you know what actions you need to be taking. If you:
- Eat a high protein breakfast and consume protein with every meal/snack of the day
- Create an environment for yourself that eliminates decision fatigue
- Eat 4-6 servings of low-calorie, high fiber foods per day (preferably in the form of two fruits and 4 vegetable servings, all about fist size per serving) using the recommended foods list I gave you above
- Control your servings sizes by purchasing the correct amount of food each week
- Use smaller plates, forks, and spoons for all of your meals
- Don’t eat on a sporadic basis so you can train your hunger appropriately
- Sleep well every night
NOTHING WILL STOP YOU.
It can change your life in a sustainable, easy to follow way.
Beyond getting lean, nutrition is also crucial for both fueling and recovering the body after training sessions. In some cases, athletes move like complete crap one day and it will have nothing to do with their ability and everything to do with what they are putting in their body.
You can’t give a Ferrari normal fuel, it’s a performance car, and performance cars require performance fuel. Just like you.
Putting It All Together
You now know the why, so let’s stop talking and get into the how.
When training for speed you must have both vertical and horizontal power.
Power is developed through both strength training and speed training and will be transferred through your core and into your extremities in a cross co-ordinated fashion.
You also need to have the optimal energy system development specific to hockey and accompany that energy system development with a physique that is both structurally balanced and mobile.
Along the way, we cannot mix up the fact that conditioning allows us to do things longer, whereas speed allows us to do things faster. These are two separate workout and programming strategies altogether.
And if you do all of the above well but skip your warm up and not pay attention to your nutrition – the effectiveness of the entire training program will decrease by several notches.
To make a clear note here, I purposefully left out the finer details of mobility work and energy system development in this project as I feel it belongs much more appropriately within a future monster article I will do on all things hockey conditioning.
But for now, just understand that hockey is an alactic-aerobic sport. Which is why your conditioning needs to be heavily alactic capacity based. But remember, that’s conditioning, not speed.
What primarily separates speed from conditioning is your exercise selection, program design, and how the periodization is all aimed to enhance starting speed, acceleration, top speed, agility, aerobic capacity, and alactic power (NOT as much of an emphasis on alactic capacity, which is what conditioning is).
This conditioning work is mostly done through tempo runs (aerobic capacity), lateral training, rotational exercises, and hockey specific sprinting workouts (alactic capacity).
You need both aerobic capacity and alactic capacity to develop your conditioning to your potential because hockey is played with several bouts of high-intensity anaerobic movements.
But, during your recovery periods in between those movements/shifts out on the ice, the aerobic system helps to catch up with the oxygen debt you created and refuel the muscles to prepare you for the shift.
This is a little clue for you that aerobic work is important for both speed and conditioning training, but like I said, we’ll get to that in a future project.
For now, just stay away from always “chasing the burn” and make sure that you’re 100% recovered in between all of your speed training sets. Optimal output is what we are after, and that isn’t possible without complete recovery.
If you have an incomplete recovery between sets, you have now just moved from speed training to conditioning training, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Sample Hockey Speed Workouts
Sample Standard Hockey Speed Workout
A: Turn around sprints – 6 x 30yds with 75 secs rest (change direction each sprint)
B: Sprinter step up jumps – 8 x 3/leg with 75 secs rest
C: Split squat jump sprints – 6 x 30yds with 75 secs rest (change take-off leg each sprint)
D: Partner resisted A-March – 6 x 20yds with 75 secs rest
You can watch the video version of this here or below:
Sample Hockey Speed Workout If You Have Minimal Space
A: Triple Split Squat Jump Into Isometric Hold – 8 x 2 reps with 30 secs rest
B: Vertical Jumps – 8 x 3 jumps with 30 secs rest
C: Lateral Hops – 8 x 3/side with 30 secs rest
D: Plank With Elbow To Knee Touches 3 x 30 secs with 60 secs rest
You can watch the video version of this here or below:
Sample Hockey Speed and Core Workout
A: Lateral split squat sprint: 6 x 20yds with 75 secs rest
B: Single leg bounds: 6 x 2/leg with 75 secs rest
C: Vertical jump into sprint: 8 x 30yds with 75 secs rest
D1: Toe touches: 3 x 15 with 0 secs rest
D2: Dead Bug: 3 x 6/side with 60 secs rest
You can watch the video version of this here or below:
Sample Weight Training Speed Workout for Strength + Power
A1: Trap bar deadlift – 4 x 5 with 0 secs rest
A2: Vertical jump – 4 x 5 with 2 mins rest
B1: Lateral step ups – 4 x 5/leg with 0 secs rest
B2: Lateral hurdle hops – 4 x 3 hops/direction with 2 mins rest
C1: BB Romanian deadlift – 2 x 8 with 10 secs rest
C2: Hanging leg raise – 2 x 12 with 10 secs rest
C3: Plank – 2 x 60 secs with 90 secs rest
You can watch the video version of this here or below:
The biggest takeaway here is that although speed is a product of so many different factors of training and optimal body function, it is also highly trainable in its own right. You can and will get faster by following my advice.
Speed development for hockey players is no longer in the dark ages; performing long jogs, running laps around your block, doing 100 laps around the ice, or trying to mimic movements with “sport specific” training and having no success.
True speed development comes through proper functional training which means observing the biomechanical, physiological and bioenergetic demands of the sport and segmentally working backward in determining kinetic segments, muscle actions, intensities and energy systems required for optimal hockey speed development.
If you would like to become a faster skater or have a completely “done for you” periodized and structured hockey speed development workout program, make sure you check out the Next Level Speed 2.0 system. It’s a game changer.
I hope that you were able to have some major takeaways here and that I was able to contribute back to an industry that has already given me so much. I want to personally thank you very much for all your support here at Hockey Training.
Next major article on deck, how to build hockey conditioning from the ground up.