It’s very well established in sports science that getting stronger can improve your overall functional outputs and lead to an enhanced athletic performance.
Hockey players need to be strong if they want to optimize their potential, there’s no question about it.
There is a reason every single NHL team has a strength and conditioning program, and why statements like “weight training makes you unathletic and slow” are completely dead in modern times.
To put three more nails in the coffin, here are three reasons why hockey players would benefit immensely from weight training and how that transfers to a better overall on-ice performance.
#1: Useable Strength
Unless you’re a chess player and that’s somehow deemed as a sport, it is fundamentally important that ALL athletes become very strong in a standing position.
More specifically, it’s been seen within the research that movements such as the bench press do not represent what you are capable of in a standing position.
When comparing a classic flat barbell bench press to a standing single arm cable press, not only did the data demonstrate that these two movements creating very different force-production and neuromuscular coordination patterns, but it also demonstrated that in a standing position, your horizontal force production is limited to 40% of your body weight, and not 40% of your bench press.
Last time I checked… hockey players play hockey on their feet and not lying flat on a bench press.
So, this tells us that it’s physically impossible for anyone to match what they bench press from a standing position — it also tells us that the heavier you are, the more horizontal force you can generate since it is a by-product of your body weight as well.
I’m not denying that a bench press can help your standing push force, because it can. Rather, i’m pointing out that:
a) It’s very important to be aware of these things so that you can truly create hockey-specific and athlete-specific programs
b) Becoming a physically bigger hockey player matters a lot when it comes to maximizing your force expression in an athletic environment out on the ice. It also gives you a MUCH better chance of not getting knocked off the puck or knocked off balance at all in those high-intensity moments.
So, “filling out” your frame is something all hockey athletes should be doing to optimize their performance, and since we don’t want to gain any body fat, hockey specific weight training is the best possible way in which we can approach maximizing our force-production from a standing position.
#2: Faster Skating
There are two factors at which you can manipulate in order to make a hockey athlete faster out on the ice:
- Stride length (the length of your skating/running stride)
Stride frequency (how many stride you take per unit of distance)
- Stride frequency is largely nervous system based and is something best trained in the youth years, so i’ll leave that alone for now.
But, stride length is something that is trainable at all times and is something you need weight training for in order to maximize.
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.
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 180 lbs and one squats 400 lbs whereas the other one only squats 300 lbs—the 400 lbs 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 180 lb hockey player who can squat 180 lbs vs. a 180lb hockey player who can squat 400lbs.
Who do you think is going to be faster?
The 400 lbs 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 200 lbs 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 around.
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.
But when it comes to optimizing stride length, which is a huge factor that connects all of this, you need to be weight training to get your relative strength up to a respectable level.
#3: Injury Prevention
When you weight train, you add more body armor to your frame in the form of sport-specific muscle tissue.
In the world of physics, you learn very quickly that the larger a surface area is the better its ability to dissipate impact forces.
In hockey terms, this means bigger muscles better dissipates the impact forces and vibrations caused by events such as falling, getting body checked, giving a body check, or staying strong in front of the net.
To get a little more specific about it, the way to better dissipate force is to spread it out over a greater area so that no single spor bears the brunt of concentrated force; one good example is an arch bridge.
Naturally, hockey players (since hockey is a high-impact sport no matter how you look at it) should have a year-round periodization strategy that includes weight training so that they can maximize both the performance benefits and the injury prevention benefits.
The reasons for hockey athletes to be weight training on a year-round basis are plenty, these are just the top 3 that come to mind whenever anybody asks about it.
If you aren’t weight training already, you need to hop on one of our programs today to starting taking your on-ice performance to a whole new level.