If there’s one thing that confuses me more than anything else in the hockey training industry, it’s the fact that the large majority of players drop their off-ice training once the season begins.
On my end, as a coach, I’m thinking…
“Ok, we’ve done all this work throughout the offseason to become a better version of our self and make improvements in our strength, mobility, conditioning, and speed. Why are you throwing it all away once the season begins? When performance really counts?”
I can’t answer that question logically.
What I think the case is with hockey players is that they aren’t taking the mindset of “being lazy” or taking the mindset of “I only need to train in the offseason”. I also don’t think they are bad people for skipping out on their training either, I think the problem comes from a general unawareness between the players and the coaches about what can be done during the season to not only maintain performance, but even enhance it.
The confusion stems from the physiology that they don’t know (you don’t know what you don’t know, right?) so they can’t see or be familiar with what they are missing out on. But when they know what they are missing out on, they want to hop on a program immediately.
For these reasons, I want to clear the air here and offer up four of the top reasons why hockey players need to train during the season.
Reason #1: Your On-ice Work Isn’t Enough
This is probably the most common reason I will hear of when not training during the season, the athlete will typically say something along the lines of how they can maintain their fitness level with the amount of games/practices they are doing.
This is an incorrect statement from a sports physiology perspective, but, it’s also wrong just through basic observation. The same athletes who drop their training when the season starts are also the same athletes who either lose weight throughout the season (if they are prone to weight loss), or gain fat throughout the season (if they are prone to weight gain), and also feel the “grind” of the season as the season goes on.
In some athletes, I don’t think it’s the grind getting to them. I think they are just truly getting weaker, slower, and less conditioned as the season goes on due to a complete lack of respect for what off-ice work they were doing.
Why can I speak confidently about stuff like this?
Very simple, we have very rock-solid data in the literature regarding the topic of physical characteristic rates of decay. Or, put in English, how fast somebody begins to lose a certain training quality compared to where they are at right now.
For example, how long does it take without training for your strength to go down? How about your speed/power? What about your muscle size?
Well, to save you an exhaustive review of the literature, here’s what you’re looking at:
Hypertrophy: Muscle size can be conserved indefinitely with only strength training and zero hypertrophy work. That is, training with loads 75% + of your 1-Rep Max (1RM).
Strength: Strength can be held indefinitely with only strength training and zero hypertrophy work. That is, training with loads 75% + of your 1RM. Additionally, peak strength levels can be maintained during a tapering phase for 1-3 months. Closer to one month for beginners, and 3 months for the more advanced.
Speed: Speed levels without speed training will begin to decline after two weeks.
Power: Power levels without power training will begin to decline after two weeks.
Powerful stuff, right?
Keep in mind, the reverse of all of this is true as well.
Don’t want to resistance train using strength training modalities on your total body musculature throughout the in-season?
It’s likely you will begin losing both muscle and total body strength within a month, and your speed and power will decrease in two weeks.
That’s right, all that work throughout the offseason begins to get thrown away quickly unless you keep stimulating that muscle to maintain that ability/physical characteristic.
Although, I’m going to bet you have noticed this in yourself or with some of your teammates before. You or your team trains their butt off all summer and come into tryouts or camps like a blazing fire– and then a couple months later you just don’t feel like you’re at the same level of speed or strength or you’re noticing a couple players on your team slowing down?
Those are physical characteristic decay rates being played out in real life.
Long story short, knowledge is power my friends. If you don’t have a properly designed in-season training program built specifically for the needs of hockey players, you are undoubtedly, 100% for sure, sacrificing your performance out on the ice.
Reason #2: In-Season Hockey Wrecks Your Mobility
I have discussed in great detail hockey specific mobility work and what the most effective strategies are that hockey players can use to improve their movement patterns/fluidity out on the ice.
The fact of the matter is that hockey players notoriously run into the same issues time and time again due to the repetitive actions and unilateral aspect that the sport of hockey demands. Playing the sport of hockey for 6-months out of every year (or more) you are constantly dealing with:
- Hockey players spend almost the entire game in hip flexion, meaning, they are constantly bent at the hip. Bending over for face offs, skating, shooting, sitting on the bench, skating backwards, etc. You name it, hockey players are in flexion. This means tight hips, especially tight hip flexors, and an injury prone lower back.
- Hockey players log an immeasurable number of hours in skates, skates force the foot in a 90-degree angle at all times. Leading to tight and immobile calf muscles as well as a very tight Achilles tendon.
- The lateral nature of the skating stride drives over-development of the vastus lateralis, and under development of the VMO muscles of the leg. This structural imbalance natural drives tightness in the vastus lateralis, IT bands, and glutes.
- Due to always being in flexion and constantly having your hands in front of your body holding the stick, the shoulders and chest muscles often tighten up and drive the Neanderthal look in hockey players who do not balance this out with mobility work. You know, hockey players whose natural/relaxed stance still has their arms in front of them and their knuckles pointed forwards.
Among many, many other issues that all intertwine with one another. Most of which I haven’t mention revolve around the unilateral aspect, in that since you always shoot/pass/play either only left or right handed—you create tightness’s/imbalances in your body on one side and not the other which ultimately leads to poor movements patterns, increased injury risk, and reduced performance.
Relying only on your on-ice work for your in-season training is a big mistake.
Not only does this create the problem, it makes it worse over time. Continuing a hockey specific training and mobility routine throughout the season is absolutely key to maintaining the quality of your movement. And for the record, one of the best things you can do for your mobility is to continue resistance training. Resistance training is extremely effective at both creating and maintaining mobility.
You must remember, when mobility is properly defined it is a combination of flexibility, strength, and technique. Resistance training checks all of these boxes and it is a massive myth that weight training makes athletes less athletic, anybody who says that hasn’t spent even one day looking at the scientific literature on the topic.
Keeping up with your off-ice training won’t just help you stay strong, big, powerful, and fast—it’s also going to help with your mobility and injury prevention too.
Reason #3: One Step Forward, One Step Back?
A common theme for hockey players is to stay around the same weight, same body fat percentage, same speed, and same strength levels year after year.
Why do you think this is?
I like to think of it as the one step forward, one step back phenomenon.
You do all this excellent hard work in the offseason. You see yourself getting bigger, you measure yourself getting stronger, you feel yourself getting faster, and you can see in the mirror that you’re getting leaner.
Everything is coming together and you’re ready for camps or tryouts. Great!
But then, you take the season off training and don’t utilize a hockey specific program to keep your fitness level where it’s currently at.
You took one step forward during the offseason, and then one step back during the season.
You end up right back where you started, and you think to yourself
“Man, I just can’t get passed 180lbs! I try so hard, just can’t get it”
“I’ll never be able to bench press 315lbs!”
You can’t expect to accomplish your goals if you’re constantly taking one step forward and expecting to stay there while not working to maintain that during the season. You now know about the physical characteristic decay rates, if you don’t follow the laws your body doesn’t care what you want. You will take a step back.
I can’t articulate how important it is to keep moving forward if you want to be the best hockey player you can possibly be. You cannot move forward if you’re always stepping back to where you were.
Reason #4: You Can Crank Your Performance Up
I think it’s important to point out the idea that— just because you’re training, doesn’t mean you will be too fatigued for your games and practices. Performance is always #1 during the season. We do not train with the same type of intensity, frequency and volume as you did in the offseason. You will not improve and your performance will suffer.
Leave the grueling workouts and programs for the offseason. The offseason is truly where ground is made in physical development (one step forward). A good offseason can simultaneously improve a hockey player’s size, strength and speed when done properly. If players are slacking off in the offseason, they can’t expect to get better over time because it is in the offseason where the best physical progress is best made due to you having the schedule flexibility and fatigue management to be able to handle 5-7 training sessions per week.
You can think about the offseason and the in-season like progression vs. expression. The offseason is the best time of the year to make the largest and greatest physical development progress and then come in-season time you are able to express this newfound ability and skill.
In-season training (well, proper in-season training) will not empty your gas tanks and will allow you to hold on to what you gained during the offseason.
The best part?
You can utilize a tapering and peaking strategy to crank your performance up right before playoffs or your most important tournament. Tapering and peaking is a masterful science all by itself and is arguably the LEAST talked about strategy for maximizing hockey performance. I highly recommend you check out my blog on the topic here.
Long story short, training during the season does not mean fatigue during the season. It will boost your performance, and then you still always have a whole new gear to switch to with the tapering and peaking strategy that will have you blazing into your most important games.
At the end of the day, there is no excuse for dropping out of training during the season. A well-designed hockey specific in-season program should incorporate 2-3 resistance training sessions per week with 1-3 speed/conditioning sessions per week (frequency all depending on how much time you spend on the ice and how hard your coach works you).
These numbers are highly doable and are an absolute must if you want to be the best hockey player you can possibly be.
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