by Jeff Roux B.P.E.; CSCS; TSCC-Gold
“The difference between excellence & mediocrity, is commitment.” – Unknown –
Hockey players in Canada have the best opportunity for seasonal development. The off-season arrives as spring merges with summer, school ends, and this creates the perfect combination of time and opportunity for physical and mental preparation for the start of the season. Strength and conditioning coaches are blessed with the perfect laboratory of training as we have a chance to create programs and put together drills within this almost perfect vacuum of training possibilities. Athletes generally have 12+ weeks to commit fully on setting and accomplishing the goals they have for the season and put the time and energy they need into achieving them.
With the growth of new athlete specific training facilities, advanced programs, experienced trainers and coaches all over the country and even access to on-line and self-directed training options, finding the right opportunity to prepare through the summer is easier than ever. Unfortunately, many players and teams still do not carry the momentum and development of the summer into the season. When this happens much of the hard earned summer gains quickly begin to disappear.
As the summer comes to a close, many players pack in their off-ice training gear of focus on what happens on the ice, basically hoping all of the hard work they have done all summer stays with them through the season. After all the hard work, commitment, cost and sacrifice of valuable summer time, this is completely illogical. As Teams hit the ice to start the season, high amounts of time and energy are devoted to on-ice practices and games? Many athletes and teams embark on an in-season dryland training schedule as well but balancing hockey, school, and life puts time and energy at a premium and ensuring that the in-season program is efficient, effective and purposeful is essential.
Hockey demands 360° of mental and physical focus for optimal performance. The season is long, practice time is often devoted to technical development, tactical execution and positional/strategic rehearsal with the odd bag-skate mixed in (often to the detriment of conditioning & skating technique rather than improving it). How can players keep getting better, stay strong and continue to maximize their in-game conditioning as the season progresses?
“Athletes don’t RISE to the occasion; they SINK to the level of their training.” – Peter TWIST –
Hockey is a high-speed, collision sport (depending on the age). The sheer size, strength and power behind body contact and incidental confrontations with opponents, boards and nets can cause serious injury. Any time athletes push the boundaries of human performance, injury awaits those who exceed the threshold achieved through training. The nature of the game places intense stress on the muscles and joints, from the feet, ankles and knees as the skate blade cuts into the ice to the core and upper body absorbing forces from, shooting, hard stops and starts, hits delivered from other players and the hits players deliver themselves. This is a lot of stress for the body to handle.
Overload. Adapt. Perform. Repeat.
The game of hockey, while intense and physical, does not create adequate opportunity for strength and conditioning development. The opposite usually results. A well designed training schedule can stop the potential decline and should continue to allow the athlete to improve. It should develop athletic foundations, increase performance, improve mobility/stability, and help maximize recovery & regeneration.
Following the off-season summer schedule the players should be at a high level of strength and conditioning. As the season starts we can re-set and re-focus on the in-season schedule, building intensity and complexity back up again over a Fall progression, then re-setting again in December for one more build towards the post-season and playoffs in Feb/March.
Hockey Energy Systems
If a team practices regularly, the practices are organized and planned well, and a player receives a regular shift in games, their anaerobic conditioning can be maintained or even continue to improve. Performing high levels of skill while under fatigue and the ability to recover quickly between shifts are essential to performance and injury prevention. Most practices do not allow for this anaerobic conditioning to have enough impact and most players do not receive enough ice time for games to have a training effect. Other than 1-on-1 or small space drill rehearsal, practice time rarely offers the opportunity for reactive movement skill development, footwork patterning, stop and start direction changes and challenging athlete to shift gears. These are all areas that can be enhanced with in-season programming.
Off-ice training that focuses on overloading the entire athletic engine will help enhance dynamic balance, speed-agility-quickness, movement skills, and full-body reaction skills, and will develop more skillful attributes on top of the player’s foundation of anaerobic/aerobic fitness and whole body strength. The right exercises with the right coaching can take off-ice gains and see them expressed as improved on-ice performance.
Movement efficiency, reactivity, nervous system firing and skill execution under fatigue are often what separate the top players from the rest. Injuries often occur during high speed braking and when exploding out of a stop-and-start. A full sprint into an immediate stop imposes over 1,000 pounds of force on the knees. Balance drills, agility, footwork, movement skills and plyometrics, with solid dryland coaching for improved mechanics, can help prepare players for these extreme demands and turn an injury risk into a strength; as the player becomes more evasive, more confident and more durable.
Upper body strength is the biggest loser over the course of a season. Since skating is leg dominant, weight room time can shift more of a focus to upper body lifts and core strength and conditioning. Athletic, multi-joint lifts are stabilized by the core and initiated and fed by the legs so they are the most efficient for continual in-season development. Two to three short lifts per week with moderate to heavy weights are needed to maintain upper body strength and mass.
Hip and shoulder mobility, core stability and overall mobility and flexibility are key in-season elements to injury prevention and performance. Uncovering weak links with each athlete and knowing which areas require the most attention, can help keep the focus of in-season programming as personal and efficient for each individual athlete in order to minimize wasted time and energy.
Peaking for Progression vs. Maintenance
15-20 years ago players did not START training until they arrived at Training Camp; hence the name. In the last 10 years off-season training has evolved and progressed to maximize the size, strength, speed and skill of athletes as the season starts but there is still another level we must continue to develop.
Players want to be at their best when the competitive season hits, not in September. No matter how hard, or how smart or how effectively the athlete works in the off-season, players who do not participate in a proper in-season conditioning program are often de-trained by playoff time and, at the highest risk for injury when they need to be the most prepared.
The current in-season programming mentality still focuses too much on maintenance and not enough on progression. It sells short the potential of the players along with the knowledge of a skilled strength and conditioning coach and it’s becomes a roll of the dice to the athlete to expect that they can avoid injury and perform at their best when the playoffs arrive. The goal should be to keep getting stronger, keep improving their conditioning and keep getting better.
A properly designed seasonal program will carry the momentum of each training cycle into the next one and allow the athlete to keep climbing higher, moving faster and performing better. Integrating balance, movement and strength into each training session can ensure that each player stays mentally sharp, physically prepared and physiologically capable of performing their best, when their best is needed.
#TwistHockey #BecausetheSeason #BeRelentless