Computer analysis has demonstrated that the average length of time a professional hockey player skates at top speed on any occasion during a game is 2-4 seconds. It is a game of short, quick, explosive movements with an underlying need for a strong aerobic base for recovery and for speed endurance. Combined with this quickness and agility, a player must also possess tremendous strength and power in order to battle for pucks and to withstand the tough physical play. Our off-ice program addresses all of these needs.
Speed & Endurance
Except in the area of flexibility, we train players to do everything fast. Players have to remember that every time they train they are affecting two systems, the energy system, i.e. aerobic or anaerobic and the neuromuscular system. If we train for endurance slowly . for example, long distance running, we are at the same time training the neuromuscular system to be slow. There is no neutral. You either train yourself to be fast or you train yourself to be slow.
Therefore, even when we have players work on endurance we train with speed. The difference, for example, with tire sprinting would be shorter sprints with a lot of rest in between, when we are training anaerobically. When the focus is aerobic, players sprint longer distances with very little recovery time before the next sprint which enables the player to develop speed endurance.
We underload the quad muscles through the use of lightning cords which permits the player’s legs to move much more quickly than they otherwise could. In this way, we try to improve the development of the fast twitch muscles fibres. We show the players methods by which they can continue this type of training after they leave the camp by doing such things as sprinting hills which have a slight decline of between 5 – 10 degrees.
The players also reinforce daily the technique they have been learning on-ice through what we call simulated skating. Part of the reason parents and players see such quick improvement in a short period of time is that the players each day, off-ice, are working on aspects of their skating. It might be the arm swing, the full extension, the knee bend, the foot position for quick starts, the upper body position on tight turns, etc. Once again, players are given a number of these drills to work on during the weekend.
Trunk control is worked on in different ways but the main exercises involve the use of Swiss Balls. Many players have a lot of upper body movement when skating which dissipates the drive from the legs thus reducing speed and quickness. The lack of core stability in many players also reduces the effectiveness of the arm swing in thrusting the player forward. In other words, we want the players driving their legs and arms off a rock, not jelly.
Every player is involved in resistance training for strength and power, which is very hockey specific. For the younger players, the emphasis is more on improving flexibility, quickness, balance and reaction time rather than strength and power. Based on their testing, a specific program is prepared with each player setting realistic goals, which will be monitored. Aside from the first priority being leg quickness, there is a particular emphasis on those muscles predominately used in shooting and protecting the puck such as the triceps.
Plyometrics and simulated skating will be a regular component of the off-ice training. As well, a variety of techniques are used such as sprinting with tires, parachutes and bungy cords, in order to overload and underload the quad muscles. With the luxury of players doing simulated skating each week, over a 10 month period, we do see significant changes in a player’s knee bend, arm swing, forward and backward stride and upper body position both in forward skating and in cornering. The overall off-ice program does incorporate many Finnish, Swedish and Russian training methods.
Balance, Speed, Endurance & Strength
In addition to the above, players will work regularly on bosu balls for balance. Swiss balls and medicine balls are used in variety of exercises for core strength and upper body plyometrics. Ladders and dot drills are incorporated into a number of exercises to focus on leg and foot quickness. Circuit training in and out of the gym is used combining hurdles and other stations to maximize quickness and speed endurance.
Every player goes through a series of on-ice and off-ice testing 3 times during the year. The testing takes place in September, December, and late May. Over the years we have narrowed our testing to approximately 25 tests which give us the most accurate and most complete assessment of a hockey player’s improved level of performance and conditioning.
The coaching staff uses the tests results to clearly identify areas that players need to work on for their individual programs. The players use the testing results to set specific goals and to measure their success in reaching those goals. As they have small successes they gain more confidence and become more highly motivated to reach their next goal. If they are not reaching their goals they make adjustments to their training plan and are motivated to work harder.
Some of off-ice testing includes a measurement of body fat %, height and weight, grip strength, upper body strength, core strength, flexibility, power, VO2max, anaerobic sprint test including wingate testing, lactic acid threshold testing, agility testing, and speed endurance testing.
In addition to all of the on and off-ice training, everyday each player will spend 1 hour either stickhandling or shooting off-ice. The focus in stickhandling is on quickness and using split vision. The coach in charge ensures that there are no players just going through the motions. A variety of methods are used in the gym incorporating smart balls, golf balls, tennis balls, stickhandling with 3 balls at a time for quickness. Weighted metal sticks and weighted stick blades are used periodically to strengthen and quicken the player’s wrists.
The classes in the gym involve the use of plastic pucks to work on saucer passes forehand and backhand. Players will use bosu balls while stickhandling for balance and agility. Numbered cones are used in some of the dynamic stickhandling so players learn to move their feet and stickhandling while reading the ice at the same time.
Six NHL nets are set up in our shooting area with one shooting area that has radar for measuring shot speed. Players work on every type of shot varying the focus each round on either accuracy, quickness of release, or hardness of shot. For players requiring additional work, we have a shooting area set up inside the arena which contains a cage where we can video tape the shot and go over the shooting technique with the player in slow motion.
The skills class is also the time when players work on more simulated skating. Every skating movement on the ice can be simulated off the ice. In fact, a player cannot rely on only improving his/her skating technique just during their ice time. If they want to see significant changes in their skating, some of the work on skating technique needs to be done off-ice.
Some statistics indicate that 80% of physical actions are initiated with the eyes. We repeatedly tell hockey players that half of quickness is in their head ie their focus and immediate reaction to the loose puck or to a turn over. Visual skills and response time are as important as developing quick feet or raw speed. Aside from some eye testing to provide us with a base line, we will have many “visual workouts”. Through various drills and the use of special equipment, players will work on improving a number of visual skills.
Some of the visual skills the players will work on in the program are as follows:
Tracking – the ability to follow the puck or a player’s movement on the ice smoothly and accurately with both eyes.
Fixation – the ability to quickly locate and focus on the puck, a player, or the options available based on the positioning of all players on the ice.
Depth Perception & Assessment of Speed – the ability to judge relative distances of other players and their speed on the ice for accurate passing, angling, checking and shooting. We will also look here at the ability to deceive other players watching us, for example, by the positioning of our stick and by quick alterations in our speed.
Peripheral Vision – the ability for a player to monitor and interpret what is happening in his/her side vision at the same time as the player attends to tasks specific to his central vision.
Maintaining Focus – developing the ability to retain a focus on the puck and reading options around the player while receiving a hit or being pursued by a checker.
Balance & Timing
Visualization – the ability to form mental images while practicing and in preparation for games to improve performance. This will overlap with the area of sports psychology and mental training.