Hockey Training – Off-season conditioning

A couple of weeks back I said that I would be starting a series of posts called, “Behind The Scenes In Sports.” The purpose of these posts was to bring you all more information about what fellow suits in the sports industry are discussing in boardrooms around the country. My first post in this series was about Dynamic Pricing, and how buying tickets to sporting events is about to become analogous to purchasing airline tickets.

I decided to expand this “insider” concept and include what happens behind the scenes with pro athletes as well, since after all, their lives are often more interesting than Front Office suits.

For today’s post, I am going to delve into hockey players’ off-season regimens, since many players will begin their hardcore conditioning in the coming the weeks.

Working in the biz for many years, I’ve become closely acquainted with several players and strength & condition coaches. As a result, I’ve frequently picked their brains about hockey training vs. your typical workout routines. As you may imagine, getting into hockey shape is quite different. Most guys you see in the gym have these huge torsos and these itsy bitsy legs. Hockey players…not so much.

Strengthening Your Core

The most important muscles they’ll train in the off-season are their legs, abs, and lower back (often referred to as the core). This is the area of your body where all your power comes from.

Have you ever seen what Martin St. Louis or Jagr looks like without all the pads on? Their upper bodies are somewhat pedestrian, but their legs are tree trunks. This isn’t to say training the rest of your body isn’t important, but you just can’t bypass your legs and most guys in the gym often do.

Off-season conditioning isn’t just about strength, it’s also about explosiveness, agility, and nutrition, the core elements that help to improve athletic performance. If you are working out to get bigger biceps like The Situation, good for you and good luck trying to play hockey. Unfortunately, this does nothing for your agility or your mobility.

So, what are some of the best exercises for hockey players? Core exercises like squats, split-squats, deadlifts, step-ups, rows, etc. should all be part of your regular workout routine.

Plyometrics

Scouts often talk about how certain skaters have a “great first step.” This term is used to describe how a player with an explosive stride can separate himself from other skaters. The exercises that help to improve this skill are called Plyometrics, which focus around jumping. The goal of Plyometrics is to develop fast, explosive movements.

A lot of young athletes won’t do Plyometrics in the gym because they think it looks awkward – it does, get over it. For those of you who don’t care about appearances, you should do burpees, box jumps, and lateral box push offs, etc.

As a general rule of thumb, I was told to avoid using any machines or cable exercises. Many players stick to exercises with dumbbells, barbells, or exercises that make you use your own body weight like power cleans, dips, and chin ups. The reason being, machines and cables were created to isolate muscle groups and make working out easier. Working out shouldn’t be easy. If it was, Americans wouldn’t be so lazy and obese. Besides, if a Roman Warrior couldn’t do it, you shouldn’t either.

20 Responses to “Hockey Training – Off-season conditioning”

  1. Brian SCS says:

    Good post and very relevant, Suit. The key words here are explosiveness, sport specific training and efficiency of energy consumption. Essentially that means improving the strength and speed of specific sport-related tasks. Throwing a ball, shooting a puck, jumping a hurdle etc. No longer do we see a random routine of weight-lifting, calisthenics, and endurance training.

    As athletic training continues to evolve the focus has turned to utilizing an understanding of physiology (muscle composition and recruitment, VO2 max etc.) coupled with peak performance at a specific task. You’ll often notice now that the most challenging task for players who participate in the the NHL combine testing is the VO2 max testing – it is not fun, but good at assessing individual fitness levels.

    It’s good to see the NHL follow the lead of Olympic and NFL athletes. Some day they may even catch up to MLB players (only kidding about that one).

  2. Walt says:

    I agree with the article with one exception, that being we shouldn’t neglect the upper body as some players do.

    If one is a defensman, and has to clear the slot, he should work on the upper body, as well as the legs. Like you said Jagr, and St Louie aren’t that big up top, but they really don’t need to by the style of game they play. While a stay at home, slot clearing d-man needs to be both strong in the legs, and torso.

    • Brian SCS says:

      The concept here is core stability, which refers to abdominal and lower back strength. If a crease-clearing D-man can’t maintain his own position on the ice he won’t be effective at moving someone else. The upper body is most certainly not neglected by current training regimens – it’s just that it’s not concerned with building muscle mass – which can actually become counter-productive as it may inhibit flexibility and quickness.

      When you think stored energy and forward drive you refer to leg strength. It’s not exclusive to hockey either, if asked where their tremendous power comes from in order to “throw” a baseball upwards of 90 mph Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden will tell you it all comes from powerful legs.

    • The Suit says:

      Agree with Brian and I’ll add that…of course the upper body shouldn’t be neglected (hence the power cleans reference), but its not the be all and end all.

      If you’ve ever seen Staal, Girardi, etc in a t-shirt, none of these guys have huge bi-ceps or ridiculous chests.

      It’s about strength more than it is about size, and I think that gets lost sometimes in color analysis, where they constantly focus on players heights and weights, which are all made up anyway…

      • Walt says:

        I can’t argue the point made by both yourself, and Brian at all. All I was trying to say was it depends on the position played. Case in point, the best ever was Gretzky who was a twig with his shirt off, while a hall of famer Scott Stevens was much stronger up top, because he needed to be, based on the position he played. I will agree that for the most pasrt we three are on the same page!!!!!

        • The Suit says:

          Agreement in the comments section? I think we are breaking new ground here.

        • wwpd says:

          I agree with Walt I’d like to see all our defensemen work a bit on their cross-checking and spearing muscles. As there wasn’t nearly enough crease clearing going on this year it isn’t even close to scary in front of the rangers net – unless your name is Henrik, then you can pretty much count on someone slamming into you every other shift

  3. Chris in MA says:

    Loved this post. My best youth hockey coach, back in the day, focused heavily on plyometrics. They sucked to do and yeah, looked goofy, but I’d be lying if I said they didnt work… and my legs (comparatively) still look like tree trunks.

    My upper-body strength is lacking, but I still have little issue removing people from the puck or crease thanks to having strong legs/core.

    • The Suit says:

      It’s amazing what these programs can do. Once I started doing these type of exercises I easily put on 10-15 pounds of muscle just by working out my legs, which I never did growing up. Makes a big difference…

  4. Brian SCS says:

    Spot on Chris, when considering plyometrics people often forget one very important resistance barrier – gravity! One of the reasons that something as simple as jumping rope is more strenuous than many supposed intense workouts. As far as crease clearing goes – stronger abs, glutes, and lower back mm. are far more important than strong pecs, biceps, delts etc.

  5. Matt J says:

    My two twin friends who got drafted by the Sharks in 08′ are absolutely ripped because their program at Northeastern has them doing core strength, and a lot of lower body work. I don’t think also it’s the amount of time you exercise it’s more of the exercise you do.

    Also, it’s funny because they do boxing every wednesday in school, and when I asked why they said because the coaching staff wants to make sure we can fight when we get to the NHL.

    • Brian SCS says:

      Matt, what you refer to as the amount of time spent training vs. the type of exercise refers to a growing trend in sports training. Many training regimens now cut down the duration of an exercise, but increase the intensity. The result is more work provided in less time. This echoes the sport-specific training model. Many sports require quick, explosive bursts of energy followed by periods of relatively low activity. Thus, training programs attempt to model this.

      • Matt J says:

        Well yeah that’s what I mean. I think they really have gotten exercise down to a science. When my dad used to play football in high school during practice they would never let them drink water during practice. They deemed water to be for the weak. Now it’s like you have to drink water and they force you to do so. Amazing how much times change.

  6. wwpd says:

    You guys are all to be commended btw for continuing to provide interesting and relevant posts on a daily basis well into the summer. Nice work.

    • The Suit says:

      Thanks bro. We’re trying to keep shit fresh ya know? I think this all works because the three of us have different perspectives of the game. Dave played in college, I work in Front Offices and Chris gives you that hardcore fan perspective.

      But credit to you guys for speaking your minds! Even when we disagree most people disagree amicably. There’s a lot of smart people contributing down here in the depths every day keeping the convo going.

  7. The Suit says:

    Great story Matt. That’s a smart coach. I’ve heard of guys doing everything from MMA training to Pilates and Yoga. Anything that can help you get an edge.

  8. Joe says:

    Good article I have to disagree with two things. 1. Core is not the just the lower back. Core muscles are deeper muscles in both back and abdomen and also includes your diaphragm. 2) Dead lifts, power cleans, heavy squats will destroy your back. It does build muscle but the disks in you back will eventually herniate and that menas surgery.The disks are only kept in place by small ligaments that do breakdown.I speak form personal experience . There are better ways to do work back that dont have long term consequences. Although I think there is a huge lack of concern about long term consequences in professional sports anyway so sorry for the rant