Do Hockey Players Need Strength Or Power?

off-ice training for hockey builds powerDo You Know The Difference?

With fewer and fewer teams left in the play-off hunt, thoughts are turning to next season and off-ice training for goalies and skaters alike.  It is also the time when I get phone calls from players or their parents to tell me what their child needs in his or her off-season hockey training.

One of the most popular comments is a variation of  “Johnny does not need any more strength, I don’t want him to be bulky.  He has really powerful legs, but he needs to be quicker and more agile.”  There are a few contradictions in this statement, so my goal for today is to help you understand the difference between these two attributes and where they fit into the overall off-season training protocol.

Strength for Hockey Players

Strength is defined as the amount of force an athlete can produce.  The test that is often used for this in the gym is the one repetition maximum test.  In other words, how much can a hockey player squat, bench press or deadlift once.  That is a measure of their strength.  Assuming technical proficiency, the strongest player will lift the most.

We can also convert this value to relative strength by dividing the weight lifted by the mass of the athlete to get a ‘per pound’ strength value.  In other words, if I have two players, one weighs 200lbs and can squat 200lbs and another player who weighs 150lbs and can squat 200lbs – you can see how the 150lbs player has more relative strength per pound of body weight.

Some believe that strength = slow and that can be true if you focus only on strength.  Others believe that strength = speed, which can be true if you take that strength and convert it to power using different training methods.

I think it is also confused because there is a sport that is judged based on how much an athlete can squat, deadlift and bench press.  Clearly a sport of strength, but the inventors of this event chose to call it “powerlifting” not to be confused with Olympic weightlifting, which actually does require power.  Confused yet?

Power for Hockey Players

So now we have established that strength is the maximal amount of force a player can produce and you can appreciate that you will not maximize your strength by doing 3×12 reps of pec flys.  You must lift heavy for low reps (2-6) with lots of rest between sets.

Once a hockey player has built that strength base, their off-ice training program needs to convert that strength into power.

Power is how quickly you can apply your force.  So let’s consider that in more detail – it is a simple mathematical equation.  If you can lift a given weight faster you are exhibiting more power.  If you can lift a heavier weight at the same speed you are also exhibiting more power.

So there are two ways we can improve your power – lift the weight faster or lift more weight at the same speed.  The most changeable element of this equation is training a hockey player to produce more force at the same speed.  You can make some minor changes to the rate of force development, but the most trainable element is the strength portion.

Should Hockey Players Train for Strength or Power

Getting back to the original question, should a hockey player train for strength or power, the answer is….’Yes.’

Looking at the comments from the parent about the needs of their child’s off-season hockey training –

“Johnny does not need any more strength, I don’t want him to be bulky.  He has really powerful legs, but he needs to be quicker and more agile.”

Let’s take a closer examination of what they are actually saying….

  • Johnny does not need more strength – Yes he does, I have never met a hockey player who could not benefit from more leg strength.  That is not to say that we try to turn them into a powerlifter, but especially after a long in-season, they all need to top up their leg strength and hip stability.
  • I don’t want him to be bulky – He will gain some muscle mass, but if the training program is properly designed, it will be useable muscle mass that will help him fight for pucks in the corner, that will help him hold his ground and reduce his risk of injury when being run by an opponent.  He will not end up looking like a puffed up bodybuilder – that is a completely different kettle of fish that often includes what we will call ‘performance enhancing substances’.
  • He has really powerful legs – usually they mean his legs are big, whether they are powerful or not needs to be determined.
  • But he needs to be quicker and more agile – which as you know by now it is power that improves your speed and agility on the ice.  Some players also need to work on their movement patterns, expanding their vocabulary of movement and building their experience reading and reacting which again a good off-ice hockey training program should include.

Order of Operations for Off- Ice Hockey Training

So just like arithmetic, there is an order of operations for off-ice hockey training. Which starts before we even consider strength and power.  The order of operations is …

  1. Flexibility
  2. Stability
  3. Strength
  4. Stamina
  5. Power
  6. Speed

Now bear in mind that these are on a continuum and they are intertwined, so we would start training stamina during the early stages of training, we would not wait until we have done our strength development.  We are always working on flexibility and stability, but in essence we do not move on to the next level of advancement until the previous element has been addressed.

Hoping this has cleared things up a little and not confused you more 🙂