3-Ways Hockey Goalie Training Differs from Skater’s Off-Ice Training

In the strength and conditioning world, some coaches love controversy.  I don’t have much use for it, but here is where some view me as a little controversial because I firmly believe that the dryland training for a hockey goalie should be different than the training done by the skaters.

So let me start by saying that you can disagree with me and that is fine, we can still be friends.  I will also say that a goalie is an athlete first, so the first job is to create an injury resistant athlete.  But beyond that I have some different ideas about how hockey goalies should workout away from the ice.

I am highlighting three ways hockey goalie training differs (or should differ) from a skaters training program and the three elements that need to be considered are…

  1. Movement Patterns
  2. Power
  3. Energy System

So let’s consider each element in turn and help you decide for yourself if a hockey goalie training protocol should be the same as everyone else’s.  And please feel free to add any of the ways you think goalie training should differ in the comments section below.  I respect your thoughts.

1. Movement Patterns

I do not think I could find a coach or strength coach anywhere who would argue against the fact that a hockey goalie use different movement patterns than skaters.  Can we all agree on that at least?

When we talk flexibility training, I am not a proponent of more is better.  With increased flexibility comes decreased stability – there are two extremes on the continuum and being at either end can have dire consequences.  I believe that athletes need enough mobility to do what they need to do as a requirement of their sport or position.

The figure skaters I train need more mobility than the football players and they need flexibility in different planes of motion than the football players.  That just makes sense right?

Well, the hockey goalies need more mobility in certain planes of movement than the skaters.  And getting to that mobility can take a big investment of time that a skater would be wise to invest in other elements like building overall strength and size so they do not get crushed every time they go dig a puck out of the corner.

I want a forward or a defenseman to have great hip extension, adequate abduction, good hip external rotation for Mohawk turns as an example.

The hockey goalie needs to have the hip extension, exceptional abduction with the splits as the holy grail of abduction and above average hip internal rotation to make their butterfly more effective at taking away the bottom of the net.  The goalie also has more demand for extreme combinations of movement such as a one hip flexed, the other abducted with an overhead reach when making a glove save after an initial kick save for example.

2. Power

Both hockey goalies and skaters must be powerful.  Power is where that first step quickness comes from, where skaters can shift their gears in a race for the puck, where a goalie can recover for a second effort save that even his Dad would have said “No way you could have got that one son”.

Skaters need their power to put on a burst of speed, to decelerate and accelerate on a dime, so far it is pretty similar to the way a goalie uses his power.  But players also need the power to hit (and receive a hit) which is a different animal.

The hockey goalie needs to be able to modulate the use of his power – using short quick lateral pushes effectively to be in position to anticipate a shot and strong powerful pushes to move from post to post.  I am more concerned with how much weight a skater can clean (as in clean and jerk, not as in ‘to make clean’) than I am the goalie.  The hockey goalie is not called upon to move another player, they don’t need to physically battle, in most cases (some of them like to do it anyway).  They need to be quick and responsive under the load of their equipment.

I still have goaltenders perform the barbell clean, it is a great exercise, it is part of building a great athlete, but I do not let myself become obsessed with how much they can clean.  Again, I want them to have enough power to perform the demands of their job with the minimal risk of injury.

3.   Energy Systems

So we established that there are some subtle differences in the way goalies and skaters use their power in a game.  The same goes for the way they use their energy systems.  They both need to be extremely fit, but they use that fitness in different ways.

Where the skater needs to put on medium duration high intensity bursts through out the entire game in shifts lasting 30-50 seconds followed by rest, the hockey goalie will execute very short bursts continuously throughout the game.  The goalie does not have to cover the distance of a skater over the duration of a game, so aerobic endurance is not as important as some trainers want to make it with the rational that ‘well the goalie is on the ice for the entire game.’

The hockey goalie must make very quick, powerful, anticipatory movements within a confined space for the most part.  Yes there is the hard sprint to the bench on a delayed penalty, they do skate out of the blue paint to challenge the shooters, but for the most part they are working over very short distances while responding to visual cues.

Hockey goalie training should reflect this.  Agility drills should be very short duration, but with multiple repeated bursts over a longer total duration, including the 2-minute penalty kill and the dreaded 5-minute major.  We have all seen the poor goalie gets shelled non-stop for 37-seconds then when his team finally clears the puck the opposition simply collects the puck and launches another barrage.

Once the hockey goalie has mastered skilled movement patterns and agility drills under fatigue, we get to work on his or her hand-eye or foot-eye coordination.  In other words we get to throw things at them.  Maintaining focus under fatigue is key to the success of any goalie.


So after reading this manifesto, I hope you have an appreciation for how we can use similar training methods to improve both a skater and a goalie’s performance on the ice.  I also hope that you see how your hockey goalie training program can include some subtle modifications that will further benefit their performance and reduce their risk of injury.

Training as skater and training a hockey goalie start from the same foundation:

  • Ensure sufficient mobility for the job demands
  • Build stability in the joints and torso
  • Build stability through the movement patterns required
  • Develop leg strength using compound movements
  • Teach the player to stabilize while exerting force
  • Get rid of steady state aerobic training in favour of high intensity interval training.

So the goal is always to build a great athlete from the ground up and from the inside out, but then we can fine tune this goalie or this skater or this swimmer or this football player to achieve even more success.  Something to consider the next time you think about the best way to train a hockey goalie – what do you think?