Cardio Training for Goalies

Over the last 4 days I have had three questions about cardio training for goalies, so it was a bit of a no brainer what I should write about today.  I wrote a two part article about the death of cardio for goalies a year or so ago, but let’s look at these more recent questions; here are the ones I will cover today…

  • Should I do some cardio training before I start an off-ice program like Ultimate Goalie Training 2.0 just to drop a few pounds and get a base?
  • Should I do long slow cardio?
  • What type of cardio should I do sprints or long slow distance?

I did touch on the topic last week during the Q&A, but since I have had several questions since that post went out, I guess I need to give it a little more detail.  So here we go…

Long slow training back in the day was thought to be the best way to develop the aerobic system back in the day.  I was a varsity cross country skier during my high school and university career and we would go for 3-hour training skis at a low intensity.  My goal was to train about 21-hours per week.  The top skiers were training over 2,000 hours per year.

And guess what?  It didn’t work.  Did you see Canada winning any cross country skiing medals in the late 80’s and 90’s?  No you did not.  The theory was that it increased the capillary density in the muscle, increased the density of mitochondria (the powerhouse of aerobic respiration).  The fact is, we were terrible.  It was not until the shorter sprint distances came into cross country skiing that Canada put athletes on the podium.  My guess is that it is because they were doing more short sprints for their training.

So if this long slow steady state training does not work for the most aerobic athletes on the planet (Bjorn Dalhie had a triple digit V02max) then this is certainly not going to work for a hockey goalie or skater for that matter.

Here’s Why Goalies Should Not Do Distance Training

Distance training uses your aerobic energy system – it can produce lots of energy molecules (ATP) per unit of energy and it can use all three energy substrates (carbohydrate, protein and fat) to fuel the furnace, but it is slow.  So in order to do long distance training you must go at a low threshold.  Even if you try to ‘go hard’, you body will not let you, fatigue will limit your performance.  This is why you cannot sprint for a mile.  So let’s summarize –

  • You burn energy at a slower rate (more efficient use of energy)
  • Your intensity is limited.

Now let’s consider what you need to do as a goalie – do you skate laps continually throughout the game covering a huge distance like a marathoner or do you perform short, rapid, repeated bursts of explosive movements followed by a period of rest?

Hopefully you answered the second one.  So does anything about the description above sound like it will help you on the ice?  Nope.

High Intensity Interval Training – if you are not doing it you are behind.

Now let’s look at high intensity interval training (HIIT) which is short duration repeated bursts of explosive movement interspersed with rest or active rest.  What do you get with that?

  • Use big muscle groups explosively
  • High demand for energy substrates
  • Can work at a high percentage of your max intensity
  • Will still positively affect your VO2max (ability to extract and use oxygen to create ATP)
  • Increases your lactate threshold which lets you work at an increasingly higher percentage of your max before performance limiting fatigue sets in.
  • Shorter workout duration – less overall impact on the body.
  • Can integrate agility drills into this method of training

I think most of you would like to add these elements to your game.  So this is the bottom line – long, steady state cardio is OUT.  You do not need to build a base before you start a training program.  If you have a properly designed goalie training program then it will follow a progression of complexity and intensity so you are starting with a good foundation phase.

Now that you know you should be doing HIIT, let’s look at how to do HIIT.  Here is a sample workout:

  • Foam Roll
  • Static Stretch Circuit (25s hold on each side)
  • Dynamic Warm Up
  • Go hard for 20-30 seconds – can be hill sprint, bike sprint (not my favourite), punching the heavy bag, agility ladder drill, micro hurdle drill, movement pattern, lateral hops, track sprints or a combination.
  • Active recovery for 40-90 seconds – can be core plank, oblique plank, puck handling, hip mobility, rotator cuff strengthening, scapular stabilization, etc
  • Repeat the 20-30s hard: 40-90s easy pattern 6-10 times as a starting point.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they do their HIIT is cutting back on the rest.  They feel like they are ready to go and don’t want to just stand around, so they start the next rep before completing the rest interval.   The rest interval is not put into the workout so you don’t barf.  The rest interval is in the workout so your muscles are ready to go as hard as possible during the next rep.  The key is to maintain the intensity.  If you are pooped then, like it or not – you are going to drop down into slow-mo and we are not training to be slower.

I know your training is all about the hockey, but just in case some of you are looking to play better, but more importantly you want to look better, then HIIT is your answer too.  It has been shown in research studies to be much more effective at helping people lose fat than steady state cardio over time.

The answer is in getting the intensity high and here is why.  Picture yourself jogging around the block.  You finish and you are breathing slightly harder than normal, but within 3-minutes your breathing is back to normal, your legs are not burning and you feel like you could go again no problem.

Now imagine you sprint as hard as you can around the block – you get back to your driveway just in time for your legs to collapse as you sprawl across the front lawn.  The neighbors look out their front window to see you rolling around on the grass grasping at your chest.  Ten-minutes later you pick yourself up and wander to the nearest sofa where you park yourself for the rest of the day.

With the sprint you have moved yourself much farther from your resting metabolic rate and as a result, it will take you longer to recover back to your baseline.  During that time (yes, even when you are lying on the front lawn) you are burning more calories.   This elevated metabolic rate has been show to last for hours after interval training.  So not only are you burning calories at a higher rate during the exercise bout, but you are burning more calories in the hours after the workout.

One word of caution…if the last time you sprinted was in high school gym class when you and your buddies talked about the latest episode of ALF when you were supposed to be practicing your free throws, please, please, please do not go out and decide to do sprints at that old high school track.  Even when you were 16, you were not as quick as you think you were and that certainly has not improved with age.  Add to that the fact that your connective tissue is a good 20-years older and there is a recipe for a big POP of some sort – I am thinking hamstring or Achilles tendon.  Neither is a good thing.  If you are just getting back into it, then do start on the bike and build into some agility drills.  Is it a deal?