Q&A: Cardio Training for Hockey Goalies

Hope your day is off to a great start, in a second I am going to tell you more about cardio training for goalies than you ever wanted to know (and share a hilarious picture of me from 1976), but first let me tell you about my exciting weekend.

After my meeting with Bedros, Craig and the rest of the crew in San Diego I changed my flight to a red eye into Detroit via Atlanta.  Although sleeping overnight on a plane is never fun, it got me into DTW at 9:30am rather than my original flight which would have had me arriving at 6:45pm + the 2.75 hour drive to get me home sweet home.

So, yesterday was a bit of a write off, but I did get to visit my Mom on Mother’s Day, so I know she enjoyed that.

The meetings and workshops were great – I learned a lot and left with my marching orders for the next 30 and 90-days.  It helps so much to know that I will be held accountable to my coaches and my fellow group members.  From workshop to workshop we have to show what we have accomplished and I sure don’t want to be the one who shows up and all I have to talk about is how much time I have spent thinking about what I am ‘gonna do‘.   I always want to show what I have done.  That’s DONE like dinner.

So if you are still plotting in your head how awesome your off-season training is gonna be and how fit you are gonna be next season – let’s try this – do something today to move yourself forward.  You get results with DONE.  As I mentioned last week, we spend a lot of money to be in that group and some still show up to talk about what they want to do.  Some of you are the same – maybe you have purchased the pro-style Ultimate Goalie Training 2.0 and it has done nothing but sit on your computer until today – do at least one flexibility module and get it DONE.

Okay – on to the business at hand – this is a response to a question sent in by one of you – – you may end up being sorry you asked.  Here is more than you ever wanted to know about cardio training for hockey goalies (this is what I call energy system training).

Cardio Training For Hockey Goalies

I had a question from a long time subscriber Trevor last week who asked for an article on the energy systems used by hockey goalies and how exactly they work.  His scenario was something like this – he spent lots of his after work hours doing home renovation work and then had late evening games with his men’s league team.

What he found was that he was getting pooped by the time the third period rolled around.  One of the solutions he offered for this was to skip his warm-up as a means of conserving his energy for the game (I think he already sensed that this was probably not the best solution).

So his question was, how do the energy systems work and what should I do so I am not out of gas by the end of the second period?

This is how I dressed myself in 1976.  I still wear that hat – but only when talking exercise physiology 🙂

I love this question because I get to put on my exercise physiology geek hat (see photo on left) to answer it and blame what is about to follow on my friend Trevor – sorry Trev!

There are basically three energy systems the body used to create muscle actions – yes, we actually have to burn energy to make the muscles contract (or actually relax – but I will explain that later – maybe).

One of the energy systems uses oxygen to create the energy molecule of muscle activity which is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  This is the aerobic energy systems.

The other energy system – the anaerobic energy system does not use oxygen to create ATP and it can do this either with or without creating lactic acid.  When your anaerobic system does not create lactic acid it is called anerobic alactic  when it does create lactic acid, it is called anaerobic lactic.  I think this would be a good time to mention that lactic acid dissociates in the body extremely quickly – like in seconds if that long.

Exercise physiologists seriously doubt that lactic acid is what causes the burning sensation you feel in your legs after extended time on the penalty kill or those lovely “this hurts me more than it hurts you” bag skates that you do at practice.  We won’t debate that right now – I don’t think they really know what causes that feeling, so I am okay with it if you want to call it lactic acid – just know that it is not left floating around in your system after the game.

Enough about that, let’s get back to the energy systems.

The aerobic system – has many, many steps in its chemical processes (remember that Kreb’s Cycle from biology – yeah, that is a part of it).  Directly it only creates 2 ATP per molecule of glucose (it can use glucose, fat or protein as an energy substrate) but it creates a few other molecules with energy potential and when all is said and done, a molecule of glucose will pump out 36 ATP (if I remember correctly from my university days).

Since there are numerous steps in the process, it is slow.  This is fine if you are a marathon runner and are using energy at a steady but moderate pace.  If however you are killing a 5 on 3 or if you D seems to have checked out for the game, you are going to need your cylinders firing a little more quickly.  This slower, aerobic system is what you train when you go for your 3-mile jog or 40 minute bike workout.

Enter the anerobic energy system.

The alactic system is pretty slick and there are two ways it can produce energy – only from glucose.

The first way creates ATP molecules simply by taking an ADP (adenosine DI-phoshphate) molecule and adding an inorganic phosphate to it and viola – ATP.  This actually uses the substance creatine (as creatine will bind to phosphate in the muscle) which is why this is an effective supplement for improving performance in short duration, repeated burst bouts of high intensity exercise.

It also explains why this energy system only gives you energy for 0-10 seconds before it is depleted.

So then we consider the other anaerobic system – the one that produces lactic acid as a byproduct.  This energy source can last up to about 60 seconds.  This is why no one can sprint a mile – no matter how fit you are, it simply cannot be done – even if you are Jason Bourne – it cannot be done.

Remember gym class when you ran the 400m?  You started off at a sprint, you felt like you actually built more speed coming off the first curve and down the back straight….then you hit the final bend and about 23 meters into that curve someone threw a full grown polar bear on to your back.  I do not even know where someone would get a polar bear from, but there it was flung square on your back.

By the time you cross the finish line you felt like your arms were pumping like a steam engine and your legs were just walking.  Say hello to your anaerobic lactic energy system.

Okay now that I have described the different energy systems, I want you to appreciate that there is no on/off switch.  At any given time you are using all three systems, just to varying degrees as your exercise intensity or duration changes.

So even when you are sprinting full out to the bench for a delayed penalty, you will be using mainly the anaerobic alactic system, but your aerobic system will still be chugging along.

So think about what I have described and then think of which energy systems have the most impact on your success in the net and correspondingly which ones deserve the majority of your training attention?

I would list them like this –

1. Anaerobic Lactic

2. Anaerobic Alactic

3. Aerobic

I actually had to think pretty hard about the order of the first two.  On one hand I thought – ‘well, ultimately they need to be fast from the ready position to make a save’, but speed is more a factor of power production – I do not think it is limited by the energy system component.

What is affected by the energy system component is your power endurance – or your ability to perform those repeated bouts of explosive and powerful movement and subsequently recover from them ready for the next onslaught.

So some of you will be surprised to see that developing the aerobic system is at the bottom of my list.  I will again remind you that these systems all work together – they are complimentary ingredients if you will.

I do not do any targeted ‘aerobic’ training with goalies (or skaters) that I work with.  We never, ever go for a jog – unless we are running to the hill near the gym for some sprints.

We do all of our energy system training to target the anaerobic systems.  And I think you will see this trend continue to grow as research is showing that high intensity interval training is more effective for fat loss than long steady state training.

Then as they look a little deeper researchers are finding that high intensity, short/medium duration interval training has a positive effect on VO2 max which is the traditional measure of aerobic capacity.

My expectation is that in the next 5-10 years, even marathon runners will train using shorter duration, repeated bursts of high intensity sprints with only one long run per week.

So – what am I suggestion for your goalie cardio training?

I am suggesting that workouts targeting the anaerobic alactic system – focusing on explosive power are low volume high quality, high rest workouts – like your plyometric workout for example.

These would include about 8 seconds of explosive exercise followed by 2-3 minutes of active recovery.  A set could look like this:

– squat jumps x 6

– front plank x 50 seconds

– stick handling x 50 seconds

– repeat for 4 sets

The workouts targeting the anaerobic lactic system will include longer duration bouts of exercise such as hill sprints, hurdle drills, agility ladder drills, partner read and react drills, etc.

The work interval will be 20-45 seconds with a rest interval that is 2-3 times the duration of the work.  Again, this will be active rest which could include skill practice or core work or flexibility work for a complementary muscle group.

These drills do not have to go on for an hour – I think if you are getting about 20-30 minutes of good quality work then you are doing fine.  Even when we schedule an hour long hill training session on Saturday mornings – we spend about 15 minutes of that time warming up.  5-10 minutes stretching at the end of the workout and about 2-3 minutes of rest between working sets of which there may be 5 (so that would be another 10-15 minutes of rest), so in actual fact we are only ‘working’ for about 20-30 minutes in our working sets.

Finally, I want to answer Trevor’s question about skipping his warm-up to save energy.  I don’t think this is a good idea, since not only does the warm up help prime your system to make saves from the second the puck drops and it helps reduce your risk of injury by giving you a chance to move through dynamic patterns.

What you may not know is that it also mobilizes fat as an energy substrate which helps spare your glucose so you can have a secret stash to use later in the game.  Glucose is important as it drives the anaerobic engine – remember only aerobic metabolism can utilize fat or protein or carbohydrate (glucose) as an energy source, so once your glucose is gone, then you are forced to go aerobic and slow your pace accordingly – even if you are trying to go full out, your body will put the brakes on.

So there you go Trevor – sorry you asked aren’t you?  If you take only one thing from this article I hope it is that cardio training for hockey goalies should not include any long duration steady state training, for a healthy player looking to improve performance.