The Anatomy of an Awesome Off-Season Hockey Training Program

First thing I want to do today is tell you about a great experience I had over the weekend.  One of the goalies who trains using the Ultimate Goalie Training system emailed me to let me know that his University team (McGill) was coming to town to play my alma mater (the University of Western Ontario).  It was awesome because we have emailed back and forth a little to chat about his training, but now I actually had a chance to come out and meet him.  His McGill Redmen beat the crap out of my Western Mustangs, but they both go through to the National Championships (maybe the ‘Stangs were just going easy on his team – :)).  So thanks a million for taking the time to let me know that you were coming to town and meet up for a chat – it was really cool!  Good luck at the Nationals.

Otherwise, it has been a good week at Revolution Conditioning.  The high school kids are on March Break, so it has been pretty quiet in the gym, but that means I am getting a lot done on the new Ultimate Goalie Training 2.0 program.  Just so you know – if you purchase the current Ultimate Goalie Training program you will automatically be upgraded to the new program, so don’t worry.  In fact, the new program will be almost twice the price so if you were thinking of picking it up anyway, might be a good idea to get it sooner than later.

Speaking of off-ice training for hockey players, it is easy to get sucked into off-season training programs that look cool, but are not effective.  With the internet age and the growth of personal training in fitness clubs around the world, you have more access to off-ice hockey training advice than ever before.  Everyone seems to be an expert all of a sudden, so how do you know if you are getting good advice?

In this article I will break down the anatomy of a good off-season hockey training program so you can tell the cream from the crap.  Here we go:

  • Does the training program have different phases?  Can your internet expert or trainer name them for you and tell you the goal of each phase?

o   There is a science and an art to exercise program design, but the foundation must be in the science of training.  This dictates that the program be based on progressive overload over time.

  • Does the internet expert actually earn his or her living training athletes?

o   Or are they giving you the old “here’s what I did when I was in college and I was pretty awesome”.  When you work in the profession you are constantly fine tuning what works and what does not work.  You know because you see it everyday – your athletes are either getting stronger, faster and more injury resistant or they are not.  When it is just you and your laptop locked away in the basement somewhere, you are really operating more from a theoretical perspective rather than the real world.

  • Does your workout program have a Chest day?

o   This is a big no-no.   Bodybuilders do body part training, not multidirectional athletes.  So if your program has an arms day, a chest day, a leg day, a back day and an abs day, then run away.   An upper body/lower body split is fine, but that is as much split as you should have.

  • Does the program begin with lots of work on cleaning up movement patterns and training the stabilizers?

o   The program should not start off with a ‘brutal, killer, blow your face off’ workout!  It should start with some higher reps, slower tempo work that will help clean up your movement patterns and help you get your stabilizers working the way they should.  Diving straight into a plyometric workout followed by heavy squats to failure is a recipe for disaster.

  • Does you program have you sitting down to do your leg exercises?

o   You should not need a seatbelt to train your legs – run away right now!  Do you ever use your legs while sitting down during a hockey game?  Maybe when you are sitting on the bench and you kick the guy beside you to pass down the Gatorade – I don’t think that is really what you are training for is it?

  • Does your workout program include a specific tempo for your lifts?

o   Does the trainer tell you how long the lift, lowering and rest portion of the exercise should last?  These are very important training variables that have to do with the muscles ‘time under tension’ (TUT) which has a huge impact on the specific adaptations made by your muscle as a result of training.  Imagine the difference in stimulus to a muscle if one athlete takes 10 seconds to complete eight reps where the other player takes 40 seconds to complete the same eight reps.  Completely different.

  • Does your off-ice hockey training program include long steady cardio on a machine?

o   If you have 20 minutes or more of steady cardio in your program this is not helping you to become a better hockey player.  You are not training for a marathon, you are training to go hard for a short amount of time and then recover, not go at a submax level for extended periods of time.   Do you want to ‘jog’ around the ice, or race around it?  I can forgive a trainer who includes this in the first two weeks of the program, but even then I don’t think it is a good idea.  This is even worse if the trainer advocates that you do your steady state cardio on a bike!

  • Does your off-ice training program include workouts every single day of the week?

o   A properly designed program should include at least one rest day per week and should cycle the intensity and volume of the workouts throughout the week.  Not every single workout should be a 1.5 hour monster killer workout.  Some may be very high intensity, but only last 30-45 minutes and that is fine.  Do not confuse good off-season training with high volume training.

So to summarize, an awesome off-season hockey training program will include:

  • Different training phases
  • Integrated training, rather than isolation training for bodyparts
  • A focus on quality of movement before adding overload
  • Ground based (standing) exercises rather than machine based training
  • A specific tempo for each lift
  • Interval cardio training, not boring steady state
  • Time for rest and recovery

Hope this helps point you in the right direction.