The worst off-ice training exercise for hockey strength.

Steve Squatting SmallI admit, I watch YouTube videos from time to time, I like to check out some of the training videos to see what other strength coaches are doing.  Typically I will search for videos from mentors of mine like Mike Boyle who is an amazing strength and conditioning coach.  However sometimes I get side tracked into watching other off-ice hockey training videos.  This is a little bit like watching a car wreck – the other day I saw a ‘hockey training’ workout that had athletes standing on the BOSU doing kettlebell swings.  That does not make sense to me and it is what prompted the following post…

I hesitate to call any exercise a ‘bad’ exercise, but consider this one exercise that I get asked about all the time or I get hockey players who come to the gym and tell me that their team fitness coach had them do the “coolest exercise”.   

 Before I reveal the worst off-ice training exercise for hockey strength, answer this question.  What are the goals of off-ice training for hockey?  Well there are lots of attributes we are trying to improve such as; speed, strength, power, flexibility, stability and stamina.  Would you believe me if I told you there was one off-ice exercise that would improve all of these characteristics at the same time?  If you are a smart consumer, you are screaming “NO” at your monitor right now.

I am expecting that most of you agree that an off-ice training exercise designed to improve speed is not going to be the same exercise that helps improve your flexibility.  A good strength coach can implement exercises that train two attributes at the same time because hockey is such a complex game that there are times when you must be explosive even when you are fatigued or stabilize while trying to produce force.

 The key is knowing when and how to utilize combination exercises to maximize performance and minimize the risk of injuring the athlete during off-ice training.  Which brings me to the worst off-ice training exercise for hockey, here it is:

  • Standing on a stability ball, BOSU or balance board squatting the barbell

 When will you squat more weight, when you are standing on the ball or standing on the floor?  Correct, you will squat way more weight standing on the floor.  So far you are passing this exam with flying colours, here is your next question, what is the primary purpose of the barbell squat?  Is it a balance exercise?  Of course not!  It is one of our very best exercises to build pure strength!  Why then would we want to turn it into a balance exercise when there are lots of other balance exercises we could choose?  Probably because it looks cool and your trainer has no idea what he or she is doing.  They want you to feel that you are getting ‘cutting edge’ training.

 If you are trying out for the circus, then get on that ball!  Otherwise, hockey players should not include this exercise in their off-ice training repertoire.  I will tell you a secret – I used to include a photo of me standing on the ball in my marketing material.  Why?  To get attention, the same reason you see someone doing it at your gym.  Is your purpose for going to the gym getting attention or becoming a better hockey player?  The risks outweigh the benefits by about 1000:1 – don’t do it.  How would you like to miss half of your hockey season because you broke your tailbone falling off a stability ball?

 Am I saying that balance training should not be a part of off-ice training for hockey?  Absolutely not!  Ice hockey requires a ridiculous amount of balance that you probably take for granted because you have been on skates since you were born.  There are many times when a hockey player must stabilize and exert force – like pushing an opponent off the puck in the corner.  This skill requires stabilization and submaximal force production, not peak force production like squatting.

 So a hockey player may train balance, they may even train balance with submaximal force production such as single leg squats on a wobble board or airex pad or balance board stabilization with a cable press, but these would all be supplemental exercises to your pure strength exercises.  Do you see my point?  If my goal is improving your strength, then I will give you a strength exercise, if my goal is improving your speed, then we will train speed.  I won’t try to improve your balance by squatting; that does not make sense for hockey players.

 When I design an off-ice training program for a hockey player at any level I ask myself two questions:

  • Where does this athlete have the most room for improvement (i.e. what is their biggest weakness on the ice)
  • What exercises will improve those areas most effectively with the least risk of injury to the player.

An off-ice training program should not be designed to look cool or be based on what appeared on YouTube yesterday.  If you are not sure that an exercise you are doing is safe and effective, then simply ask your strength coach how this exercise will make you a better hockey player.  If they don’t answer or get irritated at you for asking questions it is because they probably do not know what they are doing.  Any strength coach worth his or her hourly rate should be able to explain exactly why they selected every single exercise in your workout.  Remember your goal is to train smart, train safe and train hard.