Why Use Sets & Reps For Hockey Training

Hope you had an awesome weekend gang.  It has been super hot in Southern Ontario for the last couple weeks (sorry to my friends on the west coast) so the hill run with my hockey group on Saturday morning was punishing to say the least.  It was about 23C when I left home for the hill which is a very short bike ride away.  That was at about 7:45am.  By the time I got home just after 9am it was already 27C with lots of humidity.

We cut the workout in half and gave extra rest in the shadiest spot we could find and the group did awesome.  I was really impressed with how hard they worked and the fact that not one athlete complained about the heat – not once.  Amazing group.

After that it was home to cut the grass and then take my Mom out to run some errands and stop off for lunch – we had a great visit.

Sunday after working in the morning Paul and I headed up to the beach for some stand up paddleboarding – it was pretty windy and wavy at the beach yesterday, but the temperature had cooled a bit so it was a really pleasant 24C.  The waves were so big that I actually surfed on part of the way in – it was a great time.

So now back to business and I am going to answer a question I had a few weeks ago from my friend Bill who asked me why we do sets and reps when we workout – why can we just do all of them at once?  Does it matter?

Why We Use Sets & Reps For Dryland Hockey Training

I can answer this question very simply and then I will give you a little more detail.  Simply, if you went to the doctor with a sore throat and your doctor wrote you a prescription for two weeks of antibiotic, would you take all of the pills at once?  I certainly hope not.

Sets and reps are kind of like a prescription making sure you get the right amount of an exercise to give you the desired benefit.  This will depend on the phase of training and the muscle groups you are trying to train.  A rep is the completion of one single cycle of any exercise from start to finish, so if I am squatting, one rep is lowering down into the bottom of the squat and standing up again (returning to the starting position).

One set is the completion of the desired number of repetitions.  So if my goal was 6 repetitions of squats; when I had completed all six, that would constitute one set.  Typically a program includes 2-4 sets of any given exercise with a specific rest interval, which is also part of the prescription which should be followed.

If you are trying to build Max Strength (the phase of the off season right now) then for your big mover muscles (called prime movers) you should be lifting very heavy loads for only 2-6 reps with lots of rest between each set.

Let’s look at that in a little more detail…

  • we are trying to maximize the amount of force a muscle can produce (because that will impact the next phase – POWER)
  • to maximize the amount of force a muscle can produce, we need to lift heavy (near max) loads, you are not going to develop maximum strength doing 15 reps.
  • lifting heavy loads uses an energy system called the ATP-PC system.  The “PC” portion stands for Phospho-creatine – this is where the supplement creatine is used.  This system takes about 3-minutes to ‘recharge’ and we want to get the best quality possible from each set so we can lift as heavy as possible – with perfect technique.
  • The rest interval is not spent sitting around the fountain chatting with your buddies it is spent either working on coordination or on a stabilizing muscle.

Now hopefully your dryland hockey training program does not only include exercises for your big prime movers, hopefully there is equal if not more work on your so-called smaller muscle groups or stabilizers.  So let’s consider them for a minute.

If your prime movers are meant to move you, they are the muscles that will let you sprint hard the length of the ice – they need to produce high amounts of force very quickly if you are going to be speedy on the ice.  The stabilizers on the other hand need to work at a lower percentage of their maximum capacity with good endurance and they need to be smart.  They need to be sensitive to their position of stability, because if they fail to stabilize even momentarily, that can lead to an injury.

So even during a max strength phase, we will not be doing 2-6 reps with heavy resistance for your core, hip or shoulder stabilizers.  Instead we will work them for 10-60 seconds using various work:rest intervals.  For example we might side plank for 5 reps of a 10 second hold.  Is that the same as doing a 50 second hold?  Nope.  The intermittent holds require the muscles to turn on and turn off repeatedly, just like they do in real life.

During a later stage of the off season we will also make the exercises more challenging, like a single leg balance with the eyes closed while getting little taps (perturbations) from a partner so you need to dynamically stabilize.  We run this drill for one rep of 20-30 seconds each leg.

So for stabilizers we need…

  • endurance
  • intelligence
  • proper recruitment patterns

I hope this helps you understand your current training program a little better.  If it calls for 3 sets of 6 reps for front squats, it is not the same to go and do all 18 at once.  Same goes for your stabilization drills if you are to do 3 sets of 5 reps of core plank holding each rep for 10 seconds, it would not be the same to just do core plank for 150 seconds in a row.  Even though that may feel harder, you are not getting the same benefit of having those muscles turn on and off and finding the perfect position.

Happy training!