Hockey In-Season Training
What is it?
In-season training marks the start of the long, gruelling, and rewarding season ahead. Ask yourself, do you expect to maintain the same frequency and intensity of your workouts from the off-season, on top of practices, games, and travel? The answer should be, “no”. With on-ice demands growing in both frequency and intensity, off-ice goals should complement that. The in-season focus should be on preserving movement patterns, mobility, flexibility, and strength gained during the off-season.
Why is in-season training critical?
Staying healthy through the long season and into the playoffs is every athlete’s goal. In-season training should aid in maintaining off-season improvements in strength, speed, and power. A proper in-season training program will allow the athlete to maintain peak performance throughout the season and improve the likelihood of remaining healthy and injury-free.
We will mention multiple times throughout this article the importance of maintaining strength gained during the off-season. I want to dive into why strength is essential and how it can impact your on-ice performance.
- Hockey is low back, glute, and hamstring dominant. If one link is weak, our body will compensate, and that is when someone can be exposed and at a higher risk for injury.
- Core strength is paramount for hockey performance. The ability to deliver force, absorb force, brace, and create rotational strength and power is necessary for all positions.
Simply, strength maintenance will help reduce overuse injuries because the body can withstand more work/force placed upon it; which can be achieved through tempo-controlled lifting. The proper use of eccentric, isometric, and concentric-focused training programs will vary their focus depending on the team’s schedule.
Much like strength training and maintenance, it is essential to maintain power throughout the season. What does power look like on the ice?
- Change of direction, stops and starts for forwards and defencemen.
- Accelerating with and without the puck for forwards and defencemen.
- Strong shuffles post to post, butterfly slides, and tracking a pass dot to dot for goalies.
With the examples listed above, it is clear that power on the ice is mainly interpreted within skating and stride.
It is imperative for hockey athletes to be head-to-toe balanced, strong, and powerful. This can be achieved during in-season training by moving light to moderate loads with speed. We focus on powerful concentric muscle contractions using hang cleans, kettlebell swings, trap bar deadlifts and squats.
With the amount of skating in each practice, there shouldn’t need to be more than 1 additional conditioning-specific day programmed. Again, this will rely heavily on the team’s schedule and a player-to-player basis depending on ice time. A scenario for a healthy scratch will differ, this will warrant some extra off-ice conditioning. In-season off-ice conditioning should be limited to 20 minutes or less interval-based submaximal to maximal effort bouts separated by proper rest times (10-20s work:20-60s rest).
Any conditioning sustained for longer than a 60-minute spin class or 10km run would start to work against the body and hinder recovery and performance; this adds unnecessary stress to joints, muscles, and tissues. A regulation hockey game is 60 minutes in length; the average shift is ~30-45 seconds, with 2-7 second bursts of maximal output. Let’s not forget there are intermissions after each 20 minute period.
Implementation will still need to be done on an athlete by athlete, position to position basis. If an athlete requires a change in body composition or energy system development, more steady-state conditioning may be prescribed. If an athlete only has three ice sessions per week, steady-state and interval conditioning may be prescribed. Goaltenders, forwards and defencemen will all have some similar and different position-specific needs.
4. Prehab (Flexibility/Mobility)
If you are familiar with our off-season program write up you may remember the common nuisances seen in hockey:
- Tight hip flexors
- Decreased ankle range of motion
- Anterior (front) shoulder pain
- Wrist injuries
- Groin injuries
The in-season movement patterns on the ice are repetitive and can cause “nuisance injuries”. During the in-season training program, a proper allotment of time should be put towards prehab movements. These prehab movements are where we address these areas daily with foam rolling, mobility, flexibility, core, and strength drills. Spending 20 minutes per session on prehab work to be proactive and can reduce the risk and frequency of injury in athletes. As athletes, it is common to get comfortable playing through tweaks, strains, and sprains. However, playing through pain will lead to a reduction in power and efficiency on the ice, decreasing individual, and team performance.
The in-season schedule includes travel, pre-game skates, off-ice warm-ups, on-ice warm-ups, and back-to-back games. Therefore, your in-season strength and conditioning plan must be calculated and account for these aforementioned variables.
A team having back-to-back evening games and extensive travel It’s unlikely to perform a max bench press, set a vertical jump PR, and complete a 3-mile jog. If a team is on the road for multiple games, the focus will be on recovery and injury prevention.
If a team has a few days off to practice at home, we can hone in on strength maintenance and some power training. This strength and power maintenance can be achieved through lowering training volume during the season; you will still be required to move heavy loads to maintain that off-season strength.
For example, your off-season program would include Back Squats for 4-6 sets of 8-10 reps with a slow eccentric (I’m sore just reading that). Your in-season program for the same Back Squat would have 2-3 sets for 4-6 reps with less focus on eccentrics to reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). However, there is a time and place during in-season training for eccentric and concentric training focuses. That is why teams at the highest level have an experienced strength and conditioning team to periodize their in-season program.
What to expect?
In-season training should be calculated and complement on-ice work. If an in-season program is not keeping athletes at their best, why bother? Hockey is a long, physical and emotional season. If athletes can get ahead of the fatigue and injuries that may occur, that could lead to more games played, an extra goal, save or assist. Ensure the body is maximizing its potential all season long. After all, if the work was put in the off-season; why let that go to waste during the season. Our team of Sports Medicine professionals and Strength Coaches are here to help you through this journey as a person and as an athlete. It’s time to grow-Join us today!