Make sure you're game ready before pre season. Purchase the full off season conditioning program HERE
Essentials of conditioning for Ice Hockey
Ice hockey is a power sport. It requires very short bursts of very intense power outputs performed repeated with very short recoveries during a shift. These are punctuated by longer periods of recovery while on the bench between shifts. This energy systems profile relies heavily on the creatine phosphate system and the lactic acid system, as such conditioning has to reflect these demands and build both the power and the capacity of both of these systems to improve performance as much as possible. The aerobic system is largely irrelevant for ice hockey performance. Training in the off season should focus on developing these energy systems in the most specific way possible to ensure game ready athletes at the start of pre season. Unfortunately, most conditioning protocols are more focused on applying hard work than they are on actually improving the energy systems. In strength and conditioning, there is a popular saying: “anyone can make you sweat”. Just because a program is hard it does not mean that it’s going to make you better. We will be focusing on making you a better athlete and a better hockey player through improved conditioning.
Firstly you need to understand a few first principles of conditioning.
Conditioning is event specific. If you swim to stay fit in the off season, you will be a better swimmer when the season arrives but not necessarily a better skater. There are three reasons for this.
The muscles used for the specific task will improve their condition for that specific task. improving muscular endurance in the rotator cuff will not transfer to the hip stabilizers. Improving muscular endurance in the biceps will not transfer to the quads. You must keep the conditioning as close to the actual task as possible.
The circulatory system actually becomes more efficient at shunting blood to the specific working muscles in response to specific tasks. Practicing a different task will not necessarily transfer to the ice.
Skill is a component. Skating is a skill, especially when combined with actual hockey skills like shooting. You need to be able to perform your skill when you are tired and you need to condition yourself to concentrate through fatigue. This is best achieved by practicing skill under duress.
Conditioning is energy system specific. If you get fitter aerobically but your sport requires anaerobic power you will not excel. This is why you see specialized athletes at the Olympics. The greater the specialization the greater the level of performance in that narrow task. But that comes at a cost. You cannot excel at all things. just look at performance in each individual event in a triathlon against the best performance in those individual disciplines themselves. There is a big difference between a world-class triathlete’s best 10k time and the 10k world record.
Because of these two rules you need to carefully choose your task, work period, rest period, volume and frequency of conditioning around the energy system being trained and the task being trained. Not only that but this needs to be periodized over the off season to provide ample recovery and peak performance at the right time. Luckily Ice Hockey has a reasonably long off season, usually around 14 weeks. Below I show you how to schedule your energy system training over the off season with an example of a training session for each energy system targeted.
A full off season conditioning program is available HERE.
The general preparation phase, Weeks 1-3.
After a long season of Ice Hockey, thesis an opportunity to rebalance the body and address any structural imbalances that may have arisen during the season. From an energy system perspective, there used to be a thinking that this time of year is best used by focusing on aerobic development, the rationale being that developing the aerobic capacity would provide a good base on which to build anaerobic power later. This turned out to be nonsense. focusing your training on aerobic development during these weeks is unproductive at best and counterproductive at worst. I do, however, recommend taking a break from skating for your energy system work during this phase. using Wattbike for most of your sessions is a good option, as is hill sprints. the reason is that you will provide your body with a rest from the repetitive, high volume hockey specific movements that you have been exposing your body to for so long now. This helps to avoid over-use injuries and provides variety.
I focus immediately on anaerobic power. Using long recoveries and building peak lactic power capabilities provides far more return and far higher levels of performance later down the line than does focusing on aerobic capacity. Typical training sessions would be along the lines of 20-second work intervals with 4-5 minute recoveries, repeated 6-9 times.
The early specific preparation phase, weeks 4-6.
Here you should have a balance between generic conditioning and specific conditioning. I recommend adding in some ice time and hockey or skate specific movements during these weeks. Typically I would program two conditioning sessions per week, One being Wattbike and the other being Ice. We will start to focus on a mixture of lactic power and lactic capacity. With one session being focused on 20-second work intervals and the other being focused on 30-40 second intervals. recovery time for the 20-second intervals will reduce to around 3 minutes and recovery time for the capacity work will start at around 5 minutes. This may look easy on paper, I can hear people scoffing “40 second of work and 5 minutes of recovery! that's too easy, too much recovery”. Well, many pro athletes have eaten those words. Or more accurately regretted them while puking in the rose garden out back of my gym. if you really work fat out during the work interval the amount of lactic produced with extreme. You will likely feel very ill after 3 or 4 bouts and hit a drop off quickly the first time you do this. Recovery time will decrease as you become fitter. but remember that power output is the goal. This is why I like to use watt bike at this time of year, everything is quantifiable and thus provide you with high-value data on whether you’re getting better or not.
The late specific preparation phase, weeks 7-9.
By now most of your conditioning should be done on the ice with hockey o skate specific drills. Hill sprints and watt bike are still fine if you do not have access to the ice. But efforts to get on the ice will pay dividends now. At this stage, I introduce Repeat Sprint Ability training (RSA). You should have developed significant gains in the lactic power system at this point, and improved its durability. But Ice hockey is an intermittent game full of very short sprint and very short rests. You need to start preparing for this and conditioning the energy system to work efficiently in this way. So here we start to emulate that in training. Typical sessions start with 5-second work intervals and 30 second recovery periods for 4 reps. This “set” will be separated by 2-3 minutes recovery before being repeated 3-5 times. The recovery period will be dropped by 5 seconds each session until 5 seconds of work and 10 seconds recovery is reached in session 5. I often alternate that with continued work in the 40-second work interval sessions, but begin to reduce the recovery time and reps as the athlete should be getting better conditioned to this work by now.
The Pre-Competition phase, weeks 10-12.
These should be the last three weeks of your off season before you start pre season. From my experience in the pro leagues, athletes fall into two categories: players who arrive in shape, and players who arrive expecting you to get them in shape. Unfortunately even the athletes who arrive in shape are rarely in good enough condition to satisfy me. I know they could have done better, they could have arrived fitter. What you do in this three weeks, provided that you have completed the preceding work, will be the best thing you can possibly do to arrive ready to play. The two most critical factors now are that: 1; as much conditioning as possible is done on the ice with hockey specific drills. And 2; you increase the volume of work gradually to prepare for the volume you will see in pre season. For volume, I recommend the following
Week 10: increase from 2 to 3 sessions. 2 should be RSA, 1 should be lactic capacity
Week 11: increase to 4 sessions. 2 should be RSA, 1 lactic power, 1 lactic capacity
Week 12: increase to 5 sessions, 2 should be RSA, 1 lactic power, 1 lactic capacity, 1 aerobic compensation.
RSA sessions should be along the lines of 5-second work 10 seconds recovery for 4-5 reps with 2 minute rests for 4-5 sets.
L-P sessions should be 20 second work periods with 3 minutes recoveries for 6-7 sets
L-C sessions should be 40-60 second work periods with 3-4 minutes recoveries.
Aerobic compensation session should be 20 minutes steady state. Not easy but not maximal.