Part 3 In-season Training for Hockey

In Season Training For Hockey Part 3: ‘Conditioning,’ Prioritize Strength

In Part 1 I discussed my view of the current model of in season training followed by many minor and even junior hockey programs and in Part 2 I let you know that hockey isn’t special or ‘unique’ (from an S&C standpoint). In Part 3 I’m going to address ‘conditioning’ and where I believe an athletes time is best spent in season.

Throughout this series I have consistently put the word ‘conditioning’ in quotations. The reason for this is an acknowledgement that when the majority of athletes, parents and coaches discuss needing to be better conditioned, they are referring to the cardiorespiratory system. However, it is my view that conditioning is made up of multiple parts, the cardiorespiratory system being the easiest to cap out.

CLICK TO TWEET – How much ‘extra’ skating or ‘conditioning’ is really needed? Are we simply beating a dead horse and impeding recovery? – Justin Vince

So, how do I classify ‘conditioning?’ Well to me, conditioning is the interplay between the cardiorespiratory system, strength/power/efficiency of task specific muscle groups (local muscular) and the central nervous system (neurological). And don’t get me wrong, I do believe that aerobic fitness plays a part in hockey performance, as it does in all athletic endeavours. However, it is primarily the base on which we build other qualities. Once we’ve built that base, it is relatively easy to maintain.

Consider that:
• The average player skates up to 8 km in a game. If they play 3 games in a week, that is up to 24 KM of skating!
• Aerobic capacity is maintained with as little as two high-intensity training sessions per week, lasting as little as 13-40 min.
• Aerobic system can become dominant in as little as 30 seconds of work. This opens up a lot of modalities which can be used for improving capacity (eg. Flow drills, battle drills, tempo lifts etc.). Do we really need to “get on the line”?
• The apparent maximum that V02 max (aerobic power) can be improved averages about 17% over a lifetime of training (though this is highly variable depending on the individual). In elite athletes this threshold can be met fairly quickly. Other areas of conditioning (local muscular fatigue, neural) are much easier to manage and impact on a percentage basis, day to day.
• CNS fatigue and Overtraining Syndrome can result in decreased ‘conditioning’ eg. Higher resting heart rate, decreased stroke volume and increased rate of perceived exertion.

How much ‘extra’ skating or ‘conditioning’ is really needed? Are we simply beating a dead horse and impeding recovery? I would argue yes!

How do I improve ‘conditioning’ with my hockey players in-season? I aim to maintain or improve their lower body strength/power/isometric capabilities and emphasize recovery!

By improving strength, we decrease the overall work % needed to perform a certain task. If we can get from A->B with less effort, it equals less fatigue to the local muscular system, which in turn decreases the stress on the neurological system, allowing for maintained coordination, leading to prolonged movement efficiency. In effect the athlete can now work smarter, not harder. The result of all of this is a decrease in the amount of oxygen required to complete the work, simply because we are performing less work.

B%20with%20less%20effort%20equals%20less%20fatigue%20@coach_jvince%20” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>CLICK TO TWEET – By improving strength, we decrease the overall work % needed to perform a certain task. If we can get from A->B with less effort, it equals less fatigue – Justin Vince

Also, if we go back to part 2 and the energy expenditure model, we see ‘struggle for puck’ is the dominant energy sucker. Therefor, the athlete who is stronger and better able to maintain a low center of mass during puck battles not only will ultimately be successful, but will also work less for that success. This disparity is compounded as the game goes on and the weaker hockey players must work exponentially harder in the same battle scenarios. Therefor, as the game goes on, the stronger player maintains the efficiency of their movement, working exponentially less to win races and puck battles against their weaker, more ‘conditioned’ counterparts.

Local Muscular Fatigue

This refers to the resistance of fatigue by the specific muscles used to complete a task. This is why my athletes in season don’t run shuttles or ride stationary bike. The carry over isn’t there.

Similar to the way a mail carrier could walk all day and not be tired, but would be exhausted painting a ceiling. The muscles used in running and skating, or biking and skating are not the same. To win the Tour de France you bike. To be a dominant hockey player you skate. More specifically you play games!

My main contention is that we spend too much time focused on cardiorespiratory qualities and not enough time focusing on the other areas, such as recovery and strength maintenance. Designing high intensity, up tempo hockey practices; utilizing flow drills, skills obstacle courses, small sided games, repeated zone entries and battle drills is a sufficient amount of ‘cardio’ for hockey players to maintain their cardiorespiratory fitness. However, if we don’t continue to emphasize strength qualities, we can see a rapid decrease in the ability to complete the most demanding tasks in the game of hockey efficiently; the result is a less ‘conditioned’ hockey player.

Now, I know many are thinking “This is why we do ‘Dry Land,’ right?” Well check back with for my thoughts on “Why I Dislike ‘Dry Land.’

Like what you’ve read? Please share, like and provide feedback. Let’s get this conversation started!

2 thoughts on “In Season Training For Hockey Part 3: ‘Conditioning,’ Prioritize Strength

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