Skip to main content

KGB Vol 12: Strength is the game

At almost all levels, the hockey season is long and the off-season is short. It is no secret that top strength coaches in the industry look at in-season strength and conditioning programs as an opportunity to get players stronger as well as improve on other athletic qualities. 

While this approach is not brand new, there was certainly a time in the game of hockey when this was not as common as it is now. Improvements were generally reserved for the off-season. This trend began to fade and teams started adding full time strength coaches at the highest levels. Now these coaches are integrated deeply into all aspects of player performance.

When I first started coaching at the professional level, I was lucky enough to work with one of the original strength coaches in the NHL. He made it very clear that players needed to have a chance to move weights each week. As it is with all new endeavors, I had to learn how to navigate strength training in a professional team setting. More importantly, I had to align my previous belief system with his to create a seamless transition from one level to the next. At the core of our efforts was keeping players strong. 

As an athlete myself, I arrived a little late to the strength game. I was wrapped up in classic 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps and chasing low body fat percentages. After getting destroyed in the strength portion of our off-ice assessments in college, I started asking better questions and experimenting with various approaches to getting stronger. This drastically changed my outlook on training and I spent the next 10 years learning as much as I could about developing strength and power.

I quickly learned there is no magic formula to getting strong. Athletes have to put in the work and it is not always fun. This is the time when the basics of exercise must be the primary focus. 

As I mentioned earlier, pioneers in the field have laid the path for what we know now. We know there are a small group of basic exercise movements that maximize the return on a player’s physical investment and those can be scaled up or down. When considering a training plan, it is crucial to adhere to the concept of stimulate don’t annihilate when making decisions. 

In a team setting, it is really helpful to start by selecting movements that don’t “cost” athletes much but offer a great return. The cost we are talking about is the risk of potential injury or the risk of excess fatigue which leads to injury at some point. 

Single leg exercises are ones that check the “safe but effective” box very nicely. Getting stronger is the key element for many athletic qualities. It is an essential quality to develop. Speed, power, and agility all have requisite levels of strength. Chasing down a 500 pound deadlift might not be in the cards to maximize on-ice talents, but lifting enough weight to challenge each individual is a must. 

There is no need for high tech gym equipment to get this done. People all over the world have found ways to add weight to their workout. Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for creativity in this space, but the basics are still the basics. Hockey players find any number of varying opinions on the best exercises for the sport. 

Here are some simple movements that are pretty universal and can be added to any level:

Split squat/rear foot elevated split squat: great for developing leg strength and keeping the cost low on the spine and hips. Sets of 5-8 reps work great.

Copenhagen variations: bulletproof groins should be the goal of all hockey players. This exercise is best performed for 20-45 seconds at a time.  

Hamstring slides/single leg Romanian deadlift: developing hamstring strength is crucial to offset the quad dominant aspects of the game and are essential for developing top speed. Much like the split squat, this is an exercise group that is best in sets of 5-8 reps, but it is fine to get up to 12-15 reps on hamstring slides.

Jumps and sprints: speed and power are key components to player development. Hockey is all about short distance sprinting so keep that in mind when selecting distances on sprints. Make sure to prioritize rest and keep total jumps and sprints in the 15-25 range.

Power movements: loaded jumping, hang cleans, kettlebell swings, med ball throws develop power. Developing power gives you more juice when you squeeze. Every time you push into the ice, we want to produce as much force as we can. Keep these movements low; 3-5 high quality reps will work well.

Unilateral abdominal work: Suitcase carry, lateral band pressing (Pallof press), side planking, cable chops/lifts are key. With the rotatory demands of the sport, training the abs to assist in accelerating as well as resisting rotation is a crucial attribute to develop. Train this system to mechanical failure, or just at the point where the quality of your movement starts to suffer.

This is an area where consulting with a professional may be advantageous by learning how to organize your efforts during the week.    

Skip to content