The Importance of Off-Season Training
Today’s hockey player has evolved into a much more sophisticated athlete than ever before. Long gone are the days when you could just show up for training camp in September and expect to compete at the highest level possible. Most players looking to take a serious jump in their hockey careers will make the 4 month commitment in the off season to some sort of strength and conditioning program. Despite the obvious reasons for spending countless hours in a sweaty gym while your friends may be taking part in seemingly more relaxing summer activities, what are the real reasons and benefits for hockey players to make such a commitment?
1) Becoming a better athlete (Physiological adaptation/Muscular Endurance). Over the course of a 7-8 month season, a hockey player’s body is broken down by repetitive use, travel and contact. In addition, players may develop poor movement mechanics which can be detrimental to their future development. As such, players should be focused on first eliminating any asymmetries that may have developed through proper mobility, stability and movement patterns. By having joints that are able to move properly through a wide range of motions will improve a player’s longevity in the game in addition to making them more adept at reacting to new/different situations in a game. Many of the best players to play hockey at its highest levels, are also the best athletes. Once proper movement patterns are established, the player can focus on building an aerobic cardiovascular base in addition to developing muscular endurance. This phase gives the athlete the ability to sustain the rigors of a lengthy season.
2) Gaining muscle mass (Hypertrophy). Regardless of your summer goals, every athlete is looking to build muscle mass. Increased strength is one of the most common hurdles a hockey player is challenged with before they can make the jump to the next level. In the hypertrophy phase, players can reasonably expect to gain 5-10 pounds with proper rest, hydration and nutrition. Despite wanting to gain strength and mass, it’s important to not focus on getting too bulky. Remember that the main goal of any player is to be able to be explosive for 30-45 seconds at a time. Extra bulk can hinder that speed production!
3) Becoming faster (Speed/Agility). With the pace at which today’s game is played, hockey players need to be able to react to a wide variety of stimuli at an incredibly fast rate. If you’re following a classic periodized training model, this phase trains athletes to generate fast reactionary movements while increasing the speed or tempo at which they are performing certain lifting exercises. Multi-joint movements and Olympic lifting techniques become more of a focus during this phase which teaches the athlete how to generate force through the proper kinetic chain of events.
4) POWER/Metabolic Strength. The final phase, and perhaps the most interesting phase, is the power phase. Once a solid foundation is built in the adaptation/endurance, hypertrophy and speed/agility phases, athletes now have the ability to perform more complex movements that sometimes require the entire kinetic chain. As stated earlier, the goal of any hockey player is to be able to generate movements that are producing force at a high rate. Whether it’s accelerating to a loose puck or taking a quick snap shot, exercises in this phase become more specific to the explosive movements that take place in a typical hockey game.
Remember that every hockey player is first an athlete. Their goal should be to be the best athlete possible which in turn will make them a better hockey player. Good luck this off-season!