300-Yard Shuttle for Ice Hockey: To Test or not to Test?
I’ve been involved in the game of hockey my entire life, first as a player and now as a strength coach. I remember the demands of testing, the competition amongst teammates and the feeling of self-satisfaction after the effort of exertion. Testing was, and still is a rewarding time for me. Looking back, one protocol that has stood the test of time, both past and present, in the sport of ice hockey is the 300-yard shuttle. I endured this test for many years as a player, and have had it in my coaching arsenal during testing day to see “who was in shape” and ready for the demands of a long, drawn out, grinding season packed with 30mph collisions and large amounts of travel. However, just like everything else in the biological sciences, the more you learn, the more you question yourself, the more you question your methods, the more you question common practice. After all common practice doesn’t always equate to best practice. Below are three reasons we no longer test the 300-yard shuttle at DSC.
1.) The demands of the game: Watch the player, not the game. The best players on the ice are cerebral competitors with elite skill set. They “think” the game at high levels and are masters of energy expenditure. In other words they are efficient. Efficiency is the cost of output relative to input. Hockey is a game of intermittent acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, strength, power, and capacity. Shifts are kept short and contain 45 to 60 seconds of work characterized by short, two-second accelerations followed by coasting and decelerations of about 2.1 seconds. (1) Rarely, if ever, does a player skate full speed during a shift. We cannot simply equate a sixty-second shuttle to a typical hockey shift. The bioenergetics simply don’t match up. The former is a combination of alactic aerobic qualities; the latter is a lactate endeavor. I am not suggesting that the lactate system is not important for the hockey playing community, but it is my opinion that it is over programmed and oversaturated during large portions of the off-season and sadly even during the season. This comes at a physiological cost, as this form of work is grueling, taxing and compromising to recovery.
2.) Programming: I had the opportunity to listen to my friend Doug Kechijian lecture a few weeks ago. Doug is an extremely bright physical therapist/strength coach and co founder of Resilient Physical Therapy in New York. During his lecture Doug made a comment that stuck in my head, he said “only test things that will influence your program.” It was a reassuring moment for me. We don’t test the 300-yard shuttle anymore because it doesn’t have a major influence on our programming. In fact it’s a very small piece. The majority of our programming comes from working opposite ends of the energy system continuum. We call it working the V.
Aerobic Lactic Alactic
Working the V—Both aerobic and alactic systems are trained first, the former as a supply and recovery system, and the latter as a system that provides immediate ATP for explosive effort. Both systems are taxed without the buildup of acidosis. The anaerobic lactate system is trained during later blocks of the training plan, preparing the player for the demands of training camp. This is known as what strength Coach Mike Robertson refers to as “working the V.” It simply means working opposite ends of the continuum and slowly progressing toward middle ground; the longer the off-season, the more obtuse the angle and the wider the V. Short off-season periods produce the opposite effect, acute angles, and a much narrower V. As the V slowly narrows, training shifts to more lactate work building up to training camp and the regular season. The peripheral adaptations of the lactate system are trained approximately three to six weeks prior to the commencement of training camp. The majority of our summer is spent training alactic and aerobic qualities. Why? The lactic system adapts and plateaus relatively quickly, which leads to point number three.
3.) Time course of adaptation of the lactic system: The lactate system plateaus and adapts relatively quickly. (2,3,4,5) The time course for the enzymatic adaptations in glycolytic kinetics, such as an increase in phosphorylase, hexokinase, and phosphofructinase do not take nearly as long as adaptations that affect structural proteins, such as increase in myofibrils, mitochondrial density, and cardiac volume. One particular study that champions the use of anaerobic, lactate training is the often-cited Tabata study “Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and ˙VO2max.” (6) When one digs deeper into the research, the study actually reveals just how quickly one can harness these adaptations, and why they don't need to be trained year round. The study tracked two groups of seven moderately trained individuals for six weeks. Groups were broken down as follows:
Moderate Intensity Endurance:
Protocol: 60-minute workout at 70%VO2max/5xweek.
Results: Anaerobic capacity (as judged by the maximal accumulated oxygen deficit) did not increase significantly, but VO2 increased by 5 ml·kg-1·min-1
High Intensity Exercise Group:
Protocol: :20 on/: 10 x 7-8 sets at 170% VO2max/5 days/week. 1 day/week subjects exercised for 30 min @70% VO2.
Results: Anaerobic capacity increased 23% after 4 weeks of training, 28% after 6 weeks. VO2 increased 7 ml·kg-1·min-1
So why is this important for coaches training athletes? Take look at the Tabata group, they increased anaerobic capacity a total of 28% in six weeks. That’s fantastic progress in a very short time frame. In addition, after week four they only made a 5% increase in anaerobic capacity. Adaptation started to plateau. Bottom line, in about six weeks, one can make significant improvements in the lactic system. That’s great news for coaches. So why do we feel the need to train this system year round?
We test what we train. We spend the majority of the off-season training top end acceleration/speed and sprinkle in bouts of aerobic work during recovery. Our goal is to measure power output and the ability to repeat performance. In order to assess this, we use a repeat sprint test. Repeat sprint ability is characterized by short-duration sprints (less than ten seconds) interspersed with brief recovery periods (usually less than sixty seconds). Anaerobic glycolysis supplies approximately 40 percent of the total energy during a single six-second sprint, but this number shifts toward aerobic contribution as the number of sprints increase. (7)
The coach places two cones twenty meters (sixty-five feet) apart. The athlete performs ten total sprints (or more) every thirty seconds. Coaches may also choose to cut the distance in half and use a shuttle format. The coach documents best time, average time, and the fatigue index. The fatigue index for running is calculated as follows:
FI (running) = 100 x (S slowest - S fastest)
S fastest (8)
To take in consideration of all sprints (not just fastest and slowest), the coach may use a speed decrement formula. (8)
Sdec (%) =100 x (S1+S2+S3+S4….final)
S1 x number of sprints (8)
By no means are these the only conditioning tests, but we have been using them the past year with relative success. As our level of knowledge continues to grow so does the protocol, testing procedures and hopefully our results.
 H. Green, P. Bishop, M. Houston, R. McKillop, and Norman, “Time, Motion, and Physiological
2 B. McKay, D. Paterson, and J. Kowalchuck, “Effect of Short-Term High-Intensity Training Versus Continuous Training on O2 Uptake Kinetics, Muscle Deoxygenation, and Exercise Performance,” J Appl. Physiol. 107 (May 14, 2009):128–138
3 K. Burgomaster, N. Cermak, S. Phillips, C. Benton, A. Bonen, and M. Gibala, “Divergent Response of Metabolite Transport Proteins in Human Skeletal Muscle after Sprint Interval Training and Detraining,” Am. J. Physiol. Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 292 (2007): R1970–R1976
4 K. A. Burgomaster, K. R. Howarth, S. M. Phillips, M. Rakobowchuck, M. J. Macdonald, S. L. McGee, and M. J. Gibala, “Similar Metabolic Adaptations during Exercise after Low Volume Sprint Interval and Traditional Endurance Training in Humans,” J. Physiol 586 no. 1 (2008): 151–160
5 K. A. Burgomaster, S. C. Hughes, G. J. Heigenhauser, S. N. Bradwell, and M. J. Gibala, “Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Increases Muscle Oxidative Potential and Cycle Endurance Capacity in Humans,” J. Appl. Physiol. 98 no. 6 (2005): 1985–1990.
6 Tabata, I. et al. (1996). Effects of Moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and V02max. Journal of the American College of Sports Med 28(10): 1327-1330.
7 Gaitanos, G., Williams, C., Boobis, L. & Brooks, S. (1993). Human muscle metabolism during intermittent maximal exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology 75(2): 712-719.
8 M. Cardinale, R. Newton, and N. Kazunori, “Strength and Conditioning Biological Principles and Practical Applications” (John Wiley and Sons, 2011).