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In-Season Training for Ice Hockey: A Parent's Guide

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The hockey season is finally upon us.  The demands on schedule are just starting to ramp up; weekend hockey games, practices, extra-cirricular activities, school work, and travel will all be part and parcel of the process we call hockey season.  In addition to these hectic demands, there are also scheduled strength and conditioning sessions.  The purpose of this article is to educate the reader/parent on the unique demands placed upon the hockey player during the course of the season and how the strength and conditioning staff serves to aid on-ice performance during this time.  

So what should a parent expect?  What are your children doing during their one hour sessions at the gym?  Below are three areas of focus incorporated into our programming at Donskov Strength and Conditioning.  In addition, we have added a science section at the end of each focal point to reinforce these concepts and reiterate their value.   

1.)   Movement Proficiency:

Parent:  "You're going to teach my kid how to move?  Are you kidding me?  He walks to school every day, gets up and down the stairs just fine, and plays hockey!  What do you mean move?"  

Strength Coach:  Movement is the foundation of every sport, including hockey.  It allows athletes to express their strength efficiently, conserve energy and maneuver effectively on the ice.  It is also the fastest and simplest way to increase stride efficiency.  Maximizing stride efficiency comes down to two elements:  stride frequency and stride length.  Mastering foundational movement patterns, and increasing range of motion are two of the quickest ways to to enhance stride length.  Movement matters!  

Hockey Stride:  Stride length x stride frequency

The Science:  Impulse = Force x Time.  We can increase impulse by allowing the young athlete more time to produce force.  This is a win-win situation.  Bottom line, poor movers are typically poor skaters.  In a bike race, both the bike with the rusty chain, and the bike with a well-oiled chain will cross the finish line.  However, one will cross first and do so much more efficiently.

2.) Expresso Strength Training

Parent:  "I know it's the hockey season, but why is my son ONLY training twice/week?  Why only an hour?  Shouldn't he be exhausted after a workout?  I often hear him tell me he feels fresh afterwards?  Why?

Strength Coach:  Great question.  The answer lies in our bodies ability to tolerate and adapt to stress.  ANYBODY can program a tough workout.  Quite frankly our staff is more than capable of having your son not walk for a few days afterwards, but that would be utterly ridiculous and certainly not effective in having him compete on the ice.  Let's simplify things a bit.  Picture a gas tank.  The fuel inside the tank represents the energy available to meet the demands of hockey.  An empty tank equates to poor performance.  What takes fuel out of the tank you may ask?  Games, practices, travel, school work, extra-curricular activities, lack of sleep, poor nutrition and you got it....strength training!  Our bodies have a finite ability to respond to stress so we as coaches MUST choose our stress wisely.  Our goal is to keep the fuel tank as full as possible while getting stronger during the hockey season.  This is a tough task considering that teams/players have upwards of 80-120 ice touches per year. That's A LOT of hockey.  How do we do it?

  • Reduce frequency to 2 workouts/week
  • Train as much as necessary, NOT as much as possible
  • Cut volume while maintaining intensity
  • Choose exercises that have minimal delayed onset muscle soreness associated with their use
  • Keep workouts short.  Like a shot of expresso! Limit training to no more than one hour 
  • Measure readiness and training load daily

The Science:  Testosterone (an anabolic hormone) and cortisol (a catabolic hormone) both come from the same raw material called pregnenalone.  Long workouts may deplete pregnenalone and compromise testosterone production.  Like a shot of expresso, keep workouts short and sweet during the hockey season.

3.) Decision Making: Nutrition/Sleep

Parent:  "Does my child learn about nutrition?  What are good foods to eat before, during and after a game?  Are there any supplements that you recommend?  Where do you get your information?"

Strength Coach:  There are 168 hours in a week, and we see your son &/or daughter for two of them.  That's less than 2% of the work week ... Bottom line ... the decisions he or she make during this time will dictate their performance on the ice.  Our goal is to keep their "fuel tank" as full as possible.  What keeps this tank full?  A full nights sleep (8+ hours), proper hydration with water being the single most important beverage, sound nutrition and making good decisions in their social settings.  NONE of these choices are made by the strength coach.  Will power and choice dictate these results!  Your child will receive:

  • A comprehensive nutritional lecture
  • Food Menu incorporating high, medium and low octane foods
  • Pre/Post Game meal recommendations
  • Fueling strategies for the road
  • Supplement Information
  • All information comes from well established providers within the performance/health fields

The Science:  Food is a drug and is used by many coaches to help regulate adaptation and increase recovery.  Hockey is an extremely demanding sport.  Coupled with this demand, are long road trips, multiple game weekends, and stresses experienced outside  the rink that zap the system.   This can affect the brain and nervous system and in extreme cases cause mild forms of overtraining.  One such form, know as Basedowic overtraining, results in a high resting heart rate, over excitation of the sympathetic nervous system  and potentially too much lactate in the blood.  One treatment option, coupled with rest, is a modification in diet. Eating foods high in alkali aid the body in increasing pH levels and restoring function.  What are these foods?  Vegetables!  Hockey players should aim to eat at least 1-2 servings (serving size equals one fist) of vegetables each meal.  The best way to avoid overtraining is to prevent it.  Proper nutrition aids this process.

Parents want and need to be informed of what to expect in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program during the hockey season.  The end goal is to allow the player to perform maximally on the ice, while maintaining and increasing baseline strength levels.  This is both an art and a science for the strength coach.  The "Law of Competing Demands" states that if too many stressors are acting on the body adaptation and realization are compromised.  The goal is to limit the excess and as Bruce Lee states:  "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not."  We must choose our stress wisely! 

 

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