Strength Training For Hockey

Written by Jason FerruggiaTopics: Training


An Interview With Jason Ferruggia
By Craig Ballantyne

Recently I had the opportunity to talk hockey training with my friend and colleague Jason Ferruggia, owner of Renegade Strength & Conditioning. Since there is still time to get in shape for hockey season, we thought it would be the perfect time to share it with all of you.

CB: Where should an adolescent player look to start their off-season training?

JF: Craig, I believe the biggest mistake a young kid can make is to focus on one sport and one sport only. Early specialization is the worst thing a kid can do for his or her athletic career. Kids are better off playing as many sports as possible and not looking to specialize until somewhere around their senior year of high school. Their training should reflect this. The workouts that any young athlete does should be designed toward making a better all around athlete, not a better pitcher, wide receiver, or goalie.

Having said that, I believe an early off-season training program should focus on unilateral training, correcting any imbalances that may have developed over the course of the season and rebuilding any lost muscle mass.

CB: Is there anything a teen should be able to do before they start lifting such as a set number of push-ups or bodyweight squats/lunges?

JF: Not really. I always look at things as a realist, Craig, and while having a set formula or a group of standards that must be met looks good on paper, it doesn’t really work out in the real world. For example, if I have an eleven-year-old come in to train and he weighs 170 pounds, I can all but guarantee that he can’t do one push-up. This is where the bodyweight standards thing falls short. People fail to realize that not all kids, due to a variety of factors, will be able to do one push-up, one chin up, or even one bodyweight squat. So you can’t really have set numbers to use as your standards.

According to the people who use these guidelines to tell them when a kid should start lifting weights, these kids will not pick up a weight for quite some time. That’s fine, but here’s the problem. What if a kid can only do three bodyweight squats? Believe me this is a possibility because I have seen it with my own two eyes. That is basically heavy max effort training. Are you just going to have him do heavy triples all the time? You can argue that that’s a bad example because you could have him do low step-ups and floor work. I agree with that, but what if he can’t do a chin up or inverted row? Will he not perform any pulling exercises whatsoever until he is strong enough to do either of those exercises? That will be a long time I promise you.

What about push-ups? Sure, you can elevate the bar in a power rack and have the kids do them like that. However, that is only one exercise and doesn’t leave you a ton of options. Kids get bored quickly and need variety. For these reasons I have no problem with a kid lifting weights before he can do a certain number or push-ups, squats, or chin ups. Many times it is actually much safer. Instead of doing a one to three rep max on a chin up or inverted row with horrible form, I would much rather have a kid do some one arm rows with a ten pound dumbbell.

CB: What movement patterns and muscle groups should the older hockey player focus on?

JF: Once they have decided to specialize in improving their hockey performance and are beyond the general athlete stage, we can get a little more focused. Before telling you what I think hockey players should do, I must point out what no athlete should ever do. Never try to replicate any sporting action in the weight room. Also never try to mimic any sporting action with a weight that is significantly heavier than that which you will use on the playing field. This will screw up your mechanics, and that’s not a good thing. For example, a pitcher or quarterback should never try to improve their throwing velocity by throwing a heavy weighted ball. And a hockey player should not try to improve their slap shot by swinging a weighted stick or anything of that nature.

With that out of the way, let’s get into what movement patterns and muscle groups hockey players should focus on. Of course, first and foremost, hockey players are going to want to focus on their lower body and core strength. Not only will improving the strength of the lower body improve skating speed, but it will also improve their slap shot and help make them more of an all around imposing force on the ice. Aside from the obvious choices of squats, deadlifts, and their variations, hockey players must be sure to include unilateral movements such as step-ups, split squats, and sled drags in their training. In the early part of the off-season training, this type of training should make up a large majority of their lower body work if not all of it.

Core strength is very important because the power generated from the lower body is transferred through the core to create a powerful slap shot. When I say core, I am referring to the abdominals, obliques, and lower back. The abdominals should be attacked with a variety of movements and methods. Some heavy, low rep training mixed in with higher rep endurance type abdominal training is the best way to go. Also, be sure to include some static/isometric movements. This is how the abs usually contract during a hockey game such as when an opponent tries to check you through the boards. They contract isometrically and therefore should be trained that way.

The obliques should be trained with rotational movements such as medicine ball throws, Russian twists, and woodchoppers. Lower back strength and endurance is very important because hockey players spend a great majority of the game in a bent over position. Some of the best exercises here are Romanian deadlifts, reverse hypers, back extensions, and good mornings.

As far as the upper body goes, the lats are where it’s at when it comes to hockey training. Chin up and row variations should be the focus of the upper body training. Also, because you are always internally rotated while skating, it is important to train the external rotators and upper back muscles. Forearm/grip strength can lend itself to improving the speed of your slap shot so that should also be addressed during the upper body training sessions.

CB: What type of off-ice speed, quickness, agility type training transfers best to on-ice performance?

JF: Again, I don’t like to do anything too sport specific and try to mimic the action of skating by doing something else. I believe that during the first half of the off-season, hockey players should stay off of the ice as much as possible. I would only recommend one short on-ice speed workout consisting of a few sprints. The reason for keeping them off the ice is because we want to build muscle and correct any imbalances that have developed. Skating all the time will allow neither of those to happen.

The only reason I don’t say stay off the ice completely is because if you get significantly bigger and stronger and then come back 16 weeks later, 23 pounds bigger and twice as strong, you will feel like a totally different person on skates. It may be difficult to find the groove, and you may actually be more susceptible to injury. Therefore, just a small amount of skating should be kept for maintenance purposes and to learn how to transfer your new strength and speed to the ice. As the season approaches, this will obviously change, and you will be spending more and more time on the ice.

I have always been a big fan of sled dragging for hockey players—forward, backward, and sideways. Just plain old flat ground sprinting always works. Provided that they aren’t overdone, plyos are great for any athlete to develop explosive speed and quickness. I like to periodize my use of plyos since the training effect is not seen until after you stop doing them. This is known as the delayed transformation of gains. We will hit them for a number of weeks and then go into a phase where we only perform very low intensity jumps or totally cut them out completely for the next few weeks.

I usually do plyos at the beginning of a lower body workout, such as a few sets of box jumps or depth jumps and perhaps again at the beginning of a sprint workout later in the week. You do not need a high volume of plyos to achieve the desired effect. Aside from including plyos in the weight room, I also like to use medicine ball throws, Olympic lifts, dynamic effort squats, and box squats for developing explosive speed and power.

As far as change of direction training goes, I like to use random change of direction drills rather than predetermined cues. For example, a hockey player may skate full speed straight ahead and then immediately have to decelerate and change direction. For this reason, deceleration is of the utmost importance and should be stressed. However, the player never knows that he is going to have to sprint to a predetermined spot on the ice and then immediately have to go left, right, or the opposite direction. For this reason, I like to employ change of direction drills. For this, we have a variety of cones set up, and the athlete must listen or watch for visual cues that tell him which cone to sprint to. This is more “sport specific” because on the ice you never know which way you are going to have to go next. By watching or listening to a coach or partner shout out which direction the athlete should be going in or watching for some kind of visual cue, the athlete is simultaneously training reaction time as well as change of direction speed.

CB: Finally, what type of conditioning exercises should be performed?

JF: I should point out that hockey players need to be among the most well conditioned athletes in the world. Any time we look to design a conditioning program for a given sport, we must look at the demands of the sport and aim to make drills that we prescribe as fairly “sport specific.” We have to look at a typical shift in hockey to prescribe a proper conditioning program. A typical shift will usually last 30–50 seconds, followed by a rest period of about 90–120 seconds depending on how many lines the coach is running. Therefore, we know that whatever method we use for conditioning, the work to rest intervals should be 30–50 seconds “on” and 90–120 seconds “off.”

As far as what methods to use, I like sled dragging in all different directions, sprints, hill sprints, stadium stair running, car pushes, tire flips, sledgehammer swings, and sandbag training. I will even use the stationary bike, and of course, skating. I think that during the early off-season hockey players should stay off the ice for at least a few weeks to correct the imbalances that occur between the vastus medialis and lateralus from too much skating and just for a break from the same repeated stressor.

In the early part of the off-season training, I like to limit the amount of energy system work and instead focus on rehab and prehab and correcting imbalances developed throughout the season. Many unilateral movements are used during this time, and we focus on building muscle mass. Having said that, let’s go over some of the most effective conditioning methods for hockey players.

A period lasts 15 minutes in high school and 20 minutes in college and the NHL so we need our energy system workouts to last this long. Since the shifts last 30–50 seconds and the rest periods 90–120 seconds, this gives us a wide variety to play with. I like to use as many different combos of work to rest times as possible. Below are some sample workouts:

Sprints

Sprint, 30 seconds
Walk, 90 seconds
Repeat ten times
Stationary bike
Sprint, 60 seconds
Coast, 120 seconds
Repeat seven times

Track Medley

Sprint, 40 seconds
Rest, 100 seconds
Sprint stadium stairs, 40 seconds
Rest, 100 seconds
Bodyweight squats, 40 seconds
Rest, 100 seconds
Repeat three times

Strongman Medley 1

Tire flip, 30 seconds
Rest, 90 seconds
Car push, 40 seconds
Rest, 100 seconds
Sledgehammer swing, 50 seconds
Rest, 120 seconds
Repeat two more times

Strongman Medley 2

Backward sled drag, 30 seconds
Rest, 90 seconds
Wheelbarrow walk, 45 seconds
Rest, 105 seconds
Sandbag power clean from floor, 60 seconds
Rest, 120 seconds
Repeat two more times

Strongman Medley 3

Sprint, 30 seconds
Rest, 90 seconds
Tire flip, 30 seconds
Rest, 120 seconds
Rope row with 2.5–3-inch diameter rope, 30 seconds
Rest, 90 seconds
Repeat two more times

The last thing to point out is that to improve your conditioning to where it needs to be, hockey players must have very low levels of body fat. Every pound of unneeded body fat is slowing you down and is just extra baggage to carry around on the ice. A clean diet is just as important to your conditioning program as the actual conditioning methods are. So be sure to focus on lean protein, nuts, fruits, and vegetables and drink a ton of water.

Please leave your comments below.



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One Response to Strength Training For Hockey

  1. Nancy Fitz October 27, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    This is a great article! I’ve just finished the pre-season conditioning for a high school hockey team (Maryland State Champs!!), and was looking for some interesting things to help keep attention (did I mention high school?) as we move into the early season specific training. Thanks for the help!
    I wish there was more consistent public opinion on the mistake that is so often made of getting too single sport specific too early. I’m constantly fighting that in my programs.

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