Every year I run into players, from youth to junior leagues, who want to get started with an off-ice hockey training program. More often than not, these players go out on their own or with a well-meaning parent or coach and start performing long runs, or, what makes me cringe even more, flipping tires or trying Olympic lifts.
This is purely a case of putting the cart before the horse. These players want to get better. Who can blame them for not going to see a fitness professional, who would charge them over $100 an hour, like some sort of brain surgeon? But when they have little to no experience in the weight room, the worst thing young hockey players can do is head straight to the squat rack or bench press station.
What they really need, first and foremost, are the basics:
- Learn to control their body weight through various movements to stabilize their body in certain positions.
- Perform exercises that are safe and fun.
After these criteria met, they can add resistance.
Controlling Body Weight
The first thing I like to do with athletes is to see what they can do with their own body weight. We go through basic push, pull, squat and hip hinge patterns to make sure their movement patterns don't have any obvious deficiencies.
Good exercises in this category are the Push-Up, Inverted Row, Bodyweight Squat and Single-Leg RDL. They give me an idea of what an athlete can and cannot do with his or her body.
The Push-Up involves upper-body strength and the ability to stabilize the core. If I see sagging hips or rounded shoulders and neck, I know it's time to regress to a Band-Assisted Push-Up. The same idea goes for the Inverted Row, Bodyweight Squat and Single Leg RDL. If you can perform these movements properly over a period of a few weeks, you can add resistance. If you are still having trouble, add bands to assist certain movements until you build enough strength to move on.
The ability to stabilize the body in certain positions is also extremely important for all hockey players. There are countless situations on the ice where a player has to brace or hold his or her body in a certain position to muscle off defenders and keep possession of the puck.
My favorite stabilization exercises are Planks, Side Planks and Renegade Rows. Having a strong core with the ability to transfer force efficiently is crucial for hockey players. For example, when a player shoots the puck, he or she must first apply force into the ice with his or her skates to get the most power possible into the shot. That force is transferred through the player's entire body until it reaches the hands and stick, where the final piece of the shooting puzzle falls into place. If there are weak points, such as the core, the athlete is at risk of losing a lot of that force from his or her shot, which isn't very cool at all.
Incorporating Safe and Fun Exercises
The exercises I find most fun and beneficial work on explosiveness. That's a pretty important attribute for a hockey player.
The Forward Bound is one of the easiest of these exercises. It looks simple, but the untrained eye might miss certain complexities. I often see players on their first attempt trying to get as low to the ground as they can in a squat position, thinking they'll be able to explode out of this position. This won't maximize a jump, because the hips are used very little in this type of movement. Instead, concentrate on setting the hips and back, with a little knee bend. This will enable the hips to generate explosive force going forward.
The second thing I often see is little or no use of the arms in generating forward momentum. When a hockey player skates, his or her arms should be moving in a linear fashion to keep momentum going forward. The same idea applies to the Forward Bound, because a player swinging his or her arms forcefully while the hips fire forward gives the extra momentum and force needed to get the most out of the jump. Making these two little changes sets the stage for exercises and movement patterns later on in a training program.
- Bodyweight Squat: 3x10-15
- Inverted Row: 3x6 (use a resistance band to assist if necessary)
- Single Leg RDL: 3x6 per leg
- Plank: 2x30 seconds
- Band Resisted Acceleration Drill from a Neutral Stance: 5x10 yards
Learning off-ice training routines from NHL stars is another great way to stay in top hockey shape all year round. For additional exercises, take a look at Henrik Zetterberg's workout in the video player above. For more hockey training articles and information, check out Elite Hockey Power.