When developing the strength and explosiveness program for the University of Pittsburgh men's hockey team, there were several factors I had to take into consideration as a coach. Hopefully my experience thus far will help you in similar situations.

The first problem was trying to develop a "one size fits all" program. Being the first year I will be involved with this group of athletes, I have no knowledge of their history in regards to lifting experience. As a preseason routine, I've implemented a Westside-based program for strength and added two days of explosiveness-focused dryland. The only changes made are the inclusion of full-range bench press and squats as max effort exercises as well as the exclusion of glute-ham raises and reverse hypers due to unavailability of equipment. I feel this is a good solution given the restraints I am under.

Secondly, it was necessary to educate the players about the Westside-style of training. The strength and explosiveness document is intended to be self-explanatory and an athlete should be able to implement the program on his own after reading it. I will take the captains into the gym and demonstrate the program and explain it but the athletes will be responsible for implementing it on their own. As a Division II program (and a club sport), we as coaches are part-time and unable to be there year-round to run every facet of our athletes' training.

As a hockey coach, I approached the development of the program from the standpoint that hockey is a combination of explosive and static strength. The Westside style of training directly complements this approach. The development of maximal strength through max effort exercises translates directly into raw strength, a key component of hockey. It also provides the potential for speed and explosiveness. This foundation of strength must then be trained through dynamic work and explosive dryland drills into speed and power.

As a last word, this program is not set in stone. I believe truly intelligent people are those who are open to new knowledge and I plan on monitoring my athletes, listening to their feedback, and continuing to educate myself about strength, conditioning, and coaching. My program will continue to evolve and I will change anything I find is not working. Hopefully this will help you with some of your coaching and player development. Not everyone runs a DI program where they have a big budget and the ability to devote 100% of their time to their athletes, but I feel it is possible to be successful even under less than ideal circumstances.

Program Overview
This program combines four days of running with four days of lifting. One day a week is a complete rest day. The lifting portion is adapted from the Westside Gym methodology, formulated by Louie Simmons from programs implemented by Russian and Eastern European strength training coaches. The Westside Method is used by many of the top record holders in powerlifting. It is derived from the research of Vladimir Zatsiorsky, PhD, who spent 26 years as strength and conditioning consultant to the Soviet Union Olympic teams; and Dr. Mel Siff, a sports scientist and biomechanist with a PhD in physiology (specializing in biomechanics), author of Supertraining.

This program is intended as an off-season program to develop strength and explosiveness, which translates into power and speed when applied to hockey. This is not a conditioning program. The running portion of the program is designed to develop explosiveness and power. In order to get the most out of these workouts you must already be in shape. Doing explosiveness drills at 65% effort because you are out of shape will reap little, if any benefit. If you cannot perform the specified reps for the running days at 100%, you will need to do some general physical preparedness work on your own. The optional 400 meter runs serve this purpose. You will be able to perform the majority of the workouts on your own. The only exception is max effort bench day (see below for an explanation of max effort and dynamic effort days). You will need a spotter because you will go to failure on these days. The max effort squat exercises can all be safely performed in a power rack with the safety bars set up correctly. It is, however, highly encouraged that you train with a partner or in groups during all workouts. The first reason is that it is easier to get motivated to train when there is a group of people rather than going by yourself. The second reason is safety. While most of the lifts can safely be performed by yourself, it is better to have someone there in case you need help. Lastly, a partner can provide verbal cues during your lift. Form is extremely important and sometimes you aren't aware of form breakdowns when struggling with heavy weights. Your partner should give you verbal reminders. For example, when benching, the spotter can remind the lifter to, "Stay low" (keep the bar low on the chest). When squatting, he may need to remind the lifter to, "Stay wide" (keep the knees spread, don't let them track inwards) or, "Spread the floor" (push your feet out to the side).

Once the season starts, we will implement a different program designed to maintain strength and explosiveness. Some of the work contained in the off-season program will then be implemented in the on-ice practices.


This program incorporates two days of mandatory running per week. Two days are optional in order to get you in shape to reap the maximal benefits from the main parts of the workout. The mandatory two days are focused on sprint work and developing explosiveness. Hockey is a very dynamic game and a typical shift may consist of a cycle of relative inactivity followed by the need to achieve full speed in the shortest amount of time possible. The team who gets to loose pucks is the team who wins these short sprints over and over. The first stride can be the difference in getting to a loose puck 20 feet away.

Distance Day

Distance day consists of 400 meter runs done at a fast pace. These are designed to bring up your work capacity for the lifting and explosiveness days. Simply perform 400 meter runs (once around a track) and then rest. Repeat this cycle, shortening the rest times, increasing your pace, or adding reps (# of 400 meter runs) to increase intensity. It is up to you to evaluate and regulate your performance.

Sprint Day

There will be two workouts for sprint day, both focusing on explosiveness but different to provide some variety. These are NOT conditioning drills. They need to be performed with 100%, every rep. If you cannot do that you need to bring up your general conditioning level.

Sprint Day 1

Warm-up with some light jogging and stretching.

Hill Work:
Find a moderate incline where you can do 20- yard sprints.
Divide into two groups.

1st Group- 5 reps, 2nd Group rests
2nd Group- 5 reps, 1st Group rests
Repeat cycle 2 more times

1st Group- 3 reps, 2nd Group rests
2nd Group- 3 reps, 1st Group rests
Repeat cycle 3 more times

1st Group- 1 rep, 2nd Group rests
2nd Group- 1 rep, 1st Group rests
Repeat cycle 4 more times

Reverse Sprints:
Find a moderate incline where you can do 20-yard sprints. These can also be done on flat ground.
Divide into two groups.

1st Group- 3 reps, 2nd Group rests
2nd Group- 3 reps, 1st Group rests
Repeat cycle 1 more time

1st Group- 2 reps, 2nd Group rests
2nd Group- 2 reps, 1st Group rests
Repeat cycle 2 more times

1st Group- 1 rep, 2nd Group rests
2nd Group- 1 rep, 1st Group rests
Repeat cycle 4 more times

Sprint Day 2

Warm-up with some light jogging and stretching.

Cycle Sprints:
Divide into two groups
1 cycle consists of a 10-yard sprint, jog to start, a 20-yard sprint, jog to start, and a 30-yard sprint

1st Group- 1 cycle, 2nd Group rests
2nd Group- 1 cycle, 1st Group rests
Repeat cycle 9 more times

Plyometric Step Work:
Find a set of steps and partner up
Start with both feet together and leap up the stairs as far as possible, quickly return to the starting step and repeat
Alternate sets of 10 with your partner for5 sets

Strength Training

Hockey is a game of speed and finesse but it is also one of collisions and one-on-one battles that require a great deal of strength. At the college level players are becoming bigger and stronger and weight training is a good tool to gain an edge. Strength is the ability to do work, and power is the ability to do work as measured by time. Both strength and power are required in hockey. Working a man in the corner and pinning him to the boards is an example of pure strength. Gaining top speed in the shortest amount of time possible is an example of power. They are obviously related but it is good to be familiar with the difference. One of the biggest mistakes athletes make today is turning to publications such as Flex and Muscle and Fitness for information on strength, mistakenly thinking that all lifting programs are the same. One rule to follow: STRENGTH TRAINING IS NOT BODYBUILDING!!!!! The guys in bodybuilding publications are aiming for a completely different goal than those interested in strength training. They want each muscle as big and defined as possible while maintaining symmetry and an unhealthy amount of body fat. In addition the magazines are in the business of selling copies. That means they are interested more in getting you to buy an issue than the results. If you think about it, in the past five years of any given publication, there are probably a total of twenty different biceps routines, all touted as guaranteed. Strength training focuses on total body strength and multi-joint exercises with assistance exercises as secondary. Powerlifters have many of the same goals as athletes. While they are aiming for a one-rep max, many of their techniques can be applied.

This program will put a great emphasis on training the core muscles consisting of the abs and lower back. These muscles provide support for squatting and are important in generating the rotational forces used to shoot. In addition, the program focuses on the posterior chain, consisting of the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. These are the main muscles used in skating, the quads being important as well but they are seldom a weakness.

Rest and Nutrition

It is a misnomer that athletes are building strength while at the gym. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Lifting weights actually breaks down muscles and creates microscopic tears in the muscle fiber. It is during the rest phase that the body rebuilds itself and adapts to the increasing workload. If enough demand is placed on the body by regularly subjecting it to a workload at or near its physical limit, the body will adapt by rebuilding the muscles stronger than before. This is why proper rest and nutrition are important. Nutrition provides the building blocks (protein and amino acids) that the body uses to build muscle. You must provide enough fuel for the body to carry out its regular functions plus enough additional food to build muscle. Many (5-6) smaller meals throughout the day are better then a breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule. This will provide the body the nutrition it requires to maintain itself under the increasing workload being put upon it and enable it to repair and build muscle tissue. Proper sleep and days off also allow the body to recuperate.

Drink water! Most people don't drink enough water. Water is essential for muscles to function at their maximum potential. Even a small amount of dehydration can cause serious performance loss. 8-10 glasses a day should be the minimum and more on hot days.

Safety Concerns

Weightlifting can be very safe if the proper precautions are taken. In fact, according to Zatsiorsky's Science and Practice of Strength Training, "The risk of injury for a well-coached strength training program has been estimated to be about one pre 10,000 athlete exposures" (Zatsiorsky 173). Always lift with a partner so he can spot you. Two spotters are preferable when squatting. Communicate with your spotter so you are both on the same page at all times.

Learn proper form! Some exercises feel strange the first few times you do them. Find someone who is experienced to teach you each lift and observe your form. If possible, use videotape to critique yourself.

The use of a weight belt is often misunderstood. Using weight belts for every lift of every set will not prevent injury and may even lead to injury in the long run. Weight belts work by compressing the midsection and providing support for the spine. If a belt is used on all lifts, the erector muscles of the lower back along the spine will not get stronger because the belt is doing their work for them. A belt should be worn only when performing lifts of 90% of your 1 rep max (1RM) and above. Developing the abdominal muscles is very important in providing stability and support for the lower spine.

As much as strength training is going to be beneficial when competing against others in hockey, in the gym you are only competing against yourself. Trying to out lift someone else is a common cause of injury. Be patient and set goals for yourself. These must be long-term goals. Strength training requires months and years of work. Sometimes you may put ten pounds on your bench in a month and then all of a sudden you are stuck at the same weight for two or three months (this is known as reaching a plateau). Stick with it and over the long run you will see improvement.

The Basics

This strength training program will be built on three main lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. All three of these are multi-joint exercises that enable the athlete to lift relatively large amounts of weight. They are very taxing on the body and this stress incites the body to grow during rest periods. There will be auxiliary exercises as well which will aid in these lifts as well as developing overall strength and balance.

The Program

The program is divided into 4 days, two days focusing on the bench and two focusing on the squat and deadlift. There is a max effort day and a dynamic day for each. Thus the split is as follows:

Monday: Max Effort Squat/Deadlift Day
Tuesday: Max Effort Bench Day
Thursday: Dynamic Effort Squat/Deadlift Day
Friday: Dynamic Effort Bench Day

On max effort days, you will perform one max effort exercise followed by assistance work. You will start at a weight about 50% of your max and add weight each set, performing sets of three. Once the third rep starts to become difficult, you will start doing singles, again adding weight each time. You will continue doing singles until you miss a lift. Record the weight you were successful at and the weight you missed. The max effort exercise will change every three weeks due to the fact that the central nervous system will adapt and cease to make progress if you train the same exercise at greater than 90% 1RM (1 rep max) more than three weeks in a row. Here is an example of a 9-week cycle for max effort bench:

Weeks 1-3
Max Effort Exercise: Bench Press
Lat Pull-downs
Low Row
Lateral Shoulder Raises
Shoulder Presses
Triceps Presses

Weeks 4-6
Max Effort Exercise: 2 Board Press
Same assistance work

Weeks 7-9
Max Effort Exercise: Floor Press
Same assistance work

The other day is dynamic effort day, also known as speed day. The premise is that generating bar speed helps get through sticking points. Ryan Kennelly attributes speed work as being responsible for his 800 lb. bench. For example, if two cars run out of gas at the exact same place, and given they are the same car in regard to weight and wind resistance, and one is traveling 70 mph and the other 35 mph, the one traveling faster is obviously going to drift farther. The same with lifting, if you run out of gas at the same sticking point and the bar is moving slowly, that's the end of the lift. If the bar is moving a little faster, there's a chance the bar's momentum may get it through the sticking point. Dynamic day trains the body to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible in the shortest amount of time, thus increasing the rate of force. Dynamic day is going to consist of 9 sets of three reps, performed with 60% of your max, done as fast as possible. There should be no more than 1-minute rest between sets. You should use 3 grips, pinky touching the ring, hands halfway between rings and smooth part of bar, and index finger touching smooth part for speed bench. Do 3 sets with each grip. Box squats are used for dynamic squat/deadlift day.
Your weight for dynamic day is based on a percentage of your max, so you will need to max out on bench and squat before starting the program.

Weekly Schedule

Do some light cardio work for a few minutes and stretch at beginning of the workout.


Max Effort Squat - Triples until too difficult, singles until failure
Straight Legged Deadlift - 4x8
Lunges - 4x15
Weighted Abs Pull-downs - 4x15
Calf Raises - 5x15


Max Effort Bench - Triples until too difficult, singles until failure
Lat Pull-down - 4 sets 10-12 reps
Low Rows - 4 sets 8 reps
Lateral Shoulder Raises - 3 sets 12 reps
Shoulder Presses - 4 sets 8 reps
Triceps Extensions - 4 sets 8 reps

Running - Distance day (optional)


Sprint day 1


Box Squat (Speed) - 9x3
Stiff Legged Deadlifts - 5x6
Hammer Curls - 4x8
Weighted Incline Situps - 4x15
Calf Raises - 5x15


Speed Bench Press - 9x3
Decline Close Grip Bench Press - 3x10
Rope Pressdowns -3x10
Bent Lateral Raise - 4x10
Shrugs - 4x10
Seated Rotator Cuff Raises - 3x10
Side Rotator Cuff Raises - 3x10

Running - Distance day

Saturday - Sprint day 2

Max Effort Schedule

Max Effort Bench

Week / Max Effort Exercise

1. Bench Press
2. Bench Press
3. Bench Press
4. 2 Board Press
5. 2 Board Press
6. 2 Board Press
7. Floor Press
8. Floor Press
9. Floor Press

Max Effort Squat/Deadlift

Week / Max Effort Exercise

1. Squat
2. Squat
3. Squat
4. Good Morning
5. Good Morning
6. Deadlift
7. Deadlift
8. Squat
9. Squat


Here is an example routine to help clarify the program. A lifter has a max bench of 325 lbs and a max squat of 450 lbs before beginning this program. Here is what his workout looks like:

Squat- 200 lbs x 5 reps (as warm-up)
225 lbs x 3 reps
250 lbs x 3 reps
275 lbs x 3 reps
300 lbs x 3 reps
325 lbs x 3 reps
350 lbs x 3 reps
375 lbs x 3 reps
400 lbs x 1 rep
410 lbs x 1 rep
420 lbs x 1 rep
430 lbs x 1 rep
440 lbs x 1 rep
450 miss

At this point, the lifter is finished squatting. He records his record for this particular lift (440 lbs) and moves on and completes the rest of his workout as outlined above.

Bench- 135 lbs x 5 reps (as warm-up)
160 lbs x 3 reps
180 lbs x 3 reps
200 lbs x 3 reps
225 lbs x 3 reps
245 lbs x 3 reps
255 lbs x 3 reps
265 lbs x 3 reps
275 lbs x 1 rep
285 lbs x 1 rep
295 lbs x 1 rep
310 lbs x 1 rep
325 lbs x 1 rep
335 miss

At this point, the lifter is finished benching. He records his record for this particular lift (325 lbs) and moves on and completes the rest of his workout as outlined above.


The lifter's best 1RM is 450 lbs, so 60% is 270 lbs for the box squat, his working weight for box squats on dynamic day.
The lifter will perform 9 sets of 3 reps as fast as possible, resting no more than a minute between sets. He then proceeds with the rest of the workout as outlined above.


The lifter's best 1RM is 325 lbs, so 60% is 195 lbs, his working weight for speed bench on dynamic day.
The lifter will perform 9 sets of 3 reps as fast as possible, resting no more than a minute between sets. He then proceeds with the rest of the workout as outlined above.