The new wave in ice hockey strength and conditioning seems to be dominated by “functional” training, which often becomes dysfunctional. Let’s look at our goals for in-season lifting and the factors to consider in professional hockey. I’ll also present my program template for in-season hockey training, which has been used successfully in the American Hockey League (AHL).

The professional hockey season is a long affair. It consists of seven months of smashing into each other and getting smashed into the immovable glass and dashers. Travel, hotels, suspect eating, and boozing all work against the players. The summer training will make or break a player. After a 2–4 week layoff for post-season recovery, a player has 3–4 months to build a strength and conditioning base that will carry them through the next season. There’ll be less time than that if the team makes the post-season and even less if the team is lucky enough to go deep in the playoffs.

The primary objectives of the summer program are:

1. Build limit strength—get as strong as possible. The season will take its inevitable toll, and unless the player came into camp completely out of shape, it will be very difficult to build strength in-season.

2. Develop acceleration, agility, and speed. Again, improvement in these areas will be very difficult in-season.

3. Increase lean body mass. Most players from 18–25 are in the prime years to put on lean body mass through a well designed strength and conditioning program and proper nutritional interventions.

I can’t stress enough the importance of the off-season for professional players. If they don’t maximize that training opportunity, they’ve put themselves behind coming into training camp. “Playing your way into shape” doesn’t work anymore unless you’re in that Gretzky/Crosby stratosphere (maybe).

That being said, the objective of my in-season program is to maintain strength, speed, quickness, and acceleration. However, you can’t lift only to maintain. You must design the program like you’re going to build limit strength. Do plyos with an eye toward improving power and maintain body weight using impeccable nutritional practices. I’m extremely wary of central nervous system fatigue, and this will guide every training week. However, running a maintenance program for seven months doesn’t work. The science guys will tell you why. The bottom line is that we all know it’s true, and if you’re running a maintenance program, it’s doomed to failure.

Players will get weaker, body weights will plummet, and fatigue injuries can result. We use stability balls, dyna discs, and BOSU balls as tools to accomplish specific injury prevention goals in addition to (not instead of) lifting heavy weights. My program also emphasizes the posterior chain so we do hip bar deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, band pull-thrus, glute/ham raises, and reverse hypers as staples of the leg work. We’ve avoided good mornings only because the DOMS is so great that I believe it will affect them negatively on the ice.

Now, on to the template...

This changes from week to week based on game schedules (last week’s and the upcoming week’s). Injury state and travel schedules also play a role. We may get one, two, or three lifting days per week. The AHL is mostly a weekend league, but there are mid-week games throughout the year. Our coaches generally give the players a day off, either a Sunday, or if there’s a Sunday game, Monday. We don’t lift on the day before a game, but many players will do some optional core work. Healthy scratches and injured players will lift on game days and get some sort of C-V work in.

We lift after practice, taking 20–45 minutes at most. I want the players to develop and maintain power, strength, and speed throughout the season. Exercises will include one major compound movement and two, maybe three accessory lifts. We will use less volume than what is used in the off-season and the reps stay low on the big lifts (bench, squat, hip bar), usually threes or fives at most. Repeated efforts with dumbbells and body weight may take from 8–12 reps, 2–4 sets depending on the exercise. Core strength is added daily with abs, obliques, and a low back exercise. We have one power rack and two benches, a pulling station, and a glute ham machine to get most of our work done on. It takes planning, but it works. Our guys have maintained body weight, stayed strong throughout the season, and had fewer injuries while following this program.

The EliteFTS template works extremely well in the hockey in-season program. We use a modified conjugated system using dynamic, modified max effort and repetition methods during the season. Over two weeks, each player will get an upper and lower body dynamic day and an upper and lower body max effort day. If the schedule allows, we may also sneak in an explosive day with plyos, cleans, and speed work. We’ve also seen much less tendonitis around the knee because of our posterior chain emphasis.

The players bench or do an alternate bench movement each week. The floor press is great for guys with shoulder issues. Also, we stress shoulder strength. We try to have the players squat two out of each four weeks. Some guys will front squat, again based on shoulder issues. Other weeks, they will deadlift with a hip bar or dumbbells and do a single leg lift. These help with injury prevention. Each workout is completed with 10–15 minutes of stretching, foam rollers, the Stick, contrast hot and cold tubs, and protein shakes to set the recovery process in motion.

This is an early season week. Sunday was off, and the games are Friday and Saturday.

Exercise Sets
Ladder drills, lateral crossover 3 X down and back
Squat, raise weight each set 5 X 3 reps
Four way lunges, four reps each direction 3 sets right and left
Speed crunches 2 X 20 reps @
Seated plate twists 2 X 20 reps
Glute/ham raises 3 X 10
Exercise Sets
Ladder drills, lateral two in two out 3 X right and left
Bench press, raise weight each set 5 X 5
Dumbbell incline press 4 X 8
Pull-ups or assisted pull-ups 3 X 10
Shoulder box 3 X 10
Weighted crunches 3 X 20

Here’s a late season lifting week. Monday was an off day, and games were Friday and Saturday this week.

Tuesday, 05/06/07
Exercise Sets X reps
Max effort bench press 3 X 3
Three way shoulder raises 3 X 12
Upright rows 4 X 12
Low cable rows 4 X 8
Weighted crunches 3 X 25
Med ball throws, twists 4 X 8
S-ball back extensions 3 X 15
Wednesday, 05/07/07
Exercise Sets X reps
High box jumps onto plyo box or table 5 X 3
Bench split jumps 3 X 10 jumps
Squat jumps with dumbbells 3 X 5 jumps
Split squats, front foot on BOSU or Dyna disc 3 X 5
Abs, choice 3 X 25
Seated plane twists 2 X 20
Back extensions 3 X 12

Some closing thoughts regarding hockey training…

The “Westside” template works very well in-season. When in doubt, stay with the dynamic effort work. Players have minimal soreness, and you’re training the central nervous system in a way that will benefit them on the ice.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. The functional stuff is fine for auxiliary work and very important for injury prevention, but if that’s all you do, the players will end up weaker and smaller as the season progresses. Bands, sleds and running keep players fresh. Allow for training through injuries, and most players haven’t been exposed to these tools so you’ll look like a genius.

For hockey players who aren’t injured, most, if not all, conditioning work should be done on the ice. The bike tightens hamstrings and hip flexors, neither of which is a desired outcome for your in-season strength and conditioning program.

Hockey players, at least 90 percent of them, have no nutritional knowledge whatsoever. So teaching and coaching proper nutrition will have a huge positive impact on many players. I’ve seen quite a few players gain lean body mass in-season based on eating properly. Read John Berardi’s G-Flux articles to see exactly why.

Posterior chain rehabilitation has brought many players back from knee injuries an average of one week sooner than the doctors thought possible. Toss the knee extension machines to the curb. Hockey is almost a clean slate for the strength and conditioning professional. Lifting using the Westside template has worked amazingly well in-season in the AHL. Once a player has experienced the added jump that proper training can provide, they’re sold.

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