By: Kevin Neeld
Most youth hockey programs get 1-2 hours a week for off-ice training. In the last two articles I’ve gone over dynamic warm-ups and core training, the most important two forms of training that every hockey player should be doing. Taken together, the warm-up and core training generally takes the first 15 minutes of each session. That doesn’t leave much time for everything else. This makes it that much more important that hockey players don’t waste their time with garbage training.
While speed, agility, and quickness training and conditioning are generally viewed as separate entities, they can be combined in the interest of saving time. The key is to really understand the demands of hockey. Speed is one of the most important skills of the game, but top speed is rarely reached and when it is, it’s almost never maintained for very long before a player will need to change direction. As a result, the abilities to start explosively, stop quickly, and change direction rapidly are much more desirable than simply being fast in a straight line. To be overly simplistic, hockey-specific speed is really just well-designed agility training.
When designing hockey-specific agility drills, you’ll want to:
1) Include what I refer to as proactive and reactive drills. Proactive means that the path and direction changes are pre-determined. The player must move through the drill as quickly as possible. Reactive means the player’s movement is in response to some other stimulus, usually in the form of a partner (mirror drills) or coach (command drills).
2) Include movement changes specific to hockey. Hockey players often have to transition between forward, backward, diagonal and lateral movements. Agility drills should reflect these movement changes. For instance, you could design a circuit of agility drills that involve a 5 yard back pedal to a 5 yard sprint in the diagonal forward direction (45° turn); then a 5 yard back pedal to a 5 yard sprint in a lateral direction (90° turn); then a 5 yard back pedal to a 5 yard sprint in the backward diagonal direction (135° turn); etc. You could also mix in shuffling, crossover steps, and different starting positions (forward, backward, lateral, push-up position) to maximize the on-ice carryover.
3) Include speed changes specific to hockey. While I made it a point to acknowledge that top speed isn’t maintained for long, it’s important to understand that many of the direction changes in hockey occur at near-top speeds. Also, many max effort sprints don’t begin from a stationary position. Your off-ice training should reflect this. Include longer range accelerations (20-30 yards) with a quick deceleration and direction change (similar to a pattern a wide receiver may run). Include agility circuits that start with a speed build-up. This allows the athlete to practice accelerating from a moving position, which is usually the way it happens on the ice.
If you consider all of these things while designing your agility drills, you should be able to maximize the effectiveness of your speed, agility and quickness training while minimizing your training time. Switching gears a bit, a lot of these same concepts can be applied to a hockey specific conditioning. Again, analyze the demands of hockey. Do hockey players skate at a low or medium intensity for several minutes at a time? Not if they’re any good! Most players and coaches recognize that the average shift is 30-60 seconds, followed by AT LEAST twice that much time of rest. This means that hockey specific interval training would involve work to rest ratios of 1:2 at the low-end and 1:6 at the high end. However, while a shift may last 60 seconds, shifts almost NEVER involve maximal effort skating throughout the entire duration. Usually there’s a quick sprint, then a glide, then lighter skate to a new position, then another quick sprint, etc. In other words, most shifts are characterized by multiple short, high-intensity sprints followed by brief resting periods.
To maximize the hockey specificity of your conditioning, high intensity multi-directional movements should be used. As an example, I’ve used 10-yard repeat sprints from a push-up starting position as a conditioning exercise. The athletes explode up from a push-up position, sprint 10 yards, then walk back and immediately repeat for 4-6 reps. Then they take a few minute break before repeating the interval. That’s just an example. You could also use a partner mirror drill as a conditioning tool. Have one player be a leader, another a follower. The leader can move within a pre-determined area or along a pre-determined path and the follower must mirror the movements exactly. Let them go for 15 seconds or so, rest 15 seconds, then switch roles for an interval, then rest for a couple minutes before repeating everything again. Depending on the length of the work intervals, I generally keep conditioning down between 3-8 work intervals. I may use 3 work intervals for something like a 300 yard shuttle run with cones at 0 and 25, and 8 intervals for something like 20s lateral mirror drills (4 repetitions as the leader and 4 as the follower). Starting to get the picture? The idea is to build a higher work capacity by maintaining a high workload, while still providing adequate rest to maintain a high intensity. Usually conditioning should last about 10-15 minutes.
If you follow all the principles outlined in this article, you can effectively improve hockey-specific speed, agility, quickness, and conditioning in less than 30 minutes. By incorporating a well-designed dynamic warm-up and core training program, you can drastically improve on-ice performance in less than two hours a week. Now with all the tools, the only missing ingredient in the success formula is your unparalleled determination to outwork your opponent. Keep working hard. Your results will speak for themselves.
Kevin Neeld is the President, COO, and Director of Athletic Development of Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ and the author of Ultimate Hockey Training, the most comprehensive off-ice training resource available today. Through the creative application of innovative training and injury prevention techniques, Kevin specializes in guiding athletes in all sports to optimal health and performance. For more information on training with Kevin and to sign up for his free hockey training newsletter, visit http://KevinNeeld.com!