Speed is critical in today’s game whether you are a defenceman or a forward. Forwards need to be fast to get to loose pucks, get in position, and of course accelerate and skate into the offensive zone. Defencemen need to be fast for all those same reasons and to catch those forwards! Look at all the top players over the last few years, Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby… what do they all have in common? That one commonality is that you often see them with a step or two on opponents creating open ice for themselves. On the flip side, defencemen such as Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Victor Hedman are all not only responsible defensively, but have the speed and agility to jump up on the rush and help out offensively at any time.
Strength is the other side of the equation that we cannot forget. Hockey players do not need strength like an NFL player, but they need to be strong in comparison to their fellow NHL players in order to not be knocked off the puck, and be effective along the boards. Most hockey players unless extremely young or undersized, train for strength and not hypertrophy. We will discuss the difference below.
Hockey Speed Training
Seeing Connor McDavid burn down the wing and around defenceman these days is a mainstay on hockey highlight reels. Every player should focus on maximizing their speed in today’s game as it is more important than ever before. Look at teams like the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks. 3-5 years ago they were the top teams in the league due to their massive, bruising style of play. Over the past few years their effectiveness has waned due to the games amazing transition to speed.
Keys to being fast in hockey –
1. Being in Shape – Very few NHL players today are overweight or out of shape. You simply can’t keep up if you are carrying extra pounds! If you are overweight, check out our article on training to lose weight with hockey
2. Being Explosive – Plyometric and resistance training are key here. By training your fast twitch muscle fibers to be in peak shape, you will put yourself in the best position to be a fast explosive player
3. Skating Technique – Skating to maximize force transfer to the ice, and also skating efficiently are key here. We will go over some technique notes below for you to become the best skater possible.
Expanding on the three keys to Hockey Speed –
1. Being In Shape
We all know that you have to be in shape to be a top hockey player. There is no two ways around it, the most natural talent in the world will only take you so far if your physical conditioning is lagging. Check our link above if you need to drop weight!
2. Being Explosive
Plyometric training is key here to be explosive in the game of hockey. What is plyometric training? Take a look at the video below for a brief explanation.
Now that you know what plyometric training is, here is a VERY small sample of some super effective plyo exercises for hockey players –
Alternate Leg Lateral Bound – For this exercise start with your feet shoulder width apart, jump first to the right, landing with your right lead leg, and as quickly as possible exploding diagonally forward and to the left. Do this for around 50 feet of distance, and rest a minute before going back.
Split Squat Jumps into Sprint – Start in a split squat stance, and jump up for 3-4 split squats, and when you land on the last one explode into a sprint for 50-75 yards
Box Jumps – I know what you are thinking – why do hockey players need to jump high? You are completely right. That is why when you see players training by jumping on boxes stacked 3 to 4 feet in the air, this is usually unnecessary. Find a box 3 feet or shorter, and practice jumping onto it and finishing in a position similar to what you started with. This trains your nervous system for first step explosiveness. Below is a great video explaining explosive power training.
These are some examples of a plyometric circuit you could use to develop your first step speed and overall speed. You are training your fast twitch muscle fibers and central nervous system for explosiveness and speed. Try doing each of the above exercises 4-6 times with a minute rest between sets and 5 minutes between exercises!
3. Skating Technique
Skating Technique is one of the fastest evolving and most dynamic parts of todays game. Merely 10 years ago the prevailing school of thought was to stay low to the ground and keep the lower body still while skating and flicking your toes at the end of your stride. Fast forward to today and seeing players like Connor McDavid, Nathan Mackinnon, and Mathew Barzal, how do they get going so fast? Watch the below video by Sportsnet on Connor’s skating style
Crossovers! As you can see, with the exception of Connor’s last breakaway, he is constantly crossing his feet over for acceleration. Why is this so important? If you skate in a straight line, it is easier for defenders and opposing players to adjust to where you are going. If you are accelerating forwards at the same time as moving laterally, it makes it almost impossible for players skating backwards to match your path and speed.
This is where the plyometric training is so important. If you see how small Connor’s strides are, you must understand how absolutely explosive each tiny movement is. McDavid and many other NHL superstars train with Gary Roberts in the off season, often thought of as one of the best (certainly most prolific) hockey trainers of all time. You can bet the guys at his camp are working on their explosive crossovers all summer long!
There are a million little nuances in becoming an amazing skater, but if you focus on mimicking the skating style above, coupled with explosive plyometric training, you will undoubtedly be one of the fastest and most dynamic skaters on the ice.
Hockey Strength Training
Being strong is of the utmost importance for hockey players. There is no way around it. You need to be strong for so many reasons. We will try to envelope all those reasons in the following categories –
Translatable Strength – While it is great to put up the biggest bench or squat numbers when competing with your friends, these numbers need to translate to your sport. You need to be strong not only in general but also in the plane of motion of your sport. For hockey, this is the lateral and forward planes of motion
Top Speed – The stronger you are, theoretically the more force you can put into every stride you take. By increasing your strength without dramatically increasing your weight, you increase your potential for speed and acceleration
Injury Prevention – If you are getting destroyed by big hits and tossed around day in and day out, you will log less games, and be wasting more time with rehab training that you could instead be focusing on strength and speed training! Injuries are not always completely preventable, but becoming stronger and more flexible will help you stay in the action as much as possible. To really prevent injuries, you must train smart and also actively increase and train flexibility.
Types of Strength Training
There are different rep ranges that are generally accepted as doing different things for those who exercise. Here are the most commonly accepted rep ranges and what they train
Strength Training – 1 to 5 Reps
This rep range is for maximum strength training. The loads will be closer to your max, and due to the high loads, this is where many people get injured. If you train in this rep range, you MUST make sure your form is impeccable. Even worse than injuring yourself on ice is injuring yourself in the gym! This rep range requires long rest periods, usually between 2 – 4 minutes per set
Mass Training – 6 to 15 reps
This rep range is used to build muscle size, and is commonly called the hypertrophy range. You are still lifting hard here, and are maximizing your muscles time under tension which in turn breaks more muscle fibers down which your body repairs and builds up to better withstand your next training session. Hockey training will often go into this rep range as it also engages your bodies lactic acid system, which we want to train and improve to keep that burning feeling out of your legs for as long as possible! One to two minutes of rest is ideal for putting on mass.
Endurance Training – 15 reps +
This rep range taps into your bodies aerobic system. This rep range is not as commonly trained for hockey players since explosiveness (strength training zone) and endurance (lactic acid zone, or where your muscles start burning) are two systems that can really be improved and give a player great results through training.
Flexibility Training – In the past it was thought that static stretching (think sitting on the ground and trying to touch your toes) helped with flexibility. While static stretching still has its place, dynamic stretching is now utilized much more for warm ups and range of motion training. See the below video for an extremely well done example of dynamic stretching and how it is done! Do this before your workouts, or whenever you want to increase your range of motion. Remember to only ever to static stretching when you are finished training and ready to cool down! Static stretching before a workout is a big no-no.
Best Exercises For Overall Strength
I will go over some of the best movements to train you to be a stronger individual and player. There are going to be no surprises and whacky exercises here, these are tried and true strength building movements that engage primary and secondary muscles at the same time to strengthen the entire body.
Movement – Squat
Variations – High bar squat, low bar squat, safety bar squat, front squat, single leg squat, pistol squat
The squat is a mainstay in strength and conditioning as it hits so many muscles and is a very functional exercise. Back squats focus more on the backside muscles like hamstrings and glutes, a front squat is more quad dominant. Mix all of them into your training to get over strength increases.
Movement – Deadlift
Variations – Conventional Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, Trap Bar Deadlift, Rack Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Stiff Leg Deadlift
The deadlift really hits the posterior chain and is great for training that explosive first step. Many people these days actually use the trap bar deadlift as a prime exercise for sprinters. I would suggest focusing on the trap bar deadlift, and mix in some single leg work for balance and coordination, as well as conventional to round the training out.
Movement – Bench Press
Variations – Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Cable Press, Plyo Pushups
The Bench Press and all its various versions all train your pushing power. This will translate into stronger shots, hits, and bulletproofing your body to take the punishment a hockey game delivers game in and game out. We would suggest working in alot of standing press work if possible, as this most closely mimics your bodies position and actions on the ice.
Rowing and Pulldowns will train your back. A strong back is key for balance and stability when you are deep in the corners or battling for position anywhere on the ice. If you are young and playing lots of hockey and are active, a 1:1 push pull ratio should suit you fine. If you are older and work a sedentary job, try to do a 1:2 push pull ratio workout to offset the effects of sitting for long periods of the day.
Movement – Row and Pulldowns
Variations – Barbell Row, T-Bar Row, Lat Pulldowns, Chinups, Pullups, Dumbbell Rows
Example Hockey Training Program
We will break down an example 4 day training program, using the push pull methodology and incorporating some Plyometric speed work. For all the weight training, you need to asses your own strength and abilities, and adjust your weights so that you are pushing yourself, but not to the point of failure. Training to failure can be very taxing on the nervous system and should not be done often, especially if maximum strength is not your only goal, which for us it is not.
10 minute dynamic warm up – Jogging, Dynamic Stretching, etc
Plyo – Box Jumps 10 reps x 4 sets
Trap Bar Deadlift – 5 reps x 4 sets
Standing Cable Chest Press – 10 reps x 4 sets
Reverse Lunges – 8 reps per side x 4 sets
RKC Plank – 3 sets x 30 seconds
5 minute Cool Down
10 minute dynamic warm up – Bike, Toes to hands, Skipping Rope
Plyo – Lateral Jumps – 50 feet x 4, 2 minutes rest between sets
Explosive Front Squat – 10 reps x 4 sets
Barbell Row – 10 reps x 4 sets
Bulgarian Split Squats – 8 Reps / side x 4 sets
Toes to Bar – 10 reps x 3 sets
5 minute Cool Down
No weights, light 20 minute job if desired, dynamic flexibility work
10 minutes dynamic warm up – Row, High Knees, Jumping Jacks
Plyo – Depth Jumps 10 reps x 4 sets
Conventional Deadlift – 5 reps x 4 sets
Single Arm Dumbbell Bench press – 8 reps / side x 4 sets
Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts – 10 reps / side x 3 sets
Ab Rollouts – 10 reps x 3 sets
5 minute Cool Down
10 minutes dynamic warm up – Jog, Feet to Bum, Mountain Climbers
Plyo – Explosive Broad Jumps – 10 reps x 5 sets
Safety Bar Squat (Barbell Back Squat if not available) – 5 reps x 4 sets (explosive!)
Pull Ups – 10 reps x 4 sets – (If you can get more than 10 hold a DB between feet)
Dumbbell Step Up – 10 reps / side x 4 sets (Step up with purpose)
Face Pulls – 10 reps x 3 sets
Hanging Knee Raises – 20 reps x 3 sets
5 minute Cool Down
There you have it! If you have no previous experience weight training, please see an experienced trainer first to nail your form before you try your own program. Remember the most important thing about strength and speed training is to not get hurt!
If you are looking for full 8 – 16 weeks training programs, send us an email and we can refer you to trainers who have experience working with NHL and WHL players!
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