When I was playing minor hockey in the 90’s, to see other players participate in off-ice training was a rarity. After all, hockey was all about having fun. As I got older, I realized I wanted to play as long as I could and at the highest level possible, and that to do that’d I’d have to take the game more seriously. As I progressed up through my junior, college, and pro career, it became pretty obvious that these higher level leagues were filled with players who had been devoting time to their off-ice fitness, as well as further developing their on-ice skills; and that the players who chose to rely purely on their natural talent to progress, rather than add any extra-curricular fitness methodologies to their repertoire, all seemed to vanish from team rosters. As the level of play I competed at elevated, my natural skills for the game seemed to average out compared to other players; mostly because the level of competition and talent I played against increased at every increment. Moves I could make and goals I could score at lower levels became progressively more inadmissible the higher level I played at. I had to find a way to adapt my game if I were to have any success, and advance further in the game, as I aspired to. Devotion to off-ice training became an absolute necessity, and without it, I doubt I would have made it as far in hockey as I did. One of the most inspiring and applicable quotes I’ve heard in regards to this transition is, “Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard.” Just ask the 8th seeded 2010 Montreal Canadiens about this idea, after beating the talent laden 1st place Washington Capitals and the previous year’s Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in last year’s NHL playoffs.
The difference in hockey training that sticks out most to me when I compare my generation to the current one is that unlike when I was young and only a few players were committed to their off-ice training, it seems that nowadays any player that is remotely serious about furthering their hockey career has acknowledged the need to improve their physical fitness away from the rink. So now that the secret is out and the standard just to be average is set so high, the challenge for young hockey players hoping to move up the ladder is to decipher a way to rise above the already high median and stick out in a positive and attractive way.
My suggestion for accomplishing this task is the notion of training smarter. While it’s great to attend summer hockey camps, spring leagues, enroll in hockey academies, and explore other methods in getting ahead of the curve, those large group setting models may not be the most beneficial for player improvement, and can prove quite costly as well. Individual attention may be minimized, and a personalized program tailored to a player’s unique goals and attributes likely gets waived in favour of a general set of standards that everyone is expected to achieve. Whether you’re a centerman, left-winger, right-winger, defenceman, or goaltender; every position has a unique on-ice job description that requires different motions and actions to be performed, and different muscles to be activated in different scenarios. So how would a goaltender specifically benefit from partaking in the same program as a forward, when both will need to be strong in completely different ways in a game?
You may or may not be familiar with the term, “Periodization”. This is breaking a season up into smaller focus points: pre-season, in-season, post-season, and off-season. The concept helps to identify which training methods are most appropriate to a player’s development, and when. For example, the way off-season weight training focuses on heavy weight/low repetitions for maximum strength gains is nearly polar opposite to the post-season phase (playoffs), where players focus on simple maintenance of their strength and cardio, and may not lift more than their own body weight while weight training. Because different levels of hockey hold their playoffs at different points in the season, it is imperative that a player’s workout routine enables him or her to peak at the correct point in the season. Minor hockey will generally finish around March, while junior hockey can continue on until May, college hockey can last until late March/early April, and of course the NHL can take until June to complete. If a player’s body is not trained to adapt to and endure this changing but predictable schedule, they likely will not compete at their optimal level, at the time when their team needs them the most.
This is where a Personal Trainer can become an invaluable resource to a player. Often times, players will string together routines based on what others have told them, or perhaps on their own intuition. And more often than not, these workouts degrade into “beach workouts”, featuring chest, biceps, and abs exercises only. While they may indeed put on size and strength this way, their sport specific improvements will likely be limited. Working with a fitness professional can optimize a player’s development by maximizing their off-ice efficiency and gains, translating those improvements into a more effective on-ice product, showing you testable results, and navigating you down the quickest route to obtaining your fitness goals.
If you are a hockey player aspiring to advance to the next level and beyond, do yourself a favour and seek out a qualified Personal Trainer to keep you on track, no matter what phase your season is in. After all, the last day of the season is also the first day towards next season. Use your training time wisely and give yourself the best chance possible to be a stand-out player next year. If training smarter sounds like something you would benefit from, I’d be more than happy to work with you this summer to motivate, educate, and create a program that will spur you on towards being the best player you can be next season and beyond.
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