How to Get Bigger, Stronger and Faster for Ice Hockey
How can off-ice hockey training help boost your on-ice performance?
It's a question I hear all the time.
In this hockey training guide you'll discover how to add pounds to the bar, muscle to your frame, and improve your skating speed and power with dryland training techniques.
I have successfully used these same off-ice training methods and principles with hundreds of junior, D1 college and pro hockey players.
Check out the video below to see some of them going after it in their off-season training.
Hockey Training Myths That Hold You Back
After having coached athletes at all levels of competitive hockey for years, I'm still amazed how clueless many players are when it comes to sports performance training.
I'm sure you've heard most (if not all) of these disgusting hockey training myths that just don't seem to go away:
All complete and utter bullshit.
Follow that advice and you're going to remain one soft, injury-ridden weakling.
(Ask me how I know... I bought into that crap for years when I was younger with ZERO results to show for all my training efforts)
There's a better way to train and boost your hockey performance.
One that doesn't involve spending countless hours in the gym.
Or wasting $500 each month on bogus supplements.
Or beating your body into oblivion every workout.
What You Need to Focus on in Your Hockey Training
Think about all the physical qualities required to play hockey at an elite level:
You need to be strong.
And the list goes on...
But that doesn't mean each physical quality has to be given the same level of importance in your hockey training.
Lower body strength and power are the two most important factors in improving your performance.
A strong and fast hockey player will always have the upper hand against a slower and weaker opponent.
That's not to say all other physical attributes should be neglected.
It's just that adding two inches to your arms, shaving thirty seconds off your 5k time, or having the mobility of a female gymnast doesn't really add much - if anything - to your ability to play the game at a higher level.
Well, what does make a difference then?
I'm glad you asked.
Apply these 10 difference makers and you'll be well on your way to turning into a bigger, stronger and faster hockey player in no time.
#1: Lift Heavy to Build Strength and Size
There are no shortcuts here.
You get strong from lifting heavy weights. Not light weights.
If there's one thing I want every hockey player reading this to take to heart, it's this:
Beat the numbers written in your training journal
Pick a handful of big, basic exercises that train the major muscle groups in your body.
Some great exercise variations you can use:
Try to add a few pounds to the bar or squeeze out an extra rep or two over what you did last time. Then come back next week for another repeat.
If you did nothing else but focus on setting new PR's (personal records) - primarily in the 3-8 rep range - as often as possible, one day down the line you'd wake up realizing you can outlift most guys in the league.
Athletes who follow this method *always* end up far stronger and in better shape than when they first started.
Contrast that with all the people you see down at the local globo gym lifting the same weights, looking exactly the same as they did three years ago.
If you're not there to make consistent progress, why bother going to the gym at all?
After your first year or two of lifting, adding a couple pounds to the bar each week will no longer be sustainable in the long run.
At that point, you need to include more variety in your hockey training by changing exercises, set/rep schemes and rep tempo to keep the gains a-comin'.
But that's a bridge most hockey players never come close to crossing.
Because they fail to make any appreciable strength gains in the first place!
You don't need a fancy periodization scheme that requires a degree in rocket science when you can barely bench body weight or squat two plates.
What you need to do is drink a gallon of shut-the-fuck-up-and-get-to-work juice, then bust your ass going after strength gains.
How do you know if you're "strong enough"?
Here are some decent strength numbers to shoot for hockey players:
Thus, a hockey player weighing 80 kg / 175 pounds should be able to do the following (or be close to these numbers):
While those may look paltry in comparison to the insane weights you see 300-pound powerlifter behemoths moving on YouTube, achieving them will put you well above average among hockey players in ANY league in the world.
(Yes, even the pros you see on TV)
Once you reach those lifts, you'll have transformed into one strong, athletic, in-shape hockey player.
A good strength training program can get you there in a few years.
#2: Don't Chase Numbers
After hammering home the importance of beating your previous lifts above, I get to immediately contradict myself in #2.
The dark side of fast newbie gains is the impatience that comes with it.
Any athlete with a competitive streak will relish the sight of his numbers going up week after week.
But because progress happens so fast in the beginning - for example, I added over 100 kg to my deadlift within my first year of lifting even though I've got zero genetic giftedness for strength training - it's hard not to lose sight of the big picture.
Lifting for strength and performance is a long-term endeavor.
But you're too green to realize that.
You want to bench 300 and deadlift 500 pounds by the end of next month, dammit. Yesterday would have been even better.
Then you start calculating how quickly you'll get there...
"If I could add 5 pounds to my squat over the next 12 weeks, that would amount to a 60-pound improvement."
But progress, beyond the beginner stage, is not linear.
You can't force it. If you try to do so, your body will disagree with you sooner or later.
Rushing the training process only leads to one thing:
Creaky knees and cranky shoulders.
Hobbling around with back pain. Or applying ice packs on your elbow after a heavy bench press workout.
Before you know it, you've become THAT guy who's always complaining about how his sore back or tight hips are killing him.
(Again, ask me how I would know. Been there, done that too many times to count.)
Slow your roll. Stop chasing numbers.
So what if you go from squatting 225 to "only" 275 pounds instead of the 315 you oh-so-badly wanted to hit this off-season?
A 50-pound jump while staying healthy is a whole lot better than a 90-pound increase capped off by knee injury.
Axl Rose, while not talking specifically about off-ice hockey training, hit the bullseye when he sang:
"All we need is just a little patience"
Focus on showing up and putting in the work required to succeed.
Stick at it for years and you'll reach your goals eventually. That's all that matters.
#3: Use Great Lifting Form
One thing I'm especially proud of is that having witnessed thousands of combined max effort lifts at our gym, we have never had an injury caused by lifting a heavy weight.
Nobody ever blew out their back or knee going for a new max on squats or deadlifts.
I know many athletes shy away from those big barbell lifts because they fear injury. But I have the numbers and experience to back up my statement that lifting heavy weights is very safe - as long as these two things are kept in mind:
1. Build a base of technical proficiency first
Of course, I never have a beginner athlete jump into heavy singles, doubles or triples on day 1.
Beginners can use as little as 40% of their real 1RM (1-rep max) and still experience a training effect as their form improves, allowing them to handle even bigger weights in the future.
The first time I let a newbie lifter go for a very heavy weight is about four months into our off-season training program.
Even then, we stop at a weight which I refer to as a "soft max". Not a true, ugly, grinder max that takes five seconds to complete.
2. Never attempt a weight you know you won't be able to lift with good technique
Below in the video you can see an example of what I mean.
We were doing heavy max effort singles at the end of the off-season with our U18 team. One of my 16-year-olds went up to 205 kg / 452 pounds on trap bar deadlifts which turned out to be his max for the day.
Notice how he never loses tightness or allows his form to break down. We picked a weight, while heavy, he could approach with confidence based on his previous performance in the weeks leading up to this training session.
I should also mention he weighed 76 kg / 167 pounds on that day, making this a 2.7x BW lift. So he reached a 450-pound trap bar deadlift within only four months of training. Not bad!
Whenever you notice your form starts to break down during a set, swallow your ego.
Set over. Rack the bar. You're done.
Come back to lift another day instead of risking a stupid injury that could have been avoided.
#4: Use Bodyweight Exercises
Bodyweight training doesn't get much love because many people believe you can't build strength or muscle with bodyweight exercises.
But only if your idea of bodyweight training consists of 50-rep sets of air squats, walking lunges or sit-ups.
The key to making gains on bodyweight movements lies in continually challenging your body with something it's not used to doing.
As with barbell or dumbbell training, you want to train bodyweight movements in lower rep ranges.
Most of the time that means somewhere between 5-12 reps per set. Not the 20+ rep range people usually associate with bodyweight training.
And you still gotta apply progressive overloading by increasing intensity (i.e. adding resistance), doing more volume or moving on to a more challenging variation over time for your body to grow and get stronger.
Male gymnasts, especially ring specialists, display very impressive upper body development.
With insane strength levels to complement their muscular physiques.
And they train strictly bodyweight. That should tell you something.
Simply put, bodyweight training is invaluable for athletes.
When done right, it builds strength, muscle and keeps your joints healthy.
So if anyone claims bodyweight exercises can't make you strong or fit, they don't know what they're talking about.
Another benefit of bodyweight training is that it keeps your body fat levels in check by default.
How many fat people do you know who can do ten full range chin-ups?
(Hell, even most thin guys I see at the gym are too weak to do 10 chins... but that's a topic for another day)
When attempting to "bulk up" for mass, many go overboard by stuffing their face with too much food.
Adding 10-15 pounds to your frame in a few months...
Thinking it's all muscle because your big lifts - like the bench and squat - are still going up...
I've done it myself and have seen others do it too many times.
But if your chin-up, push-up or dip performance takes a hit, you're very likely adding more body fat than you thought.
Improving your numbers on these exercises and other advanced bodyweight movements ensures you stay lean enough for your sport.
#5: Lift With a High Frequency
As I'm writing this, I'm following a very high-frequency strength program. It involves lifting full body 6x/week.
Two key takeaways I have noticed so far on the program:
1. Strength gains have been better than on a 4x per week, upper/lower split that used to be my bread and butter for years.
2. I rarely ever experience muscle soreness.
While I wouldn't have any of my hockey players lift six times per week, high-frequency lifting blows training a muscle group or movement pattern only once a week right out of the water.
Strength is a skill. Just like playing an instrument is.
The more often you can practice in a recovered state, the faster your progress will be.
There's a reason why Olympic weightlifters and male gymnasts - arguably the two strongest groups of athletes pound-for-pound - train every day or close to every day.
The worst thing you can do for your performance - apart from not strength training at all - is lift with a low frequency.
Training a muscle group or movement pattern once a week does very little for strength gains but your muscles will get sore a lot easier.
And because no hockey player wants to step on the ice with sore and "heavy" legs, you scale back the weight on the bar and how much effort you put in, coasting through your workouts.
It's a cycle with no positive outcome in sight.
For comparison, my athletes lift weights 3-4 times per week in the summer. Full body twice per week even during hockey season. Soreness is not an issue.
There's absolutely no reason why you should do low-frequency training and plenty of reasons why you shouldn't.
Note: For a more detailed look at how I design strength training programs for my hockey players, click here.
#6: Don't Neglect Power
As Ben Prentiss - New York Rangers' strength and conditioning consultant and trainer to Martin St. Louis, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Quick and many more NHL players - once told me:
"You make them strong first.
Power is the cherry on the top."
So while maximal strength is important for a hockey player, it's not the key to unlocking top-level performance all by itself.
Too often I see athletes who think they'll become better at their sport just by squatting bigger weights.
Yes, building lower body strength can and often does improve speed - especially in weak beginners - but there comes a point where further strength gains don't automatically translate into running or skating faster.
If your workouts don't transfer over into your sport, then that's not smart training, is it?
But it's exactly what some athletes do.
They're chasing heavier weights and bigger numbers. At the cost of other physical qualities - mainly speed and power - that would add more jump to their game.
Without realizing it, they're training to improve performance on the powerlifting platform, not their sport.
A strong but slow athlete will have a tough time competing in hockey where skating speed and power play a huge role.
That's why your maximal strength training has to be complemented with fast movements.
The two best ways for that are Olympic lifting and jumping.
Olympic lifts improve your rate of force production and starting strength, giving you some much needed pop on those crucial first few steps.
Jump training (especially when using more reactive jump variations) is great for change-of-direction speed because you're teaching your body to accelerate, decelerate, and then accelerate again within a very short time.
Also bear in mind that jumping - or more accurately, learning to land the right way - increases your eccentric strength and strengthens the muscles that protect the knee.
Doing so is one of the most effective ways to decrease the risk of ACL injury so prevalent in sports today.
#7: Eat Real, Healthy Foods to Build Muscle and Lose Fat
While I'm a strength and conditioning coach by trade, I also find myself overtaking the role of a nutritionist time and time again.
Because too many athletes have got zero clue how to eat in a way that supports sports performance - and as a result, wobble around carrying too much body fat.
Over the years, I've seen junior and pro players weighing 20 pounds over their optimal playing weight.
Imagine skating around with a 20-pound weight vest on your back for 60 minutes.
You'd have zero jump in your skating.
By the end of a game, you'd have nothing left in the tank.
Excess body fat is useless for an athlete.
All it does is slow you down.
Working with a ton of junior hockey players, I have learned the first step toward shedding excess body fat starts at home because parents buy all the food in the fridge.
But the problem is that parents rarely know the first thing about sports performance nutrition. And many of them are fat or overweight themselves.
How are you going to teach your kid to eat healthy if you have no idea how to do it yourself?
And things aren't any better at school either. Teachers certainly don't know the first thing about training and eating for improving your body composition.
And many schools serve unhealthy food because it's fast and easy to whip up. Not to mention it fits the institution's tight lunch budget.
Knowing all this, if you're serious about eating in a way that improves your body composition and performance, the only thing you can do is take charge of your own meals.
Skip the pre-made meals.
Cook your own dishes.
Learn to read food labels.
Know your proteins, carbs and fats.
Then make these foods a staple in your diet and you'll be heads and shoulders above your peers:
Nobody gets fat munching on steaks and salad. It's the constant and excess consumption of sugary donuts, cereals, candy bars and other junk foods that drives your body fat up.
At the same time, your nutrition doesn't have to be perfect 24/7/365 to keep your body fat levels down and performance up. Having a slice of pizza or a glass of wine once in a while won't make a difference.
Stick to the foods listed above 90% of the time and you can't go wrong.
#8: Use Supplements Sparingly
Contrary to what many of us have been led to believe, you can make excellent strength and performance gains without ever using any supplements.
That said, here is a short list of supplements that I consider essential for athletes:
What you won't hear me recommend?
Mass gainers, "performance boosters", or fat loss pills.
Save your money on that useless crap.
Even protein powder is not a mandatory supplement as long as you get enough protein from real food (which you will if you're eating the first three items on the list above in #7).
And unlike what all the muscle magazines want you to believe... no, you don't need to chug down protein shakes all day to satisfy your daily protein intake of 300 grams.
Just remember that supplements exist to *supplement* regular meals in your diet, not replace them.
#9: Condition Wisely
I'm baffled how many guys still believe jogging mile after mile will make them better hockey players.
It's 2018. Not 1988. Wake up! The aerobics hype should long be over.
Running at a steady pace for 45 minutes, thinking it will prepare you for success in a game where first step quickness and short bursts of power are everything, defies all logic.
Change-of-direction speed and repeat sprinting ability are way more important than being able to go forever on third gear.
Thus, you should use conditioning methods that enhance your ability to keep up a high tempo without witnessing a dip in your speed and stamina in the second half of a game.
These are some of my favorite conditioning methods I use with athletes:
Lifting weights can only provide the stimulus for your body to get bigger and stronger.
Strength gains and muscle growth take place outside of the gym.
I could hand you the greatest hockey training program ever written but if you're constantly stressing about nonsense, boozing away the weekends chasing skirt, or spending all your waking hours trying to get ahead in the rat race, then you'll end up with crappy (or at least, far from optimal) results.
Here are some excellent ways that allow your body and mind to recuperate:
There you have it.
A detailed blueprint for getting in the best shape of your life.
Only thing left for you to do?
Putting in the work required for success and experiencing outstanding results firsthand.
P.S. If you're looking for a hockey training program to build muscle, gain strength, and improve your speed and power, give Next Level Hockey Training 2.0 a go.
It's a complete workout plan used by NHL draft picks, pro hockey players and World Champs.
Check it out and grab your copy of Next Level Hockey Training 2.0 HERE.
If you enjoyed this article, please do a brother a favor by liking, commenting and sharing it with others who might dig it as well.