Can You Get Stronger During Hockey Season?
There's a disgusting myth being parroted all around the hockey world.
I'm sick and tired of hearing it. So I'm here to set the record straight.
What is this myth I'm talking about?
That you can't get stronger during hockey season. And therefore, you should just focus on maintaining whatever gains you made in the off-season.
This is all laughable to me because my athletes have proven this "rule" wrong many times over.
Every year, they were hitting personal bests on our heavy main lifts like trap bar deadlifts and power cleans late into the regular season, sometimes just a couple of weeks before the playoffs.
Alright, so let's take a step back and ask ourselves:
Why is year-round strength training so important?
Because losing strength is directly tied with a loss in muscle mass.
And when you lose muscle, assuming your weight stays the same, your body fat percentage goes up.
So now you're not only fatter and weaker, you're also less explosive because you no longer possess as much strength and muscle to generate power as you did at the start of the season.
The irony is that the do or die games are played in the spring. Yet most hockey players are in the worst physical shape of their season at that point.
You don't want to be one of them. Lifting heavy is not an option, it's mandatory.
There's only one instance I can think of where maintenance training is okay - and that's at the professional level.
Too many games, too much travel and only winning matters.
Jobs are on the line, so no head coach in their right mind will let the strength coach run frequent hard workouts because it will negatively affect the team's performance in the next game.
A few bad losing performances in a row, and the head coach (along with his strength coach) will soon find himself without a job.
But at the junior, college and men's amateur level - yes, I'm talking to all you beer leaguers out there - things are different. There's less pressure to win games and team schedules allow for more systematic off-ice training.
Here's what to keep in mind to make continuous gains throughout hockey season:
(If you’d rather watch than read about how to get stronger all year long… Check out the video below.)
Stick to Low Frequency, Full-Body Training
My hockey players lift 4 times per week on an upper/lower split in the summer.
But because on-ice activity takes priority during hockey season, we gotta dial back on how often we train in the weight room.
Two strength training sessions per week hits the sweet spot. It's enough to stimulate strength gains but not too much that your on-ice performance will suffer.
Just be sure to stick to low frequency, full-body workouts.
That's right... No upper/lower split and definitely no body part splits. Otherwise, you're hitting each muscle group only once per week which is FAR from optimal.
Drop the Volume...
With multiple hockey practices and games each week, you've got to bring training volume down significantly from what you did in the off-season.
Fail to do that, and you won't be able to recover fully between all on- and off-ice activities.
There's no need to throw in extra volume just for volume's sake. If anything, it will only make you more sore. As little as 2-3 hard, quality sets per exercise is enough to make progress on a smart off-ice program.
In general, you'll want to keep the number of sets per workout below 20 during in-season strength sessions.
... But Don't Skimp on Intensity
As always, when talking about intensity, I'm not referring to the perceived difficulty of an exercise but the weight on the bar relative to your 1RM.
When the goal is to build strength, heavy weight is where it's at.
This doesn't mean you should be lifting singles, doubles and triples every week throughout the season.
It means most of your work should be done in the 3-8 rep range (depending on the exercise) while dipping lower or going higher in reps every now and then.
Sample In-Season Strength Program
Time to put everything we've covered so far into action now...
Here's a sample in-season strength program I created for one of my Women's National Team players:
(She followed my in-season training plan and won a National Championship, was nominated First All-Star, and took home a silver medal with Team Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Championship)
1) Power Clean from Hang 3-4 x 5
2a) DB Split Squat 3-4 x 5
2b) DB Floor Press 3-4 x 5
3a) 1-Leg DB Romanian Deadlift 3-4 x 6
3b) EZ Bar Row 3-4 x 8-10
3c) 1/2 Kneeling Pallof Press 3-4 x 6-8
1) 1 Arm DB Snatch 3-4 x 3-5
2a) Box Squat 3-4 x 5
2b) Chin-Up 3-4 x 5
3a) 15-30° Incline DB Bench Press 3-4 x 6
3b) Hip Thrust 3-4 x 6
3c) Ab Wheel 3-4 x 8-12
If you do the math, she does up to 24 sets per workout. This is above the 20 sets per session guideline I mentioned before.
There's a few reasons for this:
1. She can power clean 135 pounds and squat 200 pounds but from a training age standpoint, she's still a beginner lifter. Beginners can recover faster from higher volumes than stronger, more advanced athletes.
2. She wants to play college hockey next season. Everything we do in training is designed to prepare her for that. Where she's at right now, the higher training volume might cause some fatigue at times but will lead to better progress in the long-term.
3. Women can handle more volume than men at the same relative intensity.
4. You can do more volume early in the fall when players are not worn out from a long and heavy hockey season yet. The above is Phase 2 of her in-season program.
If you want to see how exactly my athletes crush personal records all season long, then check out my Next Level Hockey Training program.
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