13 Best Hockey Exercises For Strength & Speed
Browsing online last night, I came across an article titled "Top 10 Lower Body Exercises For Hockey Players".
Aside from trap bar deadlifts, split squats, lunges, and hip thrusts, the author – who shall remain unnamed to protect the guilty – listed these movements as his favorites for getting athletes strong:
* Goblet squats
* Cossack squats
* Box step-offs
You could argue how goblet squats groove your squatting mechanics, how Cossack squats improve mobility, and how box step-offs target the vastus medialis (an underdeveloped quad muscle in most hockey players).
And you'd be right.
But to list them as the "best" hockey exercises for strength??
Nobody in the history of training has gotten STRONG from goblet squats or step-offs!
Because that's the whole point of lifting weights – to get jacked!!
It's obvious the author of said "article" doesn't know how to get hockey players STRONG, nor has he ever done so based on the simple fact I couldn't find any evidence of an athlete lifting impressive weights on his program.
Why in the world would anyone take training advice from a self-professed hockey training goo-roo who can't produce results?
Let me make one thing clear:
THIS isn't one of those rubbish fluff pieces written by some Monday morning quarterback who can't back up his claims with proof.
Everything I'm about to tell you over the next few minutes has been tested and proven to work with hundreds of elite junior, D1 college, and pro athletes.
Here's one of my hockey pros in the Finnish Elite League, Nikolas Matinpalo, deadlifting 225 kg / 495 pounds with ease.
Now that I've got your attention, let's cover the 13 best hockey exercises you should do.
We can divide them into two categories:
1) Exercises that make you bigger and stronger
2) Exercises that maximize your speed and power output
We'll start with movements that transform you from a skinny weakling to a lean, muscular stud athlete.
7 Best Hockey Exercises For Strength
For young, physically underdeveloped athletes, NOTHING you do off the ice beats gaining strength and lean muscle mass.
Forget all the wobble boards, resistance band drills, agility ladder workouts, and other bullshyt peddled by social media fitness goo-roos.
Getting JACKED is the real game changer!
Stronger body = more speed, more power, more stability.
You only need a handful of hockey exercises to get the job done in the gym.
On a list of fundamental hockey exercises, the barbell back squat earns its place right at the top.
It should be a staple in every athlete's routine when the goal is to build strong legs and explosive first steps.
Guys who complain about shoulder or lower back issues squatting with a straight bar should switch to a safety bar.
Thanks to the position of the handles in front of you, there's zero stress on the shoulders.
The center of mass of the weight is also lower, so you maintain a more upright, back-friendly position.
Whether you squat with an Olympic barbell or a safety bar, the important thing is you get stronger.
A calf-to-hamstring back squat of around 1.8x body weight indicates you're close to reaching your speed potential from heavy lifting.
Read more about strength standards for hockey players in Chapter 9 in my book Strength Training For Ice Hockey.
Whereas almost every hockey player uses some variation of squats (back, front, box, safety bar) in his program, deadlifts are often nowhere to be found.
Poor technique, fear of back injury, or just plain laziness.
Deadlifts are hard work. Even harder than squats. So tons of athletes shy away from them.
I talk about the importance of deadlifting for hockey performance in this video:
Unless you strengthen the backside of your body (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back) with the same volume and intensity normally reserved for the quads, you can forget about becoming the fastest version of yourself.
Trap bar, sumo, and snatch-grip deadlifts are my top three picks for building a STRONG posterior chain.
A solid goal to shoot for on the first two variations?
3x body weight.
Hit that, and there's no way you will have weak anything in your lower body.
If I had to pick a single upper body exercise to get strong on, it would be the weighted chin-up.
You could build a ripped back from this one movement alone.
Tons of hockey players do nothing but bodyweight reps.
Stop wasting your time!
Grab a belt, add some plates, and pull your chin over the bar.
50 kg / 110 pounds is a decent result many pro guys (and even men's rec league players!) hit on my program.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Can you imagine training any male athlete for strength and size without the barbell bench press?
Hard to picture since guys spend more time chasing 225, 315, 405 on the bench press than in any other lift.
But here's the truth few strength coaches will tell you:
You can build plenty of muscle mass and strength in your chest, shoulders, and triceps with the dumbbells alone.
Since they don't force you into a fixed position against the bench, thus letting you use the most comfortable elbow angle for your body, dumbbells are also safer.
Piling on the plates as you pursue a big bench press can aggravate the shoulders, elbows, or wrists.
Dumbbells don't beat you up anywhere near as much.
Powerlifters have to take that risk if they want to succeed in their sport.
Hockey players don't.
From a health and longevity perspective, dumbbell bench presses beat barbell bench presses – to quote legendary Pittsburgh Penguins play-by-play man Mike Lange – "like a rented mule!"
Besides, once you can bench a pair of 100-pounders for 10 reps, I guarantee you won't have a small chest anymore.
Getting up there should keep you busy for a while.
Chest Supported Row
Bent-over barbell and dumbbell rows are great exercises for sculpting a jacked back.
One small problem, though...
Many athletes focus only on moving the biggest loads possible through space, feeling NOTHING in their upper back or lats during rows.
Guys channeling their inner Tiger Woods here think their cheating ways won't catch up to them.
All that heave-hoeing the weights up and down will only serve to grow your ego, nothing else.
That's where chest supported rows come in.
Since your legs are out of play, cheating just got a lot harder.
It's like putting a chastity belt on. You maintain the purity and sanctity of the girl you want to get jiggy with rowing.
This forces you to use a lighter resistance. Which is actually a good thing.
Now you can focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together and feeling the movement in your upper back – THAT's what builds muscle.
Hatfield Split Squat
Super heavy single-leg squats used to give me headaches for a long time.
On one hand, my program produced leg gains I have never seen replicated anywhere else in junior hockey.
My best 17-year-olds could breeze through split squats with 300+ pounds on the bar – something you won't often see even in the NHL.
Once you're closing in on double bodyweight loads, balance (not strength!) becomes the limiting factor.
When you're holding that much weight on your back or in a rack position in a single-leg stance, one slight misstep could lead to catastrophic damage.
So I never really pushed my strongest athletes to their absolute max. I'd rather use 30 pounds less than risk an avoidable adductor strain or back injury.
Then, in 2019, stars aligned:
I discovered the Hatfield split squat.
Using a safety bar, you hold on to a pair of safeties or power rack uprights for stability.
This lets you lift brutally heavy weights, safely, because you no longer have to worry about losing your balance.
If you want to take the movement a notch further, elevate your back leg. Enjoy the quad pain from Bulgarian Hatfield split squats!
Best Hockey Exercises For Speed
For weaker, lower level athletes strength training IS speed training.
Just by pushing up your maxes, you will get faster.
That said, keep in mind:
The stronger you become, the less your speed and power will benefit from gaining extra strength in the gym.
Past a certain point, adding more weight on the bar ceases to produce a faster, more explosive you.
But – and it's a big but – most guys never reach that point.
For more details on how much strength hockey players should gain to maximize their speed and power, check out Strength Training For Ice Hockey.
Stronger, more experienced athletes must shift their focus from gym PRs to using the strength they already have more efficiently to gain more speed.
That's where these six hockey exercises come in.
Hockey players should sprint mostly in the 5-30 meter range.
This range matches the acceleration and top speed skating distances a hockey player covers on the ice in the majority of game situations.
Aside from a typical two- or three-point stance, throw in other starting positions once in a while. Such as:
* Half-kneeling facing forward
* Half-kneeling facing sideways
* Lying on your back and rolling over to your stomach before getting up into a sprint
You can also combine hurdle jumps with sprints.
These variations add an element of randomness to an otherwise predictable activity (running in a straight line over a specific distance).
You won't always be facing straight ahead when you're called on to turn the jets on and blast past your man in a game situation.
Don't go overboard with the resistance.
Keep it light. Too much weight will slow you down, turning this from a sprint into a drag.
While heavy sled drags also have value in speed development (which I have written about elsewhere), we want fast sprints here.
Filip Lindberg and Kasper Kotkansalo, two of my NHL draft picks, are using a 20 kg (45 lb) plate in this video:
Power Clean From Hang
Many trainers hesitate to use hang power cleans with hockey players because "it's too technical".
Get outta here with that crap!
This is nothing but a lame excuse that reflects a trainer's inability to coach athletes to perform the movement the right way, rather than an athlete's inability to perform it.
I've taught newbies to hang power clean with good technique in one session.
All my most explosive athletes have high power cleans relative to their body weight.
1.25x body weight is a decent result.
1.5x body weight hurls you to the top of the pack on any professional team.
This is NHL forward Kasper Björkqvist cleaning 130 kg / 286 pounds for a smooth triple as a college junior.
Power Snatch From Hang
From a performance standpoint, power cleans and power snatches are interchangeable.
As long as your numbers go up using good technique, you will enjoy similar gains in power.
Watch the part about hang power snatches starting at 4:08 in this video:
Many hockey players have immobile wrists, so they struggle with catching the bar with high elbows in the clean.
I don't let these athletes clean. They are better off snatching to avoid excessive wrist strain, which could lead to an injury.
The downside is, many hockey players also lack shoulder mobility. So violently throwing a bar overhead can cause more problems than it solves.
Whether a hockey player performs Olympic lift variations as a regular part of his program or not, lifting weights alone won't maximize your speed.
For that, you must also jump.
If there's one off-ice exercise that comes naturally to hockey athletes, it's the lateral bound.
Compared to soccer, football, or baseball players, hockey players look downright graceful (that's a first!) leaping sideways off one leg and landing on the other.
The lateral bound mimics the skating action and there's tremendous carryover between the two.
The more ground you can cover here, the more power you'll have behind your push-off on the ice.
Popularized by Soviet sports scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky, depth jumps are the best kept secret powerful athletes use to get even more explosive.
To give you an idea, I can't remember seeing a single hockey training program (outside of mine) that included depth jumps in the last five years.
They are that rare!
By stepping off a box, you overload the muscles and tendons in your lower body beyond regular vertical jumps where you take off from the ground.
After a training cycle of depth jumps you WILL jump higher.
A higher jump = higher power output.
No athlete can ever have too much power.
For a thorough explanation of depth jumps (and other effective plyometric exercises to add to your routine) watch this video:
One of my junior hockey players once said:
"I have had a lot of coaches and seen many strength coaches train their pro or NHL guys and compared to Yunus' workouts it's a joke, it doesn’t make any sense.
All that fancy or “special” stuff you see other trainers pushing on the internet is bullshit. Yunus showed me that if you just do the basics well and get strong, then that's all you need."
I have built a reputation as a hockey strength coach who produces results through one thing, and one thing alone:
Ruthless execution of the basics to the highest standard possible.
Now you know the best hockey exercises that can turn any athlete from a dud to a stud when repeated with excellence over months and years.
Make it count.
P.S. For a complete off-ice workout plan guaranteed to drive up your strength, size, and speed to heights you never knew existed, go to:
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