With high school captain’s practice just beginning and collegiate hockey well underway, this is an ideal time to discuss the “Do this, not that” of hockey training to provide you with the best opportunity to maintain speed, strength, power, and endurance all while ensuring the orthopedic health of your joints, tendons, and muscles. Rarely in high school or college sports do coaches have the time and resources to plan practice, game-plan, and worry about the health of their players. The readiness of each individual player is left to the strength staff, athletic trainers, and other lifestyle support staff to assist in the recovery of stress and preparation of competition.
The following four bilateral squat variations are subtle, but I assure you, they are the difference between winning and losing. It doesn’t matter how many pounds you can front squat, back squat, hack squat, dead lift, power clean, or hang clean – training for sport while in-season is all about durability, fast twitch activation, deceleration, and muscle endurance. Anything in-between can wait until next summer when your top priority isn’t playing hockey, scoring goals, out-skating opponents, and winning games.
Read slowly. I’m about to help put you on a number of “watch lists.” The kind that create opportunities – some of which yield a free college education and quite possibly a draft pick.
Do These:Box Squats. Despite a strong-rooted belief of many strength coaches, specifically those who train female hockey players in-season and male hockey players during the off-season, research says there is very little difference between the muscle activation and development of muscle development yielded from front squats versus back squats. With this evidence in mind, let’s put the bar on your back, maintain an upright posture, eliminate the eccentric (deceleration) component of the lift, and drive concentrically (explosively) from the floor to a zero/zero knee/hip extension stance. Yes, you read this correctly, get rid of the front squats. Not forever, just while you are in-season. By performing a box squat to 90 degrees, three benefits are immediately yielded. You decrease the load through the spine by keeping the trunk vertical, you decrease anterior knee stress by decreasing the knee-joint angle, and because of this, you are able to move comfortably through your ankle and hip angles to activate the hamstring, adductor (groin), and glute complexes to achieve full and powerful hip extension. Why is this so important? As seen in Fig 10., during the testing of two maximum on-ice speed trials, elite hockey players skated with their knees flexed at an average of 78 degrees of flexion in the first trial and 81 degrees in the second trial. By activating the concentric (upward and explosive) movement from 90 to 0, we oppose forces that cause skaters to drop lower into knee flexion, therefore yielding a surplus of performance when said athlete reaches the ice. It’s a safe and simple concept that works.
Do These: Heel Elevated Back Squats. Squat life for hockey is really simple. Let me explain. Referring back to Fig 10., you will see that during the hockey stride, the involved joints “settle in” at specific angles. Clinically, we call these relative angles. Specifically, the ankle plantar-flexes (toes-off) to about 25 degrees and the knee flexes (bends) to about 80 degrees. At Stadium Performance, it is a widely explained and taught concept that the more efficient an athlete becomes at performing lower body exercises to 90 degrees of knee flexion, the greater the probability of them remaining injury free. But hold on, we are forgetting the most important joint in hockey; the hip. Because your season has started and you are skating 60, 90, 120 minutes a day, you do not need further stress on your hips that normal range front or back squats would yield. With this in mind, we simply elevate the heels with two five-pound plates. By elevating your heels, we have now achieved just over 15 degrees of plantar-flexion – this is already more sport specific to hockey than anything you have done previously. Additionally, because we gained 15 degrees of motion in your ankles, we get to pass that off to your knees. This means to achieve the relative angle of 90 degrees at the knee, you actually only have to squat to a depth of 75 degrees to achieve the same results. And best of all, since you are only squatting to a relative depth of 75 degrees of knee flexion, you are also alleviating your proximal (high) hamstring, glutes (butt), adductors (groins) and quadratus lumborum (low back) – all the muscles that tighten from excessive skating over time. If you need a couple extra reasons to elevate your heels, I have more. 1. For those of you suffering from Osgood’s Schlatter, growing pains, post ACL patellar tendonitis, or an old/current ankle injury – this will decrease or eliminate the pain. 2. You will create greater range of motion throughout your hips that will yield increased action-potential and force production over time. 3. People in the gym will ask why you are doing that and you can sound wicked smaht.
“You will never know how far you can go until you get there.” -Joe Caligiuri
Do These: Tempo Back Squats. I don’t want to be the first person to compare you to a snowflake, but I will. You’re like a snowflake. No two humans on earth are constructed with the same ratio or muscle fibers. There are three types of muscle fibers; Type 1, Type 2a, and Type 2x. If only you knew what muscle fibers were inside of you? Believe it or not, there are simple methods to identify your muscle composition and there are much more in-depth analyses of your anatomy and physiology – all of which we can accomplish here at SP in under an hour. To help you understand, type 1 is slow twitch. These muscle fibers are for low intensity sports like running long distances. Easy marathoners, don’t get all worked up. I know running can be painful. This is a hockey article. Move along. Type 2a fibers are for fast, repetitive, low intensity activities like lifting weights. Type 2x fibers are for large power output, repetitive, high-intensity sports. That’s YOU. So, having read what I just typed for you, you should understand that 90% of the squat tempo you do should be 1:1 and no slower than 1:2. This means the speed of your descent should match the speed of your rise and the speed of your rise should be no slower than half as fast. Leading into and during the hockey season, you need to train your type 2x fibers to prepare and condition those fibers to outlast the competition. At no time does the player with the strongest 1RM (Type 2a) in the squat-rack instantly become the skater that skates the fastest, the longest, with the least amount of rest. Remember your goals as a hockey player; skate fast, skate fast longer than others, require less time to recover, and repeat. Insert tempo squatting here. Everything else can be improved through knowledge of the game, skill development, and a pinch of luck.
Do These: Pop Squats. The last component that will lead to you absolutely dominating the competition is this nasty leg burner to be done once per week. Pop squats are to account for no greater than 10% of all in-season lower body lifting. As I have clearly stated, pre and in-season hockey strength training has a primary fast twitch, concentric, and injury prevention focus. To prevent the complete de-conditioning of the eccentric load, we incorporate the pop squat. This lift is done with a 1:3:1 cadence. This means we descend with a “1-count”, pause at the bottom for a “3-count”, and then explode to full extension of the hip during another “1-count.” This complex movement mimics the fatigue and lactic threshold that a skater reaches during the back half of a shift, or during a worse-case-scenario of being caught on the ice for an extended PK. By forcing the athlete to hold heavy weight at 90 degrees of knee flexion, the quadriceps will increase in length and strength, but not before yielding muscle burning byproducts of lactic acid. Through the pain, similar to that of a gliding skater, we require one more concentric (explosive episode) push, similar to one more stride. The pop squat, unlike any other squat, incorporates all the angles, muscle fibers, and energy systems that a hockey player endures every shift.
That’s it. Lifting weights is easy. Training is hard. Training for sport is precise, deliberate, calculated, and certainly warranted for any athlete looking to advance to the next level. Train to compliment your game, your weaknesses, your skill-sets, and your goals. Tune in to tonight’s episode of New England Hockey Journal on NESN at 6:30pm EST to see SP athletes preparing for the 2017 Hockey season. “You will never know how far you can go until you get there.” -Joe Caligiuri