Squat to Win the Season, Not the Rep.

With high school captain’s practice just beginning and collegiate hockey well underway, this is an ideal time to discuss the “Do these” of hockey training to provide you with the best opportunity to create speed, strength, power, and endurance while ensuring the orthopedic health of your joints, tendons, and muscles. The following four squat variations are the difference between injury and injury-free. It doesn’t matter how many pounds you can front squat, back squat, or hack squat– training for sport while in-season is all about durability, fast twitch activation, deceleration, and muscle endurance.

Do These: Box Squats. Research says there is very little difference between the muscle activation 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 can move comfortably through your ankle and hip angles to activate the hamstring, adductor (groin), and glute complexes to achieve full and powerful hip extension.

Do These: Heel Elevated Back Squats. Squat life for hockey is simple. Let me explain. 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, 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. And best of all, you are also alleviating your high hamstring, glutes, groins, and low back – all the muscles that tighten-up from excessive skating over time.

Do These: Tempo Back Squats. 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. To help you understand, type 1 is slow twitch for sports like distance running. 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. Hockey players need to train 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. Your goals as a hockey player are to skate fast, longer than others, require less time to recover, and repeat. To accomplish this, you will squat with a 1:1 tempo for reps of 8 or more. The speed of your descent should match the speed of your rise and the speed of your rise should be no slower than 1:2.

Do These: Pop Squats. 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. The pop squat, unlike any other squat, incorporates all the angles, muscle fibers, and energy systems that a hockey player endures every shift.

Lifting weights is easy. Training is hard. Training for sport is precise, deliberate, and calculated. Train to compliment your game, your weaknesses, your skill-sets, and your goals. Tune in to episode of New England Hockey Journal on NESN to see SP athletes preparing for the 2017 Hockey season.