Push, pull, legs. Biceps and back. Chest and triceps. Legs and cardio. Those first four programs will cost you $99 a month through any online personal trainer. Once you’re off to college, you won’t be as lucky. Early morning lifts in iron-clad weight rooms set up to most efficiently streamline 20-plus athletes through 24 sets in 45 minutes. In-season strength training is for maintaining off-season gains and preventing in-season digressions. Those lifts aren’t typically tailored to you, they don’t have multiple goals in mind and they are put in place to complement, not enhance, a sport.
For your offseason program, however, the summer season is the best time of year to self-assess, address weaknesses and build on strengths. You will need to invest in your body as a product you will be pitching to investors in the early fall. Your investors will be your coaches, your teammates, opponents and fans. Everyone will meet you in the shark tank of life, and you’ll surely be judged. All great products are a result of great people with a great process, and that is exactly what I’m going to help create for you here. Speed, strength and durability is a process. With these 10 performance-enhancing exercises, your path to success will become more clear, obtainable and, best of all, habitual.
First we will need to establish a few simple group rules. Life isn’t about making all the right decisions, it’s about defining a set of poor decisions and not doing them. Here are your five rules to gain the easiest advantage on your summer process.
1. Stand up for longer than you sit down. There’s 24 hours in a day. Get out of bed by 8 a.m. and get on your feet. It’s going to make the next four rules a lot easier to accomplish.
2. Drink a gallon of water a day. That’s 128 ounces. If you’re on your feet 12 hours, that’s only 10 ounces an hour. Water makes every single process in your body run smoothly. Without it, your process will be inhibited.
3. Do not over-train. I am a huge advocate of a four-day training split with a fifth day used for maximum-effort sprinting. Over-training syndrome is real. Google it. You have two options:
a. Monday: Train; Tuesday: Train; Wednesday: OFF; Thursday: Train; Friday: Train; Saturday: Sprints; Sunday: OFF
b. Monday to Thursday: Train; Friday: OFF; Saturday: Sprints; Sunday: OFF
4. Drink alcohol like an adult. Your brain will get happy as a side effect, I promise. You don’t need to binge drink to have a good time. Alcohol metabolizes into sugar. We don’t have a significant need for sugar in this process, so moderation is optimal.
5. Mind your own business. There’s more than one way to throw a dart, and we’re all trying to hit the bull’s-eye. You worry about your process and Tommy and Clara will worry about theirs. Commit yourself to the process and support others in theirs. We’re all in this together.
You will always start your day with mobility. Mobility is different than flexibility. Mobility work addresses structural limitations within joints, typically dealing with capsules, tendons and ligaments. Our bodies were structurally designed to operate perfectly as an upright human being with all bones articulating perfectly against others. Through trauma, adhesions form as a result of bleeding beneath the skin, and mobility restrictions occur. You need to maintain ideal joint mobility to reduce compensatory movement patterns that can cause injury while working out.
The first mobility exercise in your process will be for the KNEELING HIP MOBILITY. This will allow you to achieve comfortable squat depths both in the weight room and on the ice. We encourage all athletes to anchor a large “Monster Band” to a solid object about 18 inches off the ground. Place the band as high up into your groin as possible, then place that same knee on the ground. Back away from the pole until there is a significant amount of traction, yet it is not uncomfortable. The opposite leg should be bent at 90 degrees at the hip, knee and ankle. From here, contract the glute muscle on the side of the downward (band side) knee and hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat these eight times on each hip.
Equally important as the hips for hockey players is the relationship between your anterior shoulder complex and your thoracic spine. Within your spinal column you have the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral vertebrae. We will need to make sure your anterior shoulder does not become too tight though training as to inhibit the thoracic rotation of your movement.
The thoracic segments are in your upper and mid-torso and are responsible for the fluidity of rotation through explosive movements like a slap shot or the stabilization of your spine during collision with another athlete. For this, you will incorporate SIDE LYING THORACIC MOBILITY. Lay on your side with both your legs bent to 90 degrees at the hip and knee joints. Place your bottom hand palm side up between your knees. Extend your top hand out in front of your face with your knuckles touching the floor. While maintaining ground contact, and squeezing your knees together, drag your knuckles on the floor all the way around your head to the other side of your body. Repeat six times on each side.
After mobility and just before you perform a dynamic stretch that you are comfortable with, we’d like you to work on two hockey-specific stretches at once. We are going to do precision static stretching for your long adductor (groin) complex and for the tendons on the top of your ankle/foot. This is the KNEELING ADDUCTOR STRETCH. With your shoes off, place one knee on a soft foam bad. Extend the other foot out laterally as far as you can reach while still being able to maintain flat foot contact with the floor. With your knee extended, sit your butt back onto your calf. If this is too painful, walk back on your forearms, ensuring to maintain a flat foot. You will feel a stretch from your ankles, to the back of your knee, to your groin. Highly effective. Add it to your pregame routine.
During your summer process, you’ll want to set up your program to have a consistent philosophy in mind. Whichever your weakness is, you program around that. If you need to work on your speed, then you’ll need to train with bar velocity and every set will be between three to five reps. If you are trying to bulk up, every set is six to eight reps and you’re failing on rep eight each set. The point is that no two people can train the same. Self-advocate for yourself and remind your coaches what your goals are.
A staple in your lower-body workouts needs to be the BARBELL BACK SQUAT. College coaches love to remove it from your training program for reasons unbeknownst to me. If you have any interest in progressing through your career without an ACL tear, I highly suggest back squatting. Front squatting is OK for those who have a history of back problems, but in general, hockey players are typically quad dominant as it is, so adding another quad-dominant exercise like front squats to their program is not ideal. To gain the most results from back squatting, place only as much weight on the bar as you can push from the bottom position of 90 degrees of knee flexion to full hip extension in 1.7 seconds or less. That’s bar velocity. Anything over that and you’re lifting too slow. Lift slow, play slow. The more you can squat, the higher you’ll be able to jump. The higher you jump, the faster your run. The faster your run, the faster you skate. Simple.
Speaking of jumping high, the next exercise isn’t only going to make you more explosive and durable, but it’s probably going to extend your career. But there’s a caveat. No more hang cleaning. SITTING BOX JUMPS are your new move. Hockey players shouldn’t be hang cleaning. There’s plenty of arguments why you should, but I’ll give you one reason why you shouldn’t. I’ve never met a coach who cares how much you can hang clean. To improve your fast twitch and explosive power, place a 12-inch box about 24 inches from a stack of plyo-boxes. Facing the boxes, sit on the 12-inch box with your feet shoulder width apart and your chest up. In one fluid motion, elevate your feet off the ground a few inches, slam them down, stand up and jump onto the plyo-boxes. When you land, land on your whole foot — not just your toes — and absorb the landing, being sure not to allow your butt to sink below your knees. If you cannot control your butt through the eccentric load, your boxes are too high.
I’m never going to forget the first NFL player who walked in to Stadium Performance for a workout. He could back squat 400-plus pounds but couldn’t complete one SINGLE-LEG SQUAT. That summarized what led him to me in the first place — he had torn his ACL. The NHL draft combine is going to test your right vs. your left leg, so whether you think you’re going to get invited or not, you better start training for it. You’ll start with a 12-inch platform, then move to 18 inches, then 24 inches, then 30 inches. I don’t suggest doing standing pistol squats, because the uninvolved leg tends to develop hip flexor tendonitis. Place your right foot on the front left side of a box. Focusing all your body weight through your right heel and maintain heel contact with the platform, squat down to 90 degrees of knee flexion. With the other leg, pull your toes toward you and keep your knee straight. Each single-leg squat is approximately 72 percent of your own body weight, so adding 28 percent through the use of dumbbells or weight vests is encouraged.
PLYO-BOX SKATER HOPS are the scariest thing you’ll be doing all summer. Every rep could end up with a broken ankle if you’re not focused. So focus. This exercise is very intense and beneficial for developing stride power and action potential per stride. Stand about your own leg length away from a plyo-box that stands between 18 and 24 inches tall. Think fluidity on a slide board, except now you’re jumping up sideways and down sideways. Explode up with your lead foot, landing with your foot facing directly to your 12 o’clock. Your knee ankle should be 60 to 70 degrees and your trail leg will follow directly behind your calf for a one-second pause. Confidently load your foot and laterally bound off and down to the ground. Land softly on your other foot as it points directly forward to your 12 o’clock while making contact with all aspects of your foot, not just your toe. Eccentrically load your quad and absorb the energy into your glutes and hamstrings with your trail leg gathering behind your calf for a one-second pause. Repeat for eight jumps total. Turn around. Do it again.
Are we ever going to hit the bench in this program? Sure we are, but not the flat one. For the record, in my hockey experience, I’ve seen a direct correlation between the athletes who can bench press the most weight and the players who commit the most ridiculous, unnecessary penalties. Guys that live to bench usually have their minds in the wrong spot.
The CLOSE GRIP INCLINE BENCH, however, is the secret sauce you’ve all been looking for. Close-grip benching is a sneaky way for hockey players to work on strengthening their wrists. Incline benching is a beneficial position to control the range of motion in the shoulder joint by disallowing too much depth with too much weight. And, most importantly, by developing strength with a close-hand position, you can drop the hammer on an opponent and just about never get called for a holding penalty. All your upper-body pushing power needs to be “inside the numbers” or “on the crest.” That’s how we stay penalty free.
PULL-UPS have nothing to do with hockey. But I’m here for you and I promise you for the rest of your hockey life you are going to be tested on pull-ups. USA Hockey loves pull-ups. The NHL doesn’t really care about pull-ups. But, it’s a great way for your high school and collegiate strength coach to tell if you’ve been in the weight room or if you’ve been allergic to it. Pull-ups need to be a staple in your training program. The back muscles that develop through pull-ups are big movers and as they grow, you grow. So, put a pull-up bar in your house, dorm room or garage and crack a few reps out every day. Your strength coach will love you for it — as will USA Hockey.
When I was talking about squatting, I mentioned a fact that we all know. If you sprint faster, you will skate faster. It does not go the other way around. Track athletes do not find ways to chisel a hundredth of a second off their 100 meters by logging an hour on the ice. But you, you can certainly improve your acceleration and maximum velocity by working on your SPRINTS. All summer you need to sprint. Build up in volume but make sure it’s maximal effort. Sprinting gets those muscle spindles excited to perform and pre-trains your central nervous system to respond to physical demands (sixth gear) when you ask for it. Sprinting is anaerobic, so get used to feeling uncomfortable. Saying the alphabet past the letter H without breathing shouldn’t be possible and a slight taste of coins in your mouth is a sign you’re in the red. That’s the commitment we need from you. That’s the commitment that certifies a product as approved.
I wish it were this easy. But you know it’s not. You have to get up, then show up. Once you show up, you have to put up or get out.
Given your options, however, I think your path is clear: Either embrace the gifts you’ve been given and the opportunities your parents have provided you, or step aside.
Give coaches a reason to invest in you. Someone wants your spot, and they’re coming for it.
This article was originally featured in the May issue of New England Hockey Journal