A General Weight Training Program for Ice Hockey

Get Fit for Hockey with Strength Training

A professional hockey game.
A professional hockey game.. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Comprehensive training programs for individual sports are “periodized.” That is, they are broken into three or four phases in the year with each phase concentrating on a particular fitness development. Periodized programs provide a progressive buildup to peak fitness and performance.

For professional sports that utilize weights in their training -- which is most sports these days -- each phase has different objectives and each successive phase builds on the previous one.

Cardio Training

Important note: Hockey requires good aerobic fitness to provide endurance for sustained effort. Although training on skates "on rink" is essential, many players also benefit from "off rink" training on treadmills, indoor tracks, cycle machines and other cardio equipment. The part of the program outlined here is confined mostly to the weights and strength development part of the program. You will need to do cardio training to develop aerobic fitness early in the preseason , and then build up anaerobic fitness, such as doing sprints, shuttles, and intervals to be fully prepared for the season's start.

Aerobic fitness means you can skate, ski, jog or run for a long time at a moderate pace without getting too tired. Anaerobic fitness means you keep going longer at high intensities before your legs and body slow down. Both are important in hockey, especially if you are likely to play the whole game.

When you optimize all elements of fitness -- skating fitness, strength, and power, you can claim to be at peak fitness.

A year-long ice hockey weight training program could be similar to the one outlined below:

Early Preseason

  • Players are preparing for the season and starting to build up after the offseason.
  • Emphasis is on building aerobic fitness, basic functional strength and muscle bulk, which is called "hypertrophy".

Late Preseason

  • Players are working up to the start of the season and pre-season trials are imminent.
  • Emphasis is on building anaerobic fitness and maximum strength and power.

In Season

  • Competition is underway and players are expected to be fully functional for competition.
  • Maintenance of speed, aerobic and anaerobic fitness and strength and power is emphasized.

Off Season

  • The season is over; time to relax for a while but you need to keep active.
  • Emphasis is on rest and recovery with maintenance of light activity -- cross training, light gym work. Several weeks break from serious fitness and strength training is helpful.
  • As pre-season approaches, more regular work can resume with an emphasis on building aerobic fitness once again for the pre-season training.

Role-Specific Training

Within a generic training program for a particular sport, further specialty programs may be useful, especially in teams where members have specific roles and certain advantageous physical attributes apply.

For example, in football, a quarterback, and a defensive lineman will probably have a different program in the gym. One emphasizing speed and agility, and the other bulk, strength, and power.

In hockey, defensemen and forwards are not so distinctly different in their fitness requirements, even allowing for “stay-at-home” and “offensive” defense players. Even so, goaltenders may need additional skills in reflexes and flexibility.

One point of fitness that does distinguish hockey players from most other team sports is the requirement for single-leg strength and balance. Naturally, this aspect can be targeted in a weight training program.

Consider the program presented here to be an all-around program, best suited to beginners or casual weight trainers without a history of weight training for hockey. The best programs are always specific to an individual's current fitness, role in the team, access to resources, and, no less important, the team coaches' essential philosophy. You will be best served by using the following program in conjunction with a trainer or coach.

If you're new to weight training, brush up on principles and practices with the beginner resources.

Always warm up and cool down before and after a training session. A medical clearance for exercise is always a good idea at the start of the season.

Phase 1 - Early Preseason

Foundation Strength and Muscle

How this phase is approached will depend on whether a player is new to weight training or is coming off a season of weights. Building foundation strength means utilizing a program that works all the major muscle groups of the body. Less-experienced weight trainers will need to start with lighter weights and fewer sets and work up to heavier weights with more sets. Start early in the season buildup to get used to this phase if you have not used weights previously.

Repetitive sports activities can strengthen one side of the body at the expense of the other, or emphasize one or two major muscle groups with less emphasis on others. Inevitably, weak areas can be susceptible to injury and can perform poorly. This is not to say that your non-dominant arm or side has to be as good as your skill-dominant side. However, for example, in hockey, each hand has its own important role in controlling the stick, and this affects your stick-handling skills. You need to allocate sufficient training resources so that you achieve functional foundation strength in all areas including opposing muscles and left and right sides of all major muscle group areas -- back, buttocks, legs, arms, shoulders, chest, and abdominals.

In the early pre-season, the foundation program encompasses a mix of endurance, strength and hypertrophy objectives, which means that the weights are not too heavy and the sets and repetitions are in the range of 2 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. In this phase, you build some strength, some muscle size, and endurance.

Duration: 4 to 6 weeks
Days per week: 2 to 3, with at least one rest day between sessions and a lighter week in week 4 to promote recovery and progression.
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 4
Rest between sets: 30 to 60 seconds

Phase 1 Exercises

Points to Note

  • By trial and error, find a weight that represents a taxing lift for the last few reps of each set. If you're unsure, start with a light weight and increase it as you get stronger within the training period so that the perceived effort remains similar.
  • Don't lift too heavy in this phase. The last few reps in a set should be taxing -- yet without extreme effort to "failure," especially for the arm and shoulder exercises. You want the arm and shoulder prepared for work and beefed up, but not overtaxed.
  • Do front squats or dumbbell or sled hack squats if the rotation required to position a barbell on the shoulders for the traditional back squat stresses the shoulder joint to the point of discomfort.
  • Shoulder joint protection is important at this and subsequent stages.
  • Circuit training, off-rink cardio and other aerobic exercise should be added to this program where possible.
  • Stop immediately if acute pain is noticed during or after a weights exercise, and seek medical and training advice if it persists.

Phase 2 - Mid-Preseason

Strength Development

In this phase, you will build strength and muscle. The fast and agile players should be careful not to bulk up too much. You have a good foundation from early pre-season workouts and now the emphasis is on lifting heavier weights in order to train the nervous system in conjunction with the muscle fibers to move bigger loads. Hypertrophy, which is building muscle size, does not necessarily imply strength. However, in the foundation phase and in this phase, hypertrophy will serve you well for strength development.

Strength will be the foundation for the next phase, which is power development. Power is the ability to move the heaviest loads in the shortest time. Power is essentially a product of strength and speed, and is an important component of a successful hockey skill set.

Time of year: Mid pre-season
Duration: 4 to 6 weeks
Days per week: 2 to 3, with at least one day between sessions
Reps: 3 to 6. The players relying most on speed and agility and who need the least bulk should do the lowest number of reps.
Sets: 3 to 5
Rest in between sets: 3 to 4 minutes

Phase 2 Exercises

  • Alternate, single-leg sled hack squat
  • Barbell bench press
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Lat pulldown to front with wide grip
  • Pull ups - 3x6 repetitions - adjust to suitability
  • Alternate, single-leg dumbbell upright row

Points to Note

  • Adjust the weight so that the final few repetitions are taxing but not to complete failure. The fewer reps mean that you will be lifting heavier in this phase.
  • Get sufficient rest between sets. You need your muscles recovered so that you can complete a heavy lifting session.
  • If you are unable to recover from a session with only one rest day in between, reschedule this program to two sessions each week rather than three. Strength training can be physically and mentally demanding.
  • You will be sore in the muscles after these sessions. Muscle soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is normal; joint pain is not. Be sure to monitor your arm and shoulder reactions to this phase. Back off when you feel any joint pain or discomfort.

Phase 3 - Late Pre-Season to In Season

Conversion to Power

In this phase, you build on the strength developed in phase 2 with training that will increase your ability to move a load at high velocity. Power is the combination of strength and speed. Power training requires that you lift lighter weights than you did in the strength phase, yet with explosive intent. You need to rest adequately between repetitions and sets so that each movement is done as fast as possible. The number of sets can be less than phase 1. There is no point to training like this when you're fatigued.

Time of year: late pre-season and in-season
Duration: 4 weeks ongoing
Days per week: 2 to 3
Reps: 8 to 10
Sets: 2 to 3
Rest between repetitions: 10 to 15 seconds
Rest between sets: at least 1 minute or until recovery

Phase 3 Exercises

  • Barbell or dumbbell hang clean
  • Alternate, single-leg seated calf raises
  • Cable push pull
  • One arm cable raises each arm
  • Alternate, single-leg medicine ball push press
  • Medicine ball standing twist with partner (6x15 repetitions fast, recover between sets) (or alone)

Points to Note

  • In power training, it's important that you're relatively recovered for each repetition and set so that you can maximize the velocity of the movement. The weights should not be too heavy and the rest periods sufficient.
  • At the same time, you need to push or pull reasonably heavy loads to develop power against reasonable resistance. Lift heavier than phase 1 but lighter than phase 2.
  • With the medicine ball twists, do a full set at maximum then rest sufficiently before the next one.

Phase 4 - In Season

Maintenance of Strength and Power

Alternate phase 2 (Strength) and phase 3 (Power) for a total of two sessions each week. Every fifth week, skip weight training to assist recovery.

Points to Note

  • Try to allow at least two days between any strength session and a game.
  • Try not to do strength training on the same day as you work out on the rink -- or at least separate workouts morning and afternoon.
  • Rest completely from strength training one week in five. Light gym work is fine.
  • Use your judgment. Don't sacrifice rink skills training for weight work if you have limited time available.

Phase 5 - Off Season

Now it's time to rest up. You need this time for emotional and physical renewal. For several weeks, forget about hockey and do other things. Staying fit and active with cross training or other activities is still a good idea.

Give yourself plenty of time to do it all again next year.

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