Does Working Out in the Gym Improve Performance on the Ice?

Let’s face it, going to the gym can get tedious. As much as I like hitting the weights, some days it just seems more plausible to head home and curl up on the couch and watch a classic movie (think Rocky IV!). If I am going to actually commit the 45-60 minutes to toiling away in the gym, I want to know that my hockey game is going to actually improve.

Ironically, there is not much scientific research to support strength training for the sport of ice hockey. If we look at the NHL today and 30 years ago we know that hockey players are getting bigger, stronger and faster (think Zdeno Chara!). If we use the fact that the average NHL player is bigger, stronger and faster than their predecessor 30 years ago, then we can assume that strength training for hockey is necessary to improve performance.

If you are going to spend the time in the gym working out to improve your game on the ice, then make sure you are choosing exercises that will give you maximum benefit. Here are some ideas to make your workouts more effective:

1) Train movements not muscles. Doing isolated strengthening such as leg extensions and leg curls is not a good use of your time. Instead, do exercises such as the deadlift or hang clean (use a hockey training specialist or the HockeyOT video teaching for proper technique) to synchronize multiple muscle groups and challenge the nervous system.

2) Do short burst of explosive exercises such as the 20-40 yard sprint. Even better, add a change of direction component like the short shuttle drill.

3) Train with asymmetrical (unbalanced) loads. Hockey is a sport played on a thin blade and slippery surface combined with aggressive physical contact. It seems to make sense that hockey players with better balance will have more success. Make sure to include exercises that challenge your balance and that load the body in an asymmetrical fashion such as the bulgarian split squat.

 

Here are a few good articles that demonstrate the effectiveness of off-ice training for improving your game on the ice:

Peyer KL et al.  Physiological characteristics of NCAA D1 ice hockey players and their relation to game performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1183-92.

Farlinger CM et al. The effect of sequence of skating-specific training on skating performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2008 Jun; 3(2):185-98.

Farlinger CM et al. Relationships to skating performace in competitive hockey players. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Aug;21(3):915-22.

Greer N et al. The effects of a hockey-specific training program on performance of Bantam players. Can J Sport Sci. 1992 Mar;17(1):65-9.

Macaro T et al. Prediction of skating speed with off-ice testing in professional hockey players. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1992;15(2):92-8.

Dr. Chad Moreau is the President of HockeyOT.com, an online training site dedicated to improving the fitness level of hockey players of all levels. He was the former Strength & Conditioning/Nutrition Consultant for the Edmonton Oilers (NHL) and the Long Beach Ice Dogs (ECHL). For more information please visit hockeyot.com.