Hockey is a sport that few of us play beyond peewee league. Chances are, the last ice skates you laced up were a pair of rentals doused in Lysol, and you managed to wobble through a dozen laps before heading to a concession stand.
Regardless of how long it’s been since you clocked ice time, there is a lot you can steal from what the pros do to stay conditioned and better your fitness. The game itself demands endurance and grit (the only sport with more fist fights per minute is actual boxing). And hockey players are required to have all the fitness hallmarks — strength, speed, power, and precision, and all while balancing on a pair of glorified steak knives.
To find out how the toughest guys in the NHL hit the gym, we sat down with Joe Lorincz, strength and conditioning coach to the New Jersey Devils. Here, he shares his tips for programming a workout to get you in fighting shape.
#1 Don’t Sleep On Balance Training
Hockey players spend as much time pushing off one foot as they do skating on two, which makes balance crucial. Lorincz trains balance by incorporating dynamic, single-leg movements into the players’ warm-up. For example, he’ll swap a supine hip and glute stretch (hugging the knee to the chest while lying on the floor) with a slow and deliberate walking knee hug that forces the athlete to balance on one leg.
You’re not a right wing, so why should you care about balance? A shaky equilibrium tends to rear its ugly head when the stakes are highest (e.g., you’re charging down a basketball court or trail running in the woods). If you can’t stop or change directions without falling, it’s only a matter of time before you’re injured.
What to do: In addition to walking knee hugs, try incorporating walking lunges, walking quad pulls, and reverse walking lunges into your warm-up routine.
#2 Do Power Work, then Strength
From body checks to slap shots, hockey is all about power, or the ability to produce the greatest amount of force in the shortest period of time. For this reason, Lorincz programs power intervals with explosive movements (think box jumps) before heavier lifting sessions; he wants his athletes as fresh as possible for their power circuits.
This same principal makes sense for days you lift heavier, too. A quick burner before you hit the weights will get you warm, torch extra calories, and, over time, power training can help improve performance in most sports, whether you’re swinging a golf club or kicking a soccer ball.
What to do: Before heavier sets with weights, try a quick power-conditioning circuit like this one: For six minutes cycle through five box jumps, five medball side throws against a wall, and five standing ball slams.
#3 Focus on the Core
We tend to conflate a solid core with the purely aesthetic benefits of six-pack abs, but a strong midsection is at the top of the list of functional fitness requirements for hockey players and non-hockey players alike. (Just try carrying 20 pounds of equipment or a box of books without engaging your core. Now, try doing it on a slick surface.) Without that strong, sturdy torso, you’re likely to struggle with instability or develop movement compensations that lead to injury.
To strengthen your trunk — the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques in the front and sides of your body, and the erector spinae, and quadratus lumborum in the back — Lorincz has players do Swiss ball roll-outs. The athletes have to engage multiple muscles to adjust to the instability of an air-filled ball, which makes roll-outs more effective than a standard sit-up.
What to do: Add three sets of 10 Swiss ball roll-outs to your regular routine. Start kneeling with your forearms on a Swiss Ball, back flat and abs engaged. Slowly roll the ball forward, keeping your forearms glued to the ball surface, until arms are straight. Roll back to start, and repeat. To make it tougher, start in a plank position.
#4 Reset Your Posture
Standing on skates for hours at a time leads to all kinds of postural issues. Lorincz says that the average player walks around with a flared chest and an exaggerated lower-back curve (a.k.a. a “sway back”), a combination that leads to back pain, injuries, and shallow, inefficient breathing — all problems to which the average desk jockey can relate.
The answer? Glute bridges. Because they require you to flatten the spine against the floor and “tuck” the pelvis, engage the glutes and hamstrings, thereby reinforcing proper alignment.
What to do: Add three sets of 10 glute bridges to your accessory and mobility work. Lie faceup with knees bent and feet placed near butt, arms flat on the floor besides you with palms up. Press through heels to raise hips as high as you can, and pause at the top for three beats, squeezing glutes. Slowly breathe into your belly, not your chest, as you slowly lower hips to the floor, then repeat.
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