An ice hockey sport conditioning training plan should develop a combination of aerobic power, strength and muscle bulk, explosive speed and power as well as good anaerobic endurance.
On average players perform for 15-20 minutes of a 60-minute game. A typical interval on the rink lasts 30-80 seconds with a 4-5 minute rest interval between shifts. These shifts tend to be anaerobic in nature with short, intense bouts of high speed skating and aggressive body contact, demanding a high level of anaerobic endurance and muscular strength as well as a player’s aerobic capacity and tolerance to lactic acid are related to a player’s time on the ice and the number of scoring chances.
At first glance, aerobic endurance might not seem too important to players who spend just 30-80 seconds on the rink at a time, but it’s a large component that helps players to recover between shifts and produce the same level of performance in the 59th minute as in the 1st minute. However, the ability to repeat high intensity bouts of work throughout the game is reliant on good endurance. As you might expect, interval endurance training is more suitable to ice hockey.
While weight training should be integral part of the annual ice hockey training plan, it must be specific. Increased lean mass is not the only goal of strength training. Gains in maximal strength are only useful on the rink if they are converted into explosive power and power endurance. This takes a more refined approach than a typical bodybuilding routine.
As the intense physical contact in hockey exposes players to an increased risk of injury, ice hockey sport conditioning training also plays an important role here too. The player also becomes mentally stronger, after enduring the intense efforts required for the correct kind of conditioning.
Interval training can be best described as bouts of exercise interspersed with short rest intervals. It is based on the concept that more work can be completed at a higher relative intensity compared to continuous-type training.
The intensity and duration of the work intervals and the length of the rest periods dictates the training response. Very short, all-out bouts of work coupled with longer rest periods are used for speed and speed endurance development.
Short, very intense work intervals with short rest periods will predominantly tax the fast glycolytic energy system. Conversely, longer, lower intensity exercise bouts and short rest intervals can be used to develop aerobic endurance.
Rest intervals are a critical component of the interval training program design. From the chart above, you can see that in order to stress the aerobic system efficiently, short rest periods are incorporated into the session. The opposite is true for speed development.
Research has shown that long rest periods (a ratio of 1:12) result in low concentrations of lactic acid accumulation is low, increases in stroke volume (heart blood volume output) are minimal and improvements in VO2 max are not seen. The opposite occurs when short rest intervals (a ratio of 1:1 or less) are adopted.
Very short rest intervals are associated with high levels of blood lactate accumulation. This effects neuromuscular control and can negatively impact speed development. Because speed training requires maximal effort and a high quality of work, longer rest periods are more appropriate to allow the athlete to recover between work intervals. In order to enhance aerobic endurance and increase VO2max towards its upper, genetic limit, interval training should consist of 3-5 minute work bouts with a 1:1 work to rest ratio or less. The intensity should equate to 90-100% VO2max.
Nearly all athletes require a basic level of cardiovascular endurance, if for no other reason than recovery between intense bouts of work. Traditionally, coaches and players have opted for long, slow, distance training at 70-80% maximum heart rate.
The problem with this approach to ice hockey sports conditioning training is that is not specific to multi-sprint sports such as Ice Hockey and can actually be detrimental to strength and power performance. Research shows that long, slow continuous training can actually decrease anaerobic / glycolytic enzyme activity.
For sports such as Ice Hockey, interval training may be more appropriate than continuous running because it can increase aerobic power and improve cardiorespiratory endurance without the associated detrimental effects on anaerobic power, no S**t right?
Lactate tolerance training will help you to recover more quickly from successive bursts of speed and power. It will increase your tolerance to lactic acid and allow you maintain a high work rate for longer.
This type of training could also be called speed endurance, anaerobic endurance or power endurance.
In competitive sports such as Ice Hockey, there is nothing more discouraging than trying to perform the most basic of skills when your muscles are flooded with lactic acid. During multi-sprint games players are frequently required to make explosive runs or sprints consecutively, without rest. Receiving a pass or trying to make a shot in this exhausted state is often the last thing they want.
While lactate tolerance training is very demanding it can also have the greatest impact on your performance. It is a great confidence booster to feel fresh and alert when players around you are struggling to keep up!
In an annual ice hockey sport conditioning training plan, lactate tolerance training should start midway through the pre-season plan. It’s best not to start back from a closed season break with this type of training because it is so intense. A more effective approach is to first build an aerobic base with appropriate interval training as discussed above.
During the in-season the objective is to maintain the level of conditioning you build up in the pre-season. This can usually be achieved purely through competitive games but you may want to add in a session or two during the week. However, the reality for amateur players is that they may go through these cycles a number times through the season and the conditioning coach/player needs to think about where they are in terms of fitness and adjust accordingly.