A pillar represents a column of support, a literal tower of strength. There are five pillars of hockey conditioning that should be used to improve on-ice skill development. Those pillars are as follows:
- Balance, Agility and Reactivity
- Whole Body Strength/Power
- Anaerobic Energetics
Focusing exercise creation and training guidelines towards these five pillars stems from the goal of improving five other pillars. Here are the pillars that will develop on-ice skills:
- Puck Handling
- Body Checking
The five pillars of conditioning make up the main categories of training. They represent different physical attributes that improve the transferability of training results and directly impact performance gains. What makes this conditioning program unique is the fact that there are three main steps to be developed within each pillar mentioned above. The first step deals with improving fitness, the next deals with enhancing athleticism and the final is hockey specific conditioning.
Step #1 - Improving Fitness
Improving fitness builds a foundation that more hockey specific training styles and intensities can build upon. Fitness is improved with increasing hockey specific flexibility, using proper nutrition to improve performance, decreasing body fat to improve an individual's efficiency, increasing strength and muscle mass and elevating aerobic power. These are also important to health and immune function during a long season and will usually help an athlete perform almost any activity a little better. For hockey players, improved aerobic power aids endurance, decreased body fat allows for faster, more efficient skating and added strength, flexibility and a healthy diet help you maintain your exercise regimen with reduced risk of injury. Because the aerobic energy system helps the body recover from bouts of anaerobic activity, it is necessary to develop the aerobic system first. Similarly, proper strength, lean mass and flexibility development are required before progressing to work on strength capacity, explosive power, speed, quickness, agility and reactivity.
Step #2 - Enhancing Athleticism
Athleticism builds off of fitness, helping you become more in tune to your body, with general balance and coordination benefits. Just as power skating coaches modify body mechanics on the ice, a focus on athleticism improves body function off the ice. There is no doubt that the best athletes make the best hockey players, and the higher fitness and athleticism you have, the more you can capitalize on hockey specific training. Within the Balance, Agility and Reactivity pillar, you can improve movement skills such as lateral movement, open steps, drop steps, crossovers, back pedaling and loaded starts. These are fundamental hockey motor patterns that, when linked together in sequence, are expressed as multi directional movement. Without improving power, speed or quickness through physiological training adaptations, each can be improved right away by upgrading critical movement skills. Improving the biomechanics for multi directional movement helps you to move more effectively and efficiently, enabling you to cover more ground in the same number of strides while expending less energy. Thinking like a power skating coach, on and off the ice, makes your agility training more purposeful.
Step #3 - Hockey Specific Conditioning
The third category of hockey conditioning focuses more on the sport specific demands you’ll encounter on the ice. Exercises and drills must be selected and completed with specific exercise prescriptions so the players’ physical and physiological development best suits the game of ice hockey. Sometimes gains in strength, flexibility or lean body mass can actually detract from hockey skills because the “improvements” are not appropriate for the demands of hockey. Meanwhile, other development crucial to hockey success is sometimes overlooked. In the NHL, often aspiring players report to camp with far too much upper body bulk, changing their center of gravity and interfering with fluid skills. Others make the mistake of too much aerobic training, which is essentially training to be slow. It is the anaerobic energy system that needs to be conditioned for hockey, as players depend on this system for explosive movements and intense action. Equally important in the conditioning pillars are quickness and agility. Quickness and agility need to be developed for improved reaction time, coordination, foot work and explosiveness. Muscular endurance and power are also physical attributes essential to helping improve skills and game performance, and they allow players to perform longer before fatigue deters proper execution.
The three categories feed the order of training in that fitness is a base of supply and recovery, providing readiness for more complex and intense exercise. Athleticism influences the results of hockey specific training by improving the body’s ability to safely coordinate more challenging movement and power exercises. By design (i.e., training style, intensity and complexity), the hockey specific phase will also continue to improve fitness and athleticism as a byproduct of the demands of hockey specific training. Your focus, when players are ready, should shift to hockey specific programs, carefully selecting hockey specific exercises and the training guidelines you will apply to continue to also increase fitness and athletic skills.
Below you will see how we tie all the pillars together and utilize the components with hockey athletes.
Pillar Emphasis During Each Step
The pillars are in bold lettering below.
Step #1 - Improved Fitness
- Balance will be introduced during the first step and neural complexity as an overload variable will be increased with each successive step. Balance challenges should be level appropriate to allow for proper mechanics and body position during this learning phase.
- Another focus of this first step will be developing whole body strength with a linked system approach, transferring force from the legs, through the core and expressing with the arms (i.e., Dumbbell Squat to Lateral Raise).
- Aerobic fitness (energetics) is emphasized during the first step, helping to improve endurance and decrease body fat.
Step #2 - Enhancing Athleticism
- With a solid foundation of static balance developed in Step #1, a move towards more dynamic balance challenges is made during the second step, ensuring the athlete’s form is maintained as complexity increases.
- With the goal of increasing athleticism, fundamental movement skills such as agility, reactivity, speed and quickness are introduced and progressed into multidirectional movements.
- The foundation of linked system strength is progressed as exercises incorporate movement and the whole body strength/power conversion phase is commenced towards the end of the second step (i.e., Dumbbell Lateral Step to Lateral Raise).
- Aerobic fitness (energetics) is continued during the second stage but is of less emphasis. Anaerobic energetics is greater emphasized during strength and power exercises and agility, quickness and reactivity drills.
Step #3 - Hockey Specific Conditioning
- Neural complexity is further increased as balance is integrated into lifts and agility and quickness drills.
- During the third and last step, read and react challenges are incorporated during agility and quickness drills as players assume either an offensive or defensive role similar to what would be encountered during the game. Speed and quickness are emphasized both in dry land and on ice sessions, working to build speed over longer distances and quickness to capitalize on changes of direction characterized by quick deceleration and rapid acceleration.
- With an emphasis on power, the focus in Step #3 is on developing force quickly, converting the whole body strength developed in Step #2 into power. Movement patterns and muscle activation sequences are considered during exercise selection.
- Anaerobic energy systems (energetics) continue to be conditioned through multidirectional intervals to best meet the demands of explosive movements and intense actions required during a game.
The five pillars above represent different physical attributes that improve the transferability of training results and directly impact performance gains when training for hockey conditioning. Good luck!