By Peter Twist
MPE, BPE, CSCS
© 2000 Peter Twist
Peter Twist is President & CEO of Twist Conditioning Inc and the former Coach of Conditioning & Player Development for the Vancouver Canucks. He has authored dozens of articles on athlete development in scientific journals, written two books on conditioning and is currently finishing a third on core stability. Peter Twist runs weekly sport-specific conditioning camps for professional athletes, high school students, and adult recreational athletes, as well as one-on-one training and team clinics. He can be contacted through www.sportconditioning.ca or 604-904-6556.
The commonality throughout much of a hockey player's preparation is anaerobic energy. The ATP-PC anaerobic energy system is drawn upon for quickness, agility, lateral movement, explosive lifting, speed, and technical skills like short bursts (up to 10 seconds) of shooting, passing, puckhandling, skating and bodychecking. If these are practiced under fatigued conditions, which is game-specific, they also draw upon the lactic acid system (lactate), also referred to as anaerobic glycolysis. This is the energy system needed to fuel intense shifts, supplying energy for about 45 seconds before rest is needed.
Pure "lactate training" itself is also important. Lactate training infers an effort to completely overload the anaerobic system, and fight on in the face of fatigue, lactic acid accumulation, and diminishing fuel availability. Lactate training will help players exert full out efforts longer into a shift and will help them recover quicker on the bench.
Another notable result is raising the lactate threshold, the point at which lactic acid build up exceeds it's removal and utilization. Lactic acid indirectly contributes to the tightness and fatigue in your muscles and affects the muscles ability to contract. The longer you can delay the onset of fatigue and muscle tightness, the longer skills can proceed uninhibited. A good example of this is killing a penalty, continually stopping and starting, with a lot of physical contact, and then blocking a shot at the blue line to face a breakaway opportunity. Is the player too fatigued to win the race for the puck and onwards to the net, handling the puck and coordinating a deke on the goaltender? Or does the player have a well conditioned anaerobic energy system, lots of endurance, an ability to buffer lactic acid that does accumulate, and the strong mental capacity to tolerate lactate and continue on in the face of fatiguing elements.
I use intense intervals to build the anaerobic energy systems. Lactate training can be achieved by extending the duration of each sprint interval. A stationary bike (90 second all out sprints), with high rep resistance training (50 rep speed endurance squats) and track sprinting and treadmill sprinting (60 seconds, steep elevation) to target anaerobic endurance and recovery along with stride length and stride frequency. Next, to optimize hockey-specificity and focus on stride power, I overload the skating action itself, on the ice.
Overload skating is a great way to achieve anaerobic conditioning, as well as stride length, stride power and dynamic balance. Attempting maximum speed during resisted skating drills will help players maintain a positive angle from the hip to the ice, achieve a strong leg drive, and use the skate edges to generate maximum force. The key to all anaerobic training is intensity - skating under a resisted condition can help maximize this.
Coaches can utilize several tools that offer a resisted condition while skating. Some training tools are not much more than gadgets, while others are safe, effective and inject some variety and motivation into a practice. Each coach must also assess the characteristics of different training tools to judge if they are appropriate for the age and level of players on their team. Most equipment used for overload skating is not suitable for quickness training, since by it's very nature it slows the player down - overload skating is to build up the anaerobic glycolysis system and stride endurance. It also targets stride length and stride power, components which can later contribute to separate quickness and speed development practices. I have outlined some of the overloading tools available, and have noted if they are also applicable to speed and quickness training.
Chutes offer enough resistance to overload the skating stride itself as well as stimulating overall conditioning. The faster a player attempts to skate, the greater resistance provided by the chute. They force the player to drop their hips a bit lower with greater knee flexion, placing greater demands on the skating muscles and also placing them in a stronger skating position. A chute can condition and teach technique at the same time. Players will naturally use a longer and more powerful stride - until they fatigue and then they will straighten up. Ensure they tolerate this and maintain a deep position with a long stride. Chutes are excellent for Lactate Training, providing intense overload.
I use chutes for straight laps, isolated skating drills, and also follow the leader type drills, in which the lead skater may skate backwards in a free condition, while the following skater pulls a chute and tries to follow the skating pattern of the lead skater while also not allowing the lead skater to distance herself from parachute skaters.
For strong, technically gifted, elite conditioned players, I use two chutes for appropriate overload. I also use chutes for functional, sport-specific rehabilitation and re-conditioning following certain injuries. Players will also benefit using chutes skating backwards or with lateral crossovers. Chutes can be used for one excellent quickness drill - Let-Goes feature players skating in a resisted condition from the goal red to near blue line, and then tugging a strap which drops the parachute. The players then sprint full out from the blue line to the far blue line. This instantaneous change from a resisted skate to a free condition facilitates a good jump in their stride - they will achieve 3 or 4 explosive strides.
Weight vests force the player to skate with added mass, with the idea of making the effort harder. They also raise the skater's centre of gravity, which forces the skater to adopt a lower hip and knee position to counteract this. This in itself will overload their legs, and will force them into a good position to handle high speed tight turns. I have used vests for conditioning laps, flow drills, and tight turn drills. Players can handle the puck okay when wearing the vest, but I do avoid any body contact, agility maneuvers, or stop and starts - the added weight on the upper body creates a concern for lateral and rotational stresses on the knees. Moreover, the low back region may be susceptible with long duration skates. Vests have their merits within controlled drills for a segment of a practice.
Ankle weights have been around for a long time, and continue to have the drawbacks of not fitting around shin pads, coming loose and falling off, and placing the knee at risk during any lateral or rotational stressors. Skate Weights are an innovative improvement. They fit under the skate boot on top in the blade, clamping tightly in place with an allen key. The skate weights I use are only one pound each. These offer a weighted condition but are light enough that they do not alter the skating technique or poise the same injury risk. I am comfortable using the skate weights in all conditioning drills, plus standard practice drills like breakouts, 3-on-2's etc. I have incorporated them successfully into one-on-one drills and agility maneuvers.
Players can skate an entire practice with these weights. A logistical advantage is that you attach the weights to the blade before practice, where they remain secured for the duration of your skate and can be removed back in the dressing room. I also have players wear the skate weights for the first third of a practice, during the warm up, flow drills, and generic practice drills. Then they remove the weights on the bench so they can skate in a free condition during quickness and agility drills. This "tricks" their neuromuscular system during quick feet drills, and alters the players perception of how rapidly their feet are moving and how light footed they can skate.