Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of a four-part series to help educate and guide hockey families this offseason. Learn more about long-term athlete development and the American Development Model at www.MinnesotaHockey.org/admkids.
You can’t describe a good hockey player without mentioning the word strength. It’s an important aspect in the game. It’s where players get their power and explosiveness on the ice. It’s where they win the little battles, make hard passes and big defensive plays.
That’s why offseason workouts should include an element of strength training – but it needs to be done in moderation and at the right time.
“It’s very age-specific,” said Darryl Nelson, strength and conditioning coach for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
There are plenty of different ways to improve your strength this offseason.
There’s no need for young players to get a gym membership. In fact, they should be working their muscles without even stepping foot inside a weight room.
“Really, my highest recommendation is to have them play other sports besides hockey,” said Nelson. “It can be baseball, track and field, lacrosse or tennis – anything really.”
Specific strength building happens in each sport. In track and field, sprinting and any jumping events are especially beneficial for hockey players. Lacrosse works many of the same muscles as hockey. Tennis works on an athlete’s starting, stopping and rotations.
At this age, players can also benefit from just playing games. Jump rope, hopscotch, or even hopping and keeping a balloon in the air are simple exercises that aren’t overly stressful.
But most importantly, any activity needs to be fun. If the child is not engaged and not having fun, it’s not worth it. Especially in the offseason, let them decide what they want to play.
This is when players should be introduced to weights and strength training drills. The goal must be on education and proper technique, not maximum intensity.
“Their bodies are still growing so much at this time,” said Nelson. “But they should be preparing their bodies for proper training techniques.”
Squats and Olympic-style lifting will help familiarize their muscles and bodies for future strength training drills. Working in some free weights and starting to develop muscles mass with low weight and a high number of reps isn’t a bad idea either.
14U and Beyond
By this age, most players are already hitting the gym and working on building muscle mass, and they should be. Athletes are most trainable and gain the most strength and power six months after their last growth spurt.
For boys, that tends to be at ages 13 and 14. For girls, it can be even earlier. If you want to reach your potential as a hockey player, it is critical to take advantage of this window.
“It’s paramount for players to utilize that window and learn the proper way to strength train at that time,” said Nelson. “It’s where they can build the most muscle mass and bone density.”
More endurance-based and high-repetition workouts are best for hockey players. CrossFit and bodybuilder workouts are actually counterproductive for team sport athletes. Lower weights and increased reps mixed with chin-ups, pull-ups and single leg squats will be the most beneficial. Players should also mix in some on-ice strength-building drills using sleds for resistance.
One main thing to remember is that it should be quality over quantity.
“It’s all about quality workouts,” Nelson said. “Don’t just go to the gym and start lifting 50-pound free weights. Make sure you are working the proper muscles and getting the most out of every workout.”
Take a Break
Like with any workout, especially in the offseason, players shouldn’t be strength training every single day. Your body needs to take a break, physically and mentally.
Off days for muscle recovery are valuable and important. Limit yourself to no more than four training days a week, and less if you’re active in another sport throughout the summer.
“You want to avoid burnout,” said Nelson. “Training plus recovery equals importance. If you are at the gym every day you’re going to feel that fatigue and you’re putting yourself at risk of injury.”
All of this should be tied together with a healthy diet. Without healthy food, all of that hard work will go to waste. Much of the benefits will be lost.
“There are too many fast-food options surrounding kids, especially when they are on the go constantly,” said Nelson. “The No. 1 thing that goes hand in hand with any sort of training is nutrition. Make sure you are eating quality food, especially on days you’re working out.”
Well-balanced meals can play a big part in elevating a good athlete and hockey player to an elite-level talent.
The 2014 Eastview Hockey Association Night was a huge success. Hockey families and friends came out to make the event at Valley Tap a great night.