Kevin Neeld — Hockey Training, Sports Performance, & Sports Science

Energy Systems Training for Hockey

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve spent a substantial amount of time reading through research pertaining to energy system development, GPS tracking, and heart rate variability. In reality, these topics are more interrelated than separate, as they all pertain to what energy systems athletes are relying on, and how much recovery time may be warranted following any give stress load (or work bout).

As you likely know, I’ve been a huge supporter of interval training for hockey players. In general, mantras such as “train fast to be fast” are applicable to hockey. This message is especially important for the players that ONLY condition by going on long jogs or bike rides. However, I think what might get lost in the “pro interval training” message is the need to use this strategy to train different energy systems, or phrased another way, different fuel replenishment systems. In other words, not EVERY interval of EVERY training session is going to be 20-30s of all out effort. Some will be shorter; some will be longer; some will be all out; some will be lower intensity. The desire to over simplify often leads us astray.

Over the last week I’ve been going back through a few hockey training and periodization resources that I haven’t read in several years. It’s interesting to re-read these things. Naturally, as one’s knowledge evolves, so to will their interpretation of any information.

Relevant to energy systems training for hockey, it’s important to recognize that, although hockey is a highly interval-based sport, the contributions of the aerobic system are still quite significant. In fact, in “Periodization Training for Sports” by Tudor Bompa and Michael Carrera, they point out that:

“Acceleration and quick changes of direction are important elements of ice hockey. Training should focus on refining skills and developing power and aerobic and anaerobic endurance.”

They also estimate that energy supply for hockey performance is:

  1. 10% Alactic
  2. 40% Lactic
  3. 50% Aerobic

Periodization Training for Sports

And, as I’ll mention shortly, while I think it’s important to recognize how the game has evolved over the last decade, I still think this information holds a lot of merit. The “aerobic base” that is often cited in periodization literature doesn’t mean that hockey players need to train like marathon runners, but building a strong aerobic system STRATEGICALLY during portions of the early off-season will improve the player’s ability to recover quickly from high intensity bouts AND improve their overall stress capacity.

In order to truly understand the energy contributions of the game, it’s helpful to have an illustration of the intensity and duration dynamics of a typical period and a typical game. One study (from Green et al., 1976) provides information on shift durations and distances covered during a college hockey game and differences in these measures between positions. They found:

  1. Total playing time averaged ~24.5 minutes
  2. ~5,553 meters were covered in the span of the game
  3. An average shift consisted of 39.7 seconds of uninterrupted playing, followed by 27.1 seconds of stoppage, repeated 2.3 times.
  4. Across the three periods, playing time (+17.4%), playing time per shift (+18.7%), playing time between stoppages (+13.3%), and the time taken to resume play after a stoppage (+22.0%) all increased.
  5. The average velocity remained constant over the first two periods and then dropped 5.2% in the 3rd period
  6. The average heart rate was found to be 87-92% of the max value achieved during a VO2 test
  7. Compared to forwards defensemen had more shifts (+26.1%), shorter recovery periods (-37.1%), and played longer (+21.2%).
  8. However, the average defensemen shift was shorter (-7.4%), had less continuous playing time (-10.1%), and took longer to resume play following a stoppage (+12.9%) compared to forwards.
  9. Lastly, on average, defensemens’ heart rates were 10-15 beats/min lower than forwards
  10. Interestingly, the authors also noted that blood lactate increased 457.1% after the first period, but gradually declined over the next two periods!
  11. Goalies showed relatively insignificant changes in blood lactate

Given that this research is now 35 years old, the results should be interpreted with a degree of caution and awareness of the changes in today’s game. That said, research like this is incredibly valuable in understanding the true demands placed on players throughout practices and games. Information in distance traveled and time at specific velocities can be achieved in outdoor sports using GPS systems. Unfortunately, GPS systems aren’t of much use to ice hockey, and other indoor sport. Although, a company called Catapult Sports is pioneering the integration of indoor monitoring systems, and will likely lead the way in providing a technology that governs the future of load and sport-related stress management in hockey. This information is doubly valuable with the addition of monitoring heart rate variability, as this provides information on both the training load AND the individual’s physiological response. If you’re not familiar with heart rate variability, I highly recommend you read David Lasnier’s post Managing Fatigue and Recovery and Joel Jamieson’s free report The End of Group Training.

Joel referenced an interesting study in his energy systems presentation that I had an opportunity to read on my flight back from Lincoln regarding how energy system contribution changes with repeat high intensity interval performance, which I’ll discuss more about next week. The big take home from this discussion is that ALL energy systems contribute to hockey performance and all need to be trained. The balance, progression and periodization of each system is where the magic lies.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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  • I agree with everything that you stated. I was considering studying the bioenergetic demands of ice hockey for my PhD. It’s been on hold due to logistic demands at PSU. I simply can’t take classes on campus for 2 semesters when PSU is 3 hours away.
    A legit study needs to be done on it but I feel the findings need to be not only position specific but player specific. That information will raise the question- Do you adjust training to strengthen the underdeveloped bioenergetic system of the player? It would change the way that they played the game. It’s like trying to make an athlete who squats quad dominate(like many hockey/soccer) and try to completely change the way they squat? For what purpose? A 500 lb squat? A weight coach would try to make that change with hockey player that has a 3 month off season. BRILLIANT! Check out the post that Mladen Jovanovi(his blog) had a few months back on a group of Italians Sports Scientist who tore up the studies on the bioenergetic demands of Premier League Soccer players. They make some awesome points in the study though it’s rather challenging to read because it was translated by Google. Our community loved those studies. The Italians make some great arguments on how they could be improved. Let me know what you think. We are on the same page and I’m frothing at the mouth to get this information to improve my hockey guys.

  • Scott-Great to hear from you. In general, I think that would be a tough sell for PhD work; there isn’t much money in studying bioenergetics of ice hockey. That said, maybe with the start of their new D1 program they’d be more open to it? I haven’t read Mladen’s post, but there is a lot of valuable information to be gained from understanding a player’s energy systems profile. Maybe that information can be used as justification for improving certain components of energy system development. Maybe it’s just used to understand how that player fatigues and to make adjustments to their additional stress volume accordingly. Ultimately, that’d be up to the coaching staff, but you can’t use the information if you don’t have it! “Stress management” as I think of it is largely accidental or haphazard; I think the technological advances that are rapidly becoming available will drastically improve our understanding of short- and long-term adaptation of both teams and individuals.

Kevin Neeld

Kevin Neeld Knows Hockey

Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He spent the last 7 years as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ, the last 3 of which he was also the Strength and Conditioning Coach and Manual Therapist for the Philadelphia Flyers Junior Team. Kevin is in his 5th year as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s National Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey .