Current Ice Hockey Research

In preparation for our Endeavor Staff Meeting last week, I spent a couple hours reading new research related to hockey players. Much to my surprise (because not a lot of research is done on the hockey population), there was actually some pretty interesting stuff out there. Check it out:

Laterality differences in elite ice hockey: An investigation of shooting and catching orientations

I wouldn’t say this is “groundbreaking”, but it’s intriguing. This study found that right-handed players were better goal scorers, left-handed players were better playmakers, and that there was an increase in left-handed goalies at higher levels (I always hated shooting on lefty goalies as a player!). Obviously, this isn’t to say that leftys can’t score goals and rightys can’t make passes, only that there is a tendency for more of the opposite to occur.

A 7-year review of men’s and women’s ice hockey injuries in the NCAA

The rate of concussion was 0.72/1000 exposures for men and 0.82/1000 for women, and the rate remained stable over the study period. Player contact was the cause of concussions in game situations for 41% of women and 72% of men. This goes to show that concussions are AT LEAST as big of a problem in women’s hockey as they are in men’s. Strength, speed, and awareness are the best ways to combat these!

Complex training in ice hockey: the effects of a heavy resisted sprint on subsequent ice-hockey sprint performance

This study found that performing a single heavy sled-resisted sprint on the ice was sufficient to improve 25-m on-ice sprint times. With my background in neuroscience, this isn’t surprising. Heavy training results in an increased neural drive to the working muscles. This does provide an on-ice training application for power skating work though. By performing heavy sled-resisted sprints, resting for a few minutes, then performing an unloaded sprint, you can train the body to use a greater proportion of the skating muscles’ capabilities to operate at higher velocities. The key is to provide ample rest between the two bouts (2-3 minutes), and not just run the players into the ground. Sean Skahan wrote a great post on this on his site: Complex Training in Hockey

Cellular responses in skeletal muscle to a season of ice hockey

This was the one that really stood out to me. The authors took metabolic enzyme samples from the vastus lateralis (lateral quad muscle) pre- and post-season and parlayed these findings to adaptive changes that occur in the muscle across the season. The result was “a smaller (p < 0.05) cross-sectional area (CSA) for both type I (-11.7%) and type IIA (-18.2%) fibres and a higher (p < 0.05) capillary count/CSA for type I (+17.9%) and type IIA (+17.2%) were also found over the season. No changes were found in peak oxygen consumption (51.4 ± 1.2 mL kg(-1) min(-1) vs. 52.3 ± 1.3 mL kg(-1) min(-1)).” This led the authors to conclude that “based on the alterations in oxidative and perfusion potentials and muscle mass, that the dominant adaptations are in support of oxidative metabolism, which occurs at the expense of fibre CSA and possibly force-generating potential.”

Taken at first glance, these findings would seem to question the “hockey players don’t need aerobic training” argument. A slightly deeper look at this information shows that the authors didn’t demonstrate an absolute increase in capillary count, only an increase in capillary count PER cross sectional area of the muscle fibers. In this regard, it’s especially relevant that cross sectional area decreased significantly in both Type I and Type II fibers. This means that capillary count could have also decreased, but decreased RELATIVELY LESS than the cross sectional area of the muscle fibers. I also think it’s important to note that these findings were from one muscle only, and it’d be difficult to make body-wide assumptions based on these findings.

At the risk of sounding stubbornly narrow-minded regarding my opinion on conditioning for hockey players, I think this study just further highlights the need for in-season training to maintain muscle mass. 12% and 18% decreases in the cross-sectional area of Type I and Type II muscle fibers, respectively, is pretty substantial! I’d be interested to see how the findings in this study would change if muscle mass was maintained throughout the season. I’d also be interested to see how the strength profiles of these players changed.

Risk Factors for Groin Strains in Sports from Mike Reinold

Mike Reinold is a really bright guy and I’ve enjoyed reading his work for the last several months. In this post he highlights a study on soccer players indicating that the top two risk factors for groin strains are previous strain and adductor weakness. If you’ve been following my work for a while this won’t be news to you, but it’s nice to know that the research community it continuing to find that this is the case. The more evidence we have that these are the two most common factors, the more convinced we can be that we’re on the right track by taking steps to maintain adductor strength and prevent initial injuries form occurring in the first place.

Last, but certainly not least, I think Body By Boyle Online has RAPIDLY established itself as one of the top strength and conditioning resources available. What started as a site to deliver the training programs used by Michael Boyle Strength and Conditioning to establish itself as the #1 Gym in America has expanded to include an incredible amount of information, including some of Boyle’s top presentations, and presentations from Sue Falsone (Physical Therapist from Athletes Performance) and my friend Nick Tumminello. When the site first came out, I thought it was a great option for individuals that wanted to follow a structured training program, and for strength and conditioning coaches that wanted to take the guess work out of program design for their clients. Now I think it’s a must-have for all strength and conditioning professionals. I’m blown away that they’d put so much content on the site and still only charge around $60/month to access it. Click the image below to head over to the site and see everything they have to offer.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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