Most of our off-season hockey players wrapped up their training last week. Most youth programs are getting started with camps in the next couple weeks. At this time of year, I get a ton of questions from players and parents about what they can do in-season to help maintain or continue progressing their physical development.

For starters, I think it’s important to establish how crucial in-season training is. In-season training has certainly gained favor over the last decade or so, but there are still thought-leaders/organization heads with an old-school mentality that don’t emphasize it nearly enough. This, in part, might be explained by a lack of understanding of the goals of in-season training:

  1. Maintain physical qualities (continue to increase in lesser trained players)
  2. Reverse negative changes in soft-tissue length and quality
  3. Facilitate recovery

This stuff is VERY important in-season!

All of these goals are inter-related. When done right, in-season training will help players feel, perform, and recover faster. As an example, take a look at a few interesting statistics from my friend Stieg Theander’s work with the Phoenix Coyotes:

Man Games Lost to Injury

  • 1996: 450
  • 1997: 473
  • 1998: 250 (Stieg’s first year!)
  • 1999: 149
  • 2000: 142

The first year resulted in a ~45% reduction in man games lost to injury. After 3 years, that number decreased another 25%. That’s a 70% reduction in man games lost to injury in three years! It would be short-sighted to attribute all of this to in-season training, but it highlights the magnitude of change a quality training program can have on a team’s health. Think your team would do better with a 70% reduction in games lost to injury?

In-Season Training Composition
Some of the hesitancy with implementing in-season training programs boils down to not understanding how to design and implement the program. If a player take their off-season program and follows it through the year, they’ll be completely buried before Thanksgiving. The off-season is about developing capacity; the in-season is about doing the bare minimum to maintain capacity. These are much different goals and require drastically different approaches.

Three In-Season Program Changes
I’m in the process of developing the new in-season programs for the entire Team Comcast Tier I youth organization for this season, so I’ll probably post some of the programs to over the next couple weeks. Until then, here are three in-season program changes to think about:

1) Speed and conditioning work is on the ice
In the off-season, we sprint twice per week and condition between 2-3 times depending on the phase. In-season, the players’ speed and conditioning work should be done on the ice. If players perform drills at a high tempo, they’re getting the most hockey-specific form of speed training possible, and most practices are of sufficient tempo to prepare players to compete in a game (despite what physiologists may tell you). Hammering sprint and conditioning work off the ice will put excessive wear and tear across the muscles of the hips and lower body. In-season, sprint work should be limited to very low volume (e.g. 4-6 sprints of 10-15 yards), and be done sporadically. Conditioning should be low impact (e.g. on bikes or using circuits), and be used to compliment on-ice conditioning. Most youth players skating 4+ times per week will be fine in this department. Pro players that may not get much ice during games are a different story and will benefit from supplementary conditioning work.

2) Avoid rotation
This is anti-sport-specific training at it’s finest. Hockey players rotate several hundred times per week during practices and games to turn, give and accept passes and hits, shoot, and orient their eyes in a more optimal position to read the play. All of this is stress in a rotation pattern. Like speed work, rotation-based core work should be limited in volume and frequency.

During this time, however, it is extremely important to maintain rotation-pattern mobility. Amongst others, hips and thoracic spines tend to stiffen up as the season prolongs. Maintaining this mobility is a top priority and should be done on as close to a daily basis as possible. In our setting, we built our warm-up to encompass these qualities so we know they’re hitting them every time we see them, and encourage teams to do the same warm-up when they’re not under our supervision. We’ll also build some extra mobility work into the off-ice training sessions (lying knee to knee mobilizations, diagonal hip rocks, wide stance quadruped rock, seated thoracic rotations, diagonal arm arcs, etc.).

Lying Knee to Knee Stretch. This can also be done for reps with 2s holds, and with a sleeved shirt.

3) Strength and Power are Key
In general, the physical qualities stressed on the ice during the season are multi-directional speed, low load power, and work capacity/conditioning. To design a program that compliments on-ice work, it’s important to consider what qualities ARE NOT being stressed on the ice. Strength and high load power are visibly absent from the list above. ALL in-season work should be low volume, but there should be a greater proportion of the total training program allocated to these qualities than the others that receive more on-ice attention. To be overly simplistic, if all players did was follow this template:

A1) Olympic Lift
A2) Hip Mobility
B1) LB Push
B2) UB Pull
C1) LB Pull
C2) UB Push

they’d be much better off than what most players do.

Great display of power. Colby Cohen hang cleans 235 x 3

The key is to get a low volume of high intensity high quality reps in, and then call it a day. Don’t overdo it. 2-3 sets of 4-8 reps is all it takes for most in-season lifts. As a general rule, player’s shouldn’t be smoked at the end of an in-season training session; they should feel warmed up and energized. There is a time for tough sessions in the interest of team building or developing mental toughness, but this is the exception, not the rule.

Hopefully this provides a reasonable insight into the composition of an in-season training program. In a couple days, I’ll post some important information on how to alter the stimulus of a training program to minimize the risk of detraining throughout the year. Check back soon!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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