Testing is an important part of the training process. Not only does it help coaches profile the athlete, and therefore make decisions about which areas require more attention from a training perspective, but it also provides a mechanism to track progress over time.

In a previous post, which followed all of the controversy surrounding one of the upcoming NHL Draft’s top prospects not being able to perform a single pull-up at the most recent NHL Combine, I presented averages on how our youth and junior hockey players performed on a chin-up rep max test, one indicator of upper body strength. If you missed that, you can check it out here: Ultimate Pull-Up Transformation

While there are many ways to test power in athletes, we started using a Lateral Bound Test in addition to some of the more traditional tests (e.g. Vertical Jump, Broad Jump, Hang Clean, etc.). Compared to other tests, this test provides:

  1. An indication of power in a lateral/horizontal pattern, which is extremely specific to ice hockey, but also relevant to almost all team sports
  2. An opportunity to identify side-to-side differences

As you can imagine, the lateral distance one can travel jumping off of one leg and landing on the other will be influenced by a few other confounding factors that need to be accounted for, namely:

  1. Limb length
  2. Hip structure
  3. Lateral “flexibility”

Instead of attempting to measure all of these things individually, we simply calculate a “split” distance (as far as the athlete can spread his/her feet without putting hands on the ground) and normalize all jump distances to this. In this way, we account for how all of those factors affect the lateral movement.

The equation I used to calculate normalized lateral bounds was:

LB Norm = LB Avg/Split where LB Avg = (Lateral Bound Left + Lateral Bound Right)/2

The results from our pre-Summer testing are presented below:

Hockey Power Testing-Lateral Bound

The general story is that athletes become more explosive as they get older (not surprising). It is interesting to the note ranges at each age group, as there are plenty of examples of junior- and college-aged players jumping on a “U-15 level” and vice versa.

Of even greater note is that the correlation between vertical jump height and the normalized lateral bound distance in our junior and college players (we did a broad jump with the younger kids for logistical reasons) was only 0.28. For those of you that shutter at the thought of analyzing statistics, that is essentially “not a very strong relationship”. In other words, the link between vertical jump and lateral bound performance is quite weak, suggesting that power is dependent upon which pattern it’s being expressed in.

I took the results from our Junior and College players and ranked everyone from best to worst according to their vertical jump height. The player with the best VJ was renamed “Player 1”, and each player was renamed accordingly until the player with the last VJ, who was named “Player 35”. I then re-ranked everyone according to their normalized lateral bound distance.

Hockey Power Testing-Lateral Bound vs. Vertical Jump

Lateral Bound vs. Vertical Jump Performance

As you can imagine, this list isn’t entirely random. The player with the best VJ (Player 1) had the 4th best normalized lateral bound. Similarly, the two players with the worst VJ were also dead last in normalized LB distance. That said, there are some notable outliers. The players with the 6th, 7th, and 8th best vertical jumps are all toward the bottom of the list for normalized LB. Likewise, the 3 of the top 5 best normalized LB performances were handed in by the 26th, 22nd, and 25th best vertical jump performers.

There are a few important take homes here:

  1. Power is pattern specific, so it’s important to select testing methods that provide the most appropriate information for your sport and/or training situation
  2. Ranking players according to a single testing variable is likely to give very cloudy results.
  3. There are high and low performers at every age group, but this doesn’t necessarily indicate that one player is better off than the other, as it’s extremely difficult to factor in genetic capacity. Testing results, especially at these age levels, need to be used to track individual progress and NOT to compare players against one another.

As always, if you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below!

If you’re interested in following a structured hockey training system to improve your speed, power, strength and conditioning, be sure to check out my new Ultimate Hockey Transformation system today!

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To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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Last week, I posted three articles that gave a fairly detailed look inside the recent testing process we went through with the Philadelphia Flyers Junior A team, how we reported this information back to the players and coaches, and how it immediately influenced our programs. If you missed those three posts, you can check them out here:

  1. Off-Ice Testing
  2. Hockey Team Testing: Player Reporting
  3. Hockey Team Testing: Coach Reporting and Programming

Today I wanted to expand on part of the testing process we did to assess our players’ lower body power. It’s generally accepted that power is an important quality to improve in hockey players. In fact, every Summer I hear players (or parents/coaches) reference needing to improve their “first few steps” or “explosiveness” more times than Walter references his experience in Vietnam.

The Big Lebowski

Over the line!”

While I don’t think anyone would argue the importance of power in hockey, the topic of how to assess/measure it is interesting. The vertical jump is the most widely used assessment of lower body power and one that is used at all levels in all sports. The vertical jump, however, has been critiqued as being a vertical pattern, which is less specific to the overwhelming majority of team sports that involve primarily horizontal vectors (the goal is to move forward, not upward). Within this context, it would seem that a broad jump may be more “sports-specific”. That said, and likely as you would expect, in athletes that are familiar with both patterns, there’s a pretty strong correlation between performance in the vertical jump and that in the broad jump. In other words, they’re likely assessing the same thing (or close enough to the same thing), so picking the one that makes the most sense in your situation depending upon logistics and what comparisons you want to make with the data (more widely available norms for vertical jump) is reasonable.

Enter the lateral bound as a lower body power assessment, which could be considered the most hockey-specific power assessment. The lateral bound is a single-leg, lateral, horizontal movement pattern, which is notably more skating specific than either a broad or vertical jump. It also gives the option of comparing side to side imbalances, which could result from a number of factors ranging from true power discrepancies to hip abduction limitations on the landing leg. Nonetheless, a significant difference between sides would at least highlight the athlete as one that may require a little extra attention.

As you may have read last week, with the Flyers junior team we tested vertical jump and lateral bound. The birds eye view of the thought process here is that a lot of teams test vertical jump so having that information on the players allows us, on a team and individual basis, to look at college and pro programs and see where our players stack up. The lateral bound, as I just mentioned, is a more hockey-specific pattern, and gives us the ability to look at side to side differences. In all honesty, I fully expected the ranking order between the two tests to be almost identical. After all, some of the kids are going to be more explosive than others, based on a number of factors, and this should show up in both tests.

And then I looked at the testing results…

There is certainly a degree of similarity in some cases, but if I take the rank from the vertical jump test and rerank based on the average lateral bound between legs, this is what shakes out:

  1. 1st Lateral Bound: 1st VJ
  2. 2nd LB: 15th VJ
  3. 3rd LB: 5th VJ
  4. 4th LB: 4th, 7th, and 10th VJ tied
  5. 7th LB: 22nd VJ
  6. 8th LB: T-2nd VJ
  7. 9th LB: 13th VJ
  8. 10th LB: 15th VJ
  9. 11th LB: 19th VJ
  10. 12th LB: 9th VJ
  11. 13th LB: 7th VJ
  12. 14th LB: 4th VJ
  13. 15th LB: 19th VJ
  14. 16th LB: 10th & 23rd VJ tied
  15. 18th LB: 5th, 18th, & 19th VJ tied
  16. 21st LB: 10th and 15th VJ tied
  17. 23rd LB: 13th VJ

Plotting lateral bound distance versus vertical jump height looks like:

Hockey Power Test Comparison

Clearly, if you remove the one “best of both worlds” and the one “needs improvement in both worlds” (for the sake of defending his honor, this player spent the last 6 weeks of the Summer recovering from a concussion and not training), what’s left is a non-linear cloud of jumbled testing results. This is evident if you sift through the data in the list above and note all of the high achievers in one power test that weren’t so consistent on the other.

As you may suspect, there is a degree of familiarity that will influence these tests. Players that have used these movements in their programs (e.g. practiced them) more will perform closer to their true potential than those with a less refined pattern. Having seen all of these tests, however, I don’t think this is the main confounding issue here. A few months ago Dean Somerset wrote a great article on Eric Cressey’s site (see: Pelvic Arch Design and Load Carrying Capacity), that explained how certain people have different hip structures that make lateral movement more difficult, and how these structures may influence performance in different exercises.

4 Pelvis Types

The wider arches may be more conducive for lateral movements.

Interestingly, but not necessarily surprisingly, this seems to be the primary factor in explaining some of the discrepancies we saw between vertical and lateral power. Those with structures not conducive to large lateral movement/excursions have an opportunity to demonstrate their lower body power more effectively in a vertical or broad jump movement than a lateral bound. Ultimately, the goal is always to improve their on-ice speed and testing results are always better suited for tracking progress than comparing individuals, but this seems to provide evidence that including multiple tests will help ensure you’re capturing all of the information you need to profile a player’s strengths and weaknesses. In this case, if we would have only looked at the most “hockey-specific” test, it would have been easy to conclude that some of the players were under-powered, when the reality is that they just have a different hip structure than some of the other guys. Once again, this highlights the importance of appreciating the individual variations players have in their hip structures and the impact this can have on their performance. If you don’t currently have a good assessment process or feel comfortable recognizing if a limitation is structural or functional, check out Optimizing Movement, which details the approach I’ve used for the last several years with our athletes.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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A couple weeks ago I posted a video on HockeyStrengthandConditioning.com with two “Reactive Jumping” (or plyometric) exercises that we’ve used with our hockey players. These are two jumps that you’re likely familiar with (I have picture breakdowns of both in my Off-Ice Performance Training Course), but this execution is relatively novel, at least to most youth hockey audiences.

Where I go to talk shop with the top hockey strength and conditioning coaches in the world!

Plyometric exercises can be used to serve a number of different purposes. For example, performing a vertical jump after pausing for a couple seconds in the bottom of a squat position will help develop position specific rate of force development or “starting strength”. In contrast, performing a vertical jump in the typical fashion by starting tall and dropping down into a squat position and then exploding upward will integrate the stretch reflex and stretch shortening cycles to a great degree. This is just one example of how the same exercise can be manipulated to create a different response.

In addition to using different variations to create different responses, it’s important to recognize that some are more advanced and may not be appropriate for all populations. There are fundamental patterns that athletes need to master before diving in to advanced options, even if they could technically benefit from the intended response of the exercise. With that in mind, here’s a sample progression to teach youth athletes how to perform a vertical jump properly.

  1. Squat Hold
  2. Squat
  3. Squat-Pause-Jump
  4. Vertical Jump
  5. Vertical Jump w/ Rapid Decent
  6. Reactive Drop Squat
  7. Vertical Jump w/ Reactive Drop Start

This is certainly not the only way to go about reaching this end-goal. Regardless of the path taken, the principles should remain relatively synonymous:

  1. Teach the athlete to squat properly (optimal posture/alignment)
  2. Teach athlete to jump and land with proper technique
  3. Progress in velocity/reactiveness

If jump landings look like this, the athlete isn’t ready to progress to more advanced variations or higher volumes.

Green light.

Naturally, athletes shouldn’t progress to the next level until they can demonstrate CONSISTENT proficiency in the previous level. While I think 1&2 can be accomplished in parallel, it’s nonsensical and irresponsible to encourage athletes to jump higher, further, or more if they can’t jump properly.

Log in to HockeySC.com and check out the reactive jumping video, as well as a ton of other exercise videos from Mike Potenza, Sean Skahan, and Darryl Nelson!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If you train youth players without any equipment, check this out: Off-Ice Performance Training Course

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Last week I came across a recent research article that I think is a real breakthrough in the hockey training world. Before I get to that, I want to quickly touch on the importance (or lack thereof) of testing.

First, let’s distinguish between assessing (screening for ROM, structural, or movement impairments), and testing (assessing performance). I think assessing has a place in many training settings, especially with older athletes who have accumulated more soft-tissue trauma and have more firmly rooted, but still reversible movement impairments. I think assessing a 12-year old with no training background is unnecessary and that time could probably be better spent teaching the kid how to move well. Groove and improve!

With regards to testing, I think using performance on tests as a comparative tool amongst players is a ridiculous notion. I’ve always said that if Sidney Crosby had a 15″ vertical jump (which is brutal for a player at that level), he’d still be one of the best players in the NHL. The off-ice performance testing shouldn’t determine the selection of players.

Think these guys have the best bench press on their team?

Simply, players should be evaluated on their on-ice ability. That said, using testing as a way for tracking and documenting a player’s off-ice development isn’t a bad idea. In fact, in the case of more elite players (more specifically, those with an “older” training age), it will help document the effectiveness of the program. In the case of players with a younger training (because any form of training will work for these players), showing objective progress will help them buy in to the importance of training, which is also worthwhile.

The big caveat with testing is that there has never been any real evidence that higher levels of off-ice athleticism lead to improved on-ice performance. In other words, we know that someone fast off the ice is likely to be fast on the ice (if they learn to skate well), but will that mean that they score more goals, have more assists, have a better +/- or are better than their peers at any other game-specific marker of performance? Intuitively I think we can all appreciate the importance of making improvements in athleticism (speed, strength, power, etc.). In fact, I make a living training hockey players to do just that. IMPROVEMENTS will lead to improved performance, but ABSOLUTES have never been linked to better performance.

“You can’t score goals in the weight room.”

That’s a running joke with me and a few of the players at Endeavor Sports Performance. While there is some truth to that, a new research article demonstrates, for the first time, that there is a connection between off-ice and on-ice performance.

Peyer et al. (2011) measured the Michigan State University Men’s Hockey Team’s (NCAA D1):

  • Age
  • Height
  • Body Mass
  • Body Fat %
  • Fat Free Mass
  • VO2 Max
  • Maximal Lactate Level
  • Max Heart Rate
  • Repeat Sprint Test Ability
  • Max Push-Ups
  • Max Chin-Ups
  • Max Leg Press Reps with 400lbs
  • Max Bench Press Reps with 155lbs
  • On-Ice Dot-to-Dot Sprint Time (Offensive face-off dot to far same side, but opposing end face-off dot)
  • On-Ice 1-Lap Sprint Time
  • On-Ice Lightening Drill Time (Start at blueline->redline->back to blueline->far blue line->back to redline-> finish at far blue line)
  • Plus/Minus throughout Season

Plus/Minus was used as the primary indicator of hockey performance because of it’s ability to effectively incorporate both offensive and defensive efforts. An argument can be made that a similar analysis should be performed with other performance measures, but we’ll leave that for future research. All things considered, plus/minus is the best single choice available.

Quick Editors Note: This study was conducted on MSU’s hockey team the year they won the National Championship. This may or may not mean anything to you, but I think it’s important to point out that this wasn’t performed on a team that got walked on through the year. This was an incredible group of players.

The Results

Notable findings included:

  • There were no significant differences in any of the measures between forwards and defensemen except for VO2Max, with the forwards having higher values.
  • Plus/Minus was ONLY significantly correlated with four of the other tests: Repeat Sprint Ability (12 x 110-m sprint every 45 s, off-ice), Chin-Ups, Leg Press, and Bench Press.
  • Interestingly, when forwards were dissected out and reanalyzed, only Chin-Up performance was significantly correlated with Plus/Minus (r=0.728, p=0.007)
  • When defensemen were segregated, body mass (r=0.651, p=0.041), fat free mass (r=0.682, p=0.030), and bench press (r=0.720, p=0.029) were all significantly correlated with Plus/Minus.
  • When the values significantly correlated with Plus/Minus were further analyzed using a step-wise regression technique, chin-up and repeat sprint performance were the best predictors of Plus/Minus (explaining 49% of the variance)

Interpreting the Findings

It’s not surprising to see that forwards had higher VO2Max values than defensemen. This is likely a combination of both an adaptation to the position and a natural selection precluding the athletes to start. In other words, players that have difficulty keeping up with the pace of forward play may be moved back to play defense at young ages and just stay there. This is NOT evidence that forwards need to do more aerobic training. Quite the contrary. The evidence is clear in that anaerobic interval training increases V02Max equally as well as aerobic training, and with hockey players interval training is much more sport-relevant. This is also reflected in the correlation between repeat sprint performance and plus/minus. Hockey players need to be fast, consistently.

While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the tests chosen, the authors explained that the tests were included as part of the team’s yearly testing and many are included in NHL testing procedures. This doesn’t make it right, but it allows me to understand why they chose the tests they did. That said, it was interesting to see that strength (lower body and upper body) and repeat-sprint ability were the two qualities most predictive of plus-minus. This should come as no surprise to most of you, but it certainly has some important implications. The authors summed up a major conclusion brilliantly:

“Aerobic fitness and body composition do not appear to be significant predictors of player performance as measured by the +/- system or coach evaluation. To maximize the efficiency of preseason testing, coaches may rely on strength (chin-ups, leg press, and bench press) and repeat sprint tests while decreasing the number of aerobic capacity and body composition analyses to minimize player burden…”

Hopefully this will provide further evidence for some of the coaches that have hesitated to take out their continuous run and VO2 tests that there are better ways of assessing a player’s conditioning.

One of the other interesting findings is that the coaches of this team independently ranked the players in order of ability. The authors took the top 6 (5F, 1D) and bottom 6 (3F, 3D) and found that the only variable that differed significantly between them was plus/minus. That is not surprising. You’d assume your best players have a better plus/minus than your worst. However, the authors noted that the top 6 players exhibited a trend toward being younger, heavier, faster in the repeat-sprint test, and stronger in their lower body. While you can’t draw massive conclusions from trends taken from a breakdown of a single team, I think this alludes to the importance of developing lower body mass and strength. This seems like a relatively intuitive concept, but the reality is that most high school players default to the “my legs are big enough” excuse for not lifting legs and focus primarily on their mirror muscles.

The big take home from this is that a hockey player’s training program CANNOT neglect strength work, and that interval-based work is more appropriate for conditioning purposes. It appears that strength and repeat-speed (e.g. hockey conditioning) are most predictive of on-ice success. That…and a clean sheet of ice:

To your success,

Kevin Neeld


Peyer, K., Pivarnik, J., Eisenmann, J., & Vorkapich, M. (2011). Physiological Characteristics of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Ice Hockey Players and Their Relation to Game Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(5), 1183-1192.

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