USA Hockey Camp Q&A

Last week I posted the presentation I gave recently at a USA Hockey U-14 Regional Festival Camp. If you missed it, you can check out the presentation here: USA Hockey Regional Camp Recap

I also added the presentation and all of the videos at Hockey Strength and Conditioning, so if you wanted to check those out, it may be worth trialing a membership to the site. You’ll likely find a lot of other beneficial information while you’re in there!

Hockey Conditioning: Is longer better?

After my presentation at the USA Hockey Camp, two parents, who happened to be former world-class figure skaters, asked a great question about conditioning. They mentioned that when they were training, their routine was 5 minutes long. The thought, then, was that if they trained to complete a 10-minute routine (or trained to go hard for 10-minutes) then the body would be well-prepared to perform optimally for 5 minutes. The parallel to hockey, was that if the average shift was 40-60s, shouldn’t the players just train to go hard for 2 minutes?

While this idea makes some sense on paper, it loses some of its merit in light of the specific adaptations that training in specific energy zones creates. I’ve written about some of this in the past, but the general idea is that we have three separate energy systems:

  1. Alactic
  2. Lactic
  3. Aerobic

From top to bottom, these systems can provide energy for short, high-intensity efforts (alactic) through longer, lower-intensity efforts (aerobic). While the alactic system has the highest relative recovery time in terms of work:rest ratios, the shorter work intervals typically create recovery times that are less than 1-2 minutes, and if the lactic system is avoided, repeat maximal efforts can be more consistently repeated without significant decrements related to fatigue (one reason why some S&C coaches avoid training in the lactic zone for the majority of the training year, even in hockey players). Naturally, it’s a physiological law that the more highly trained you are on one extreme, the less proficient you’ll be at the opposite extreme. In more practical terms, the best sprinters won’t be the best endurance runners because the physiological adaptations to these two efforts are conflicting.

The major point here is that you want your training to be specific to the desired energy system adaptation. If you simply add time with the idea that overshooting the competition time period will make it easier to perform in the competition, you’ll likely cause other undesirable adaptations (e.g. decreases in muscle mass, strength, power, etc.). This is especially true when you’re crossing over energy system time limits. While it’s far more complicated than this, if you think of the alactic system as providing energy for efforts in the 0-20s range, the lactic system providing energy for efforts in the 20s-2 minute range, and the aerobic system providing energy for anything over 2-minutes, then any energy system work that crosses over one of these boundaries is that much more likely to create undesirable changes. Does training for 10 minutes negatively effect performance in 5-minute efforts? I don’t think it’s the best approach, but because they’re both toward the shorter end of the aerobic spectrum it may not be entirely negative. In contrast, doubling a 60s hockey shift to train in 2-minute max effort intervals could have a more negative effect.

This is aside from the fact, which I discussed in my presentation, that despite the average shift length ranging somewhere between 25-60s depending on the position and level of play, every shift is broken down into a series of shorter duration efforts interspersed with periods of rest and recovery (e.g. defensemen resting at the point in the offensive zone or back side of the net in the defensive zone, wingers resting while covering defenseman at the point, etc.). While these examples, which are just a few of the many that occur regularly for players at all positions, aren’t entirely passive, they’re far from maximum effort.

Is it speed training or conditioning?

Another concept I touched on during the presentation was the idea that speed training is meant to improve the athlete’s maximal capacity, and thus requires full recovery between efforts. A common problem at all levels, but especially with youth hockey players, is that players are rushed into their next sprint before they’ve had a chance to recovery. In general, I say if you’re still breathing heavy, you’re not ready to go. And if you’re not sure, then wait longer. You can’t expand the limits of your maximum speed in a fatigued state. If you’re breathing heavy at the start of a sprint, you’re officially “conditioning” at that point. I think this really resonated with the players, parents, and coaches in the audience because it passes the common sense test.

This, in my mind, is the major downfall of even well-coached (the overwhelming minority) CrossFit and other generic “do it yourself” training programs. Most are geared toward maintaining a high tempo, which has more of a conditioning effect than anything else. If you remember from the video below, there are several different qualities that need to be included in a comprehensive hockey training program, and simply attempting to jam more work into a finite period of time will impair the adaptations to several of them.

Unfortunately, because kids have such a young training age, EVERYTHING (no matter how stupid, physiologically senseless, and generally inappropriate) makes them stronger.  This gives the illusion of an effective training stimulus, but really it’s lowering their adaptation ceiling by sending conflicting physiological signals.

Wrap Up

One of the reasons I had so much fun at the camp was that I had an opportunity to interact with and influence so many of our country’s youth players. There were kids there from Alaska to California to Texas to South Dakota, and everywhere in between (except Canada!). My hope is that these players now have information to combat the nonsense they’re exposed to through television infomercials and the whisperings of their fellow high school students. In contrast to Europe, who tends to emphasize development and has many of their best coaches working at the youth ranks, the U.S., at least historically, over-emphasizes competition and most of the best coaches are reserved for the top leagues. My hope is that the coaches and training professionals working with youth players continue to work hard and improve, so we can help provide better information and development programs for our players. I’m appreciative that USA Hockey gave me an opportunity to work with so many of their kids; hopefully they use what they learned!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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