The strength hockey players need to succeed is not always obvious to the casual observer. While lifting big weights like a heavy squat or bench press is impressive, strength is a lot more than just the matter on a barbell for athletes.
Here’s what you have to understand, those heavy lifting exercises are just one type of strength. It’s high force, but relatively slow (at least when compared to most sports movements).
In Velocity’s strength taxonomy, that’s what we’d call Max Strength or simply FORCE in the Strength Signature.
There are 6 types of strength we refer to for athletes. The development of all of them is crucial in building a better hockey athlete over the long term.
However, as a hockey player progresses, they will eventually focus on developing specific ones to higher levels and in the planes of motion that dominate the sport.
A player will need to increase their FORCE or maximum strength for quite a few years into their career. Young players in the NHL are often still building this as you won’t hit your higher-level until mid-twenties.
This serves as a base for many of the other qualities we are going to talk about. It also provides a degree of protection by increasing the load tolerance of the athlete’s soft tissues.
To go beyond that general strength, we perform a Strength Diagnosis through testing athletes and identify their unique Strength Signature—a profile of all 6 types of athletic power.
Even without that type of individual analysis, here are the 3 types of strength we’d like to see in a hockey player.
This strength quality is all about being able to absorb and control high levels of eccentric force. Eccentric muscle actions are where the muscle is applying force, but still stretching longer. It’s a critical and unique type of strength that is often neglected in many hockey players.
Every time a hockey player goes into a high-speed turn, they rely on eccentric strength to control those g-forces of the curve. If they want to go faster, they need more eccentric strength. When they take the impact of another player, they need this strength quality as well.
Training to improve this eccentric quality is done through a specific focus on absorbing and controlling forces. We use various overloaded plyometrics where the emphasis is on the quality and loads during landing or stopping.
It can also be achieved in traditional strength exercises when we focus on using extra slow tempos to lower the weight. Think of going downward in a squat and taking 6 seconds to do it.
Finally, we can really improve it by using special machines. We can overload the eccentric actions in diagonal and rotation patterns we see in hockey skating and shooting with flywheel inertia.
This is a power quality, meaning the player can apply big forces in a short time. We measure it relative to bodyweight because it directly correlates with a hockey player’s ability to propel themselves on the ice. High power output is needed for high skating speeds. It also contributes to things like shot power and making contact with another player.
Power is increased by first increasing strength to adequate levels and then focusing on speed of resisted movement. How much strength is enough? You have to test to figure that out.
To increase power, the variations of explosive Olympic lifts are a cornerstone. They are one of the most effective and efficient ways to increase whole-body power output.
Plyometrics and medicine ball throws are additional tools that can improve a hockey player’s capabilities. Performing these in lateral and rotational movements patterns helps transfer the explosive improvements from the weight room to the ice.
Another really effective method is to couple strength and power exercises together one after the other. Techniques such as complex and French contrast training rely on the increased nervous system activation of strength lifts. A heavy strength movement is followed by an explosive activity that takes advantage of this increased neurological state.
This type of strength is all about how quickly you can turn on your muscle units and produce force. It’s their rate of force development.
Maximum strength is traditionally about peak force generation, but that could easily take well over a second to build up.
In hockey, things move much quicker. Even long contact times with the ice are only in the 300-500 msec range. Like in many sports, in hockey, it’s not always about how much force you can produce, but instead how quickly you can create it. We want our hockey players to be able to “load” their muscles rapidly so they can explode into the next action.
Using exercises that put athletes at a disadvantage by taking away momentum and counter-movements forces them to work on their force development rate. This is often done with lighter loads that let the athlete focus on moving quickly, instead of just grinding against weight. Giving athletes feedback through velocity tracking technology in the weight room helps drive the right adaptations.
Measure to Manage
Instead of using generic programs, we tailor strength training to players after building a base of strength. This is done by actually measuring the 6 strength qualities to develop their Strength Signature.
The Strength Signature is a profile based on over 20 years of data from elite athletes around the globe. We can identify where a player’s relative strengths and weaknesses are so that an individual program can be created for optimal results.
Another reason we use Strength Diagnosis for hockey players is to identify strength imbalances that could put them at higher risk of injury. Whether they’ve been healthy until now or already had injuries, our Strength Diagnosis is an advanced step in keeping them on the ice and healthy.
For instance, a player with high EXPLODE and FORCE, but a low ABSORB score is at higher risk. It’s like a car with a really powerful engine and lots of speed, but bad brakes. That’s the formula for a crash.
Athletic Strength for Hockey
Once you understand that there are different types of strength, you can start to identify the types of strength hockey players need.
While a base of general strength is useful for a developing hockey player, understand that athletic strength has many qualities. To optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury, make sure you train the right type of strength.
On top of their basic force production capabilities, hockey players need specific types of strength. Absorb, Explode, and Load