Summer is here, meaning hockey might be the furthest thing from many people’s minds – even adult recreational players who live for the nights at the rink most of the year.
The natural inclination is that this is a time for rest, relaxation, recovery and good old fun. But while all of those things should be consumed in high doses this time of year, it’s also important not to throw away the work that hopefully has allowed you to play at a high level.
Indeed, summer can be a time to maintain a high level of strength and fitness or embark on new programs aimed at coming back even better in the fall. We talked to a couple of experts in the field for some tips on how to do just that.
Kevin Neeld is the director of performance at Endeavor Sports Performance and the strength and conditioning coach for the USA Hockey Women's National Team. He also has a particular passion for strength training when it comes to adult players.
“I could probably talk about that topic for two hours,” Neeld says.
One of the most important things, he says, is understanding why you are working out in the first place.
“There are basically two goals of strength training,” Neeld says. “One is to improve performance on the ice, and the other is to improve durability or decrease injury risk.”
At the heart of any good workout is a good warmup, adds Doug Crashley, who develops elite hockey players at Crash Conditioning.
“One thing I’ve found is dynamic warmup stuff like range of motion and movement-based work is really going to strengthen the core,” Crashley says, adding that body weight exercises help with strength and flexibility.
Match the Exercise to the Sport
Hockey is a game built around short bursts of speed and specific lower-body strength and agility. As such, it’s important to work on those things at the gym instead of wasting movements.
“One of the main things, is we want is to be increasing athleticism, so the squatting patterns are the same as the skating patterns,” Crashley says.
When adding cardio work to strength work, it’s also important to tailor the exercises to the sport. Those short bursts of speed might last for 5 seconds, not the entire length of a shift, for instance – so train accordingly, Neeld says.
“The overwhelming majority of the time they’re not stepping on the ice and skating as hard as they possibly can for 45 seconds,” Neeld says.
Power of Aging
That said, adult recreational league players come in a splendid variety of ages, shapes, sizes and ability levels. And as players not only get older but go through lifestyle changes, it’s important to adapt at the gym.
Crashley notes that an average adult hockey player might work at a desk a lot and therefore need to work more on his or her glutes.
“With a lot of older players – and I use that as a loose qualifier – we tend to stick with single-leg, lower-body strength exercises,” Neeld says. “It helps with balance, and a lot of times as we get older we develop some limitations in our hips and we become a little less resilient to external loading.”
Neeld says understanding those limitations doesn’t mean sacrificing the quality of the workout and gives a great example:
“If I can do a single-leg exercise and hold 40-pound dumbbells, as opposed to doing a double-leg exercise and holding 80-pound dumbbells,” he says, “the internal load to the muscle will still be high but the external load to the spine and everything that has to stabilize that weight will be less, which is helpful.”
Work Smarter, Not Harder
The most important thing, though, is to listen to your body. Trying to power through when you are sluggish or haven’t had enough time to recover from a previous workout can do more harm than good.
“If you feel run down, then it might be a good idea to just go to the gym and get a bike ride and then leave,” Neeld says. “If you feel really good, maybe push more. But don’t push really hard on days you don’t feel up to it.”
That can be tough for an athlete, especially when pride kicks in. But putting your ego to the side will help you have a happier summer and be more productive in the long run.
“That’s where a lot of people go wrong – thinking that if they’re not completely crushed every time they walk out of the gym, they did something wrong,” Neeld says. “Really that’s counterproductive more than it’s helpful.”