Are Hockey Players Overtraining?

In this article, I want to share with you a fool-proof way to track your recovery rates so that you can ensure you’re always getting the best possible results from your training and bringing your best performance to the ice.

One thing I always want to remember is that you aren’t what you can do, you only are what you can recover from.

In many cases, hockey athletes have extremely demanding schedules that force them to remain active and “grind it out” even during times where they probably shouldn’t.

These actions repeated over time can create a scenario where your work capacity exceeds your recovery capacity. Meaning, your current physical output is greater than what you could possibly recover from.

When this happens, it’s not so much of a big deal in the early stages because stressing the body the right way is what demands adaptation/progress. The problem that can occur is when this is repeated for too long and you build a massive recovery debt.

This usually takes shape in the form of the hockey athlete who feels he/she “doesn’t need” to deload or periodize their program design, and then for some reason is shocked when they don’t get any faster or stronger on the ice.

As a reader on my content, I want the world for you. I want you to be the most unstoppable hockey player this planet has ever seen, and because of this, we have to discuss how you’re going to measure your recovery from this point moving forward.

Sports Medicine

Sports medicine is a medical specialty that prevents, diagnoses, and treats injuries that are common in athletes.

It’s a pretty new branch of medicine, it wasn’t even recognized by the medical community until only a few decades ago.

Back in the old days, if you got a knee injury out on the ice, your family doctor was considered capable of treating it. Today, we know that’s not good enough. There is no “catch all” health professional, and people specialize in certain disciplines for a reason.

You can’t give a child cough medicine, talk to an adult with unexplainable diarrhea, and help an NHL athlete get back to the ice in optimal form all in the same day. In cases like this, that NHL athlete just may never perform the same again.

Thankfully, now we have sports physiotherapists and sports medicine physicians that do a much, much better job of understanding what you’re going through and what its going to take to get you back out on the ice better than ever.

In my experience working with injured athletes, in a lot of cases the treatment for the injury is similar (but not totally) to the same treatment working with a general population person (for example, injuring your knee on the ice vs. injuring your knee falling off of a shed).

The protocols are pretty similar, but, the difference-maker here is that the sports medicine doctor knows the difference between a winger, a center, a defensemen, and a goalie.

Understanding the differences here from a biomechanical perspective (meaning, how you should be training in the gym and what angles/velocities you achieve out on the ice) provides an immeasurable benefit to the speed and success of your return to gameplay.

Most good sports medicine clinics today are committed to more aggressive treatments, and a greater variety of them to get you back on the ice quickly and efficiently. The focus of these better clinics is still though unfortunately focused primarily on treatment rather than prevention.

This is a problem for hockey players because one of the biggest causes of their injuries is due to overtraining, and overtraining is something you need to prevent — not treat.

Hockey Players and Overtraining

Under recovering is a major concern for hockey players, coaches, and sports scientists. It even got to the point where researchers from two different countries each spent more than a million dollars trying, at the same time, to determine the major predictors of overtraining.

Neither country knew of each other’s work, yet, they came to very similar conclusions which was super cool. They found that one of the largest and most accurate predictors of overtraining in athletes is their mood.

So, if you find yourself a little snappier than usual — technically speaking this is your highest predictor for having an incomplete recovery status.

While that’s pretty cool to know, there are plenty more measures that can predict overtraining as well that are a little more concrete. Some of these include:

  • Pulse rate
  • Body temperature
  • Breathing frequency
  • Body weight relative to your norm
  • Blood pressure
  • Grip strength

Want to know what one of my favorites is?

Grip strength.

Using Grip Strength To Measure Recovery Status

I love grip strength as a measure of fatigue for two main reasons:

  1. Strength is so important for hockey performance, so it’s directly relevant.
  2. It is the easiest and most practical way to get it done, and I am ALL for simplicity.

It’s likely that this was such a popular test because of reason #1, grip strength correlated to performance in many, many sports.

You can’t grapple if you have no grip strength.

You can’t lift weights if you have no grip strength.

You can’t swing a bat if you have no grip strength.

You can’t tackle someone if you have no grip strength.

You can’t shoot a puck if you have no grip strength.

Among many others.

The weaker your grip gets, it’s not only representative of a poor recovery status, it’s also going to immediately reduce your performance output.

The test I am about to describe for you is a super simple assessment that has been around for multiple decades now that is used to measure the readiness of the nervous system for maximum physical exertion.

The test should ideally be performed in the morning so that you can examine the results before training and adjust the days training volume/intensity as needed.

How It Works

First, you have to buy a high-quality dynamometer. You can usually find a good one at any medical supply store that sells stuff to physical therapists.

Take a measurement after you have had at least 3 days break from all training. Upon waking, grip the dynamometer with your dominant hand and position your opposite foot slightly forward.

Raise your dominant hand overhead and then slowly lower the arm while squeezing the hand grip as hard as you can.

Record the results and repeat the process with your other hand. Again, record these results.

These scores represent your standardized measurements moving forward.

From this point moving forward, you can check your grip strength as often or as little as you like.

I would recommend a high-frequency (measuring every single morning) in the beginning to get a good idea on where you stand from a recovery perspective, but as you become more experienced you will likely only need to check once in a while if/when you feel “off”.

If your scores are down by two kilos or more per hand, you have not properly recovered. From a neurological standpoint, you are not ready for another maximum bout of physical exertion.

From a muscle glycogen standpoint you may be fine, but from a nervous system standpoint you are not.

If you are the same strength as your standardized measurements, go in and do your programmed training session.

If you are up two or more kilos per hand, you are ready to hit some new personal bests in the gym. This would be considered a “GET AFTER IT” day in the gym.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to skip your training if you have a poor score in the morning grip test, but it’s likely best that you reduce your training volume and/or remove intensity techniques (finishers, drop sets, failure sets, etc.)

Remember, you aren’t what you can do, you only are what you can recover from. Anything less than this is asking for both a plateau in results and an injury.

Lastly, just because this test isn’t fancy doesn’t mean that it’s not valid. In my experience coaching thousands of hockey athletes, simplicity is often the best advice.

Once you have your standardized measurements, combine this recovery management strategy with the Hockey Skills Accelerator Program to become an all-around better hockey player.

  1. Great Article again Dan! I would like to buy one of the dynamometers to test grip and gauge recovery. Is high precision strain gauge sensor that provides gripping power up to 198lbs/90kgs good enough? not sure how much range I’d need, for 160lb hockey athlete. thanks again and keep it coming!


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