In men’s leagues, your body handles training differently than it did when you were a young buck.
This is especially true if you have been playing hockey for a long time. A hockey player who has been playing consistently since he was five years old will have much more wear and tear than a recreational adult player who just recently picked it up for fun.
At a certain age, you just can’t “train insane” the same way you used to without any consequences.
I see this all the time: men’s league hockey players try to exercise “the way they always have” and they do nothing but get injured, burnt out, and make minimal progress because their body has been adapted to that form of training for years and isn’t as resilient as it used to be.
Eventually, it can lead to a regression rather than a progression in hockey performance.
If you are consistently plateauing in results, have banged up joints, and don’t seem to be any faster or more conditioned on the ice, you need to make some serious changes and update your training methodology to suit the man you are today—and not the man you were in the past.
Essentially, you have two options:
- Keep training like you’re 18 years old, get injured a few more times, and gradually find that hockey isn’t as fun as it used to be due to your sore joints, poor recovery, exhaustion, and inability to continuously improve your performance.
- Recognize that you’re not 18 and make some science-based changes to your programming so that you still progress and play better than you ever have before due to a smarter approach in your training organization.
Did you choose option 2?
Good. Here are six rules you need to start applying today to play even better than you used to back in the day.
1. Speed Without Sprints
Speed is the number one quality that will separate you from everyone else on the ice. You’re in for an uphill battle to suggest to any sports scientist that it is not the number one physical quality that makes a dominant hockey player.
The all-time best NHL players, and even the best guys in the current league you’re playing in, are always at an advantage because their speed output is simply on a totally different level than everyone else.
Your ability to make high-speed decisions, your reaction time, and what risks you choose to take out on the ice can all be dramatically enhanced when you know for a fact you’re not going to be caught.
Having lived in Canada my whole life, I have trained athletes who were unable to sprint year-round or do any form of outdoor speed training due to the cold weather. Many months out of every year are restricted for us with respect to doing the outdoor drills you see so often on Instagram. Yet Canada continuously produces many of the best hockey players in the world.
Why? Because speed isn’t limited to outdoor training. To say you can’t train for speed due to the weather is more representative of a lack of training knowledge than a lack of resources.
The temperature outside never stopped me from identifying ways in which my hockey players could improve their all-around speed in the absence of sprinting. In one example, I improved a hockey player’s 40-yard sprint from 5.42 to 4.65 in a one-year span, and we only performed direct sprint work for the final six weeks prior to a camp. For those of you who are unfamiliar with speed training times, these are lightning results with such minimal sprint training volume, and it showed itself on the ice as well when he was the fastest he has ever been.
Here’s what sports science you can harness to become faster without doing any sprinting whatsoever:
- Jump training. When you prioritize vertical, horizontal, and lateral jump training properly throughout your training week, speed and agility gains will quickly follow. I like to start workouts with this type of training for the young bucks. However, for men’s leaguers, it’s much wiser to do this type of training at the end of your workout when your joints and muscles are super warmed up and can better handle the impact.
- Improve hockey-specific strength. When you improve high-velocity strength, it provides a foundation upon which you can improve on-ice power output. I say “foundation” because strength alone won’t always make you faster (if this was true, powerlifters and bodybuilders would be the fastest athletes in the world, and we know that’s not true). However, getting stronger at a speed of 0.7-1.0 meters per second will do a lot more to improve on-ice speed in comparison to just improving your 1-Rep-Max. In practice, this means trying to accelerate the weight as much as possible. This is also known as Compensatory Acceleration Training. If you are lucky enough to have a velocity tracker in your gym, your goal should be to be able to squat 90% of your 1-Rep-Max at a speed close to 0.75 meters per second. This is the speed most hockey players can lift with only 50–60% of their 1-Rep-Max. So when you can accomplish this, you will be significantly more explosive. However, you don’t “need” the velocity tracker to utilize this methodology; people have been using strength to become more explosive for years before this technology emerged, and I use more simple methods with my trainees all the time.
- Improve your body composition. Fat does absolutely nothing for your performance out on the ice. In fact, the fastest and easiest way to improve your speed, conditioning, and agility all at once is to simply get leaner. There’s research that indicates body fat percentage is the number one correlation for speed development, which makes perfect sense, because you never see someone improve their speed by getting fatter. This means if you want to be fast, you need to clean up your eating.
- Improve mobility. In almost all cases, men’s league hockey players are limited in both their stride length and their stride frequency by having poor upper and lower body mobility. Not only will an improvement in stride length and stride frequency improve your overall speed, but it will also help prevent you from working against your own body at the end range of the force application phase into the ice during a powerful stride. I personally love incorporating mobility work directly into the warm-up and cool-down for men’s league hockey players so they can get in the work they need without spending all day in the gym. Then, if they need further mobility assistance, a simple 15–20 minute active recovery routine can be performed on non-training days to target specific areas and joint structures that need assistance.
The above four methods are excellent ways in which men’s league hockey players can dramatically improve their on-ice speed without doing any form of traditional sprint training outdoors.
This is powerful because now you don’t need to be outdoors (or even on the ice) year-round to get significantly faster. Additionally, sprinting is one of the highest-impact exercises one can do, which a lot of men’s league hockey players’ joints simply won’t allow for any more.
Stay fast and stay healthy by programming speed training indoors.
2. Weekly Training Schedule
After a certain age, you need more recovery days to let your body progress optimally.
Sure, you could train six days a week plus keep up with your men’s league playing schedule, but there’s a difference between being able to complete your workout and getting the most results out of your workout.
Put another way, working at your maximal work capacity isn’t as wise as working at your optimal work capacity.
We don’t always like to decrease our training frequency because we’re all athletes who are willing to put in the hard work to get the job done. Many hockey players need to feel the soreness/burning sensations they get from their workout more than they need to see the actual results.
This is too bad, because when you’re a men’s leaguer, you’ll get worse results (or, no results at all) if you don’t allow enough time for recovery between training sessions. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get results than feel constantly beaten up.
You should take this advice seriously because it’s coming from me—a guy who loves hard training more than anyone I’ve ever met. I’m the one who made the mistake of training hard six to seven days a week for many years, despite usually only giving my clients three to four weekly sessions.
I should have noticed the difference when my athletes progressed faster than me, but when you’re addicted to training, you lose your ability to view your situation with outside eyes.
Now (thankfully), I have the emotional maturity to back off, and because of that, I feel amazing. I have more strength and endurance than I had when I was younger. Not to mention, I have way more energy for the daily tasks of life such as work and family obligations.
Men’s league hockey players need more time for recovery due to one or more of the following reasons:
- Hormone status: Age-related decreases in testosterone, thyroid output, growth hormone, and IGF-1 reduce the rate at which we recover.
- Anabolic resistance: As you age, the sensitivity of your hormone receptors decreases, which makes you less responsive to the actions that testosterone and other sex hormones have on your physiology.
- Schedule: As a men’s leaguer, you have more responsibilities now than you did when you were a teenager, and these responsibilities reduce the time you have, your daily energy, and your recovery capacity due to an increased total psychological and physiological stress load.
- You’re stronger: You need more recovery time now because you’re stronger than a beginner. You’ve been in the game a while now and moving heavier weights puts more systemic stress on your body, which demands more recovery time. An advanced trainee requires more time to recover between workouts than a beginner simply because he is able to apply more stress on his body than a beginner can. More stress means more recovery, period.
To deal with training frequency, I keep it simple: I don’t like my men’s league hockey players training three days in a row. Two in a row is OK, but three in a row tends to create more problems than solutions. This allows you to still train three or four times per week with no issues at all, which is plenty of training volume to make major progress.
Keep in mind, however, you can be “active” three or more days in a row, but that’s when we would include active recovery work rather than more hard training sessions.
3. Energy Management
Using the same weight for every set typically results in performing too much volume to effectively recover from.
Back in the day, you might have been able to push hard for all five sets of five using the same weight as you did on the first set. But as you get older, this results in too much wear and tear on the joints for little to no progress in return because it exceeds your recoverable work capacity.
A super simple modification I like my men’s league hockey players to utilize is known as the “ramping method,” where you ramp up in weight until you achieve your maximum working set. You use “feeder sets” to ramp up until you reach your max working weight for that given rep range.
For example, let’s say you were performing 4 sets of 8 in the bench press. If you were to use a “sets across” method, you would perform all 4 sets of 8 at 200lbs.
However, if you were to use the ramping method, it might look something like this:
Feeder Set 1: 8 x 160 pounds
Feeder Set 2: 8 x 175 pounds
Feeder Set 3: 8 x 190 pounds
Max Working Weight Set 4: 8 x 200 pounds
On that last set, you go as hard as you can. Shoot for an effort level of 9.5/10. This means your effort level makes you certain you wouldn’t have been able to perform another rep with good form. This should always be the goal for men’s leaguers (we’ll get into this more below), but your technique should never suffer under any circumstances.
I love using a ramping method for a full block of training within the periodization strategy, because most of the time, hockey players find they might even be able to use more weight for the top set because you’re fresher and better warmed up.
This results in training with heavier weights for a strong training stimulus, but backs off the total amount of “all-out” sets per workout so you don’t beat up your joints—and you still recover properly post-workout.
4. Joint-Friendly Movement Variations
I have two main points I want to make in this category for you, the first of which is “the last rep rule.”
The last rep rule represents the idea that your last rep of each exercise should be your best rep—even with your max working weight after a full ramp. That last rep should be your most technically focused and effortful rep where you feel the most mind-muscle connection.
This will be easily done while you’re doing your feeder sets, since you won’t be as fatigued. However, on the last rep of the last set, many guys tend to use momentum, supporting muscle groups, or technical changes to complete the set.
I need you to never allow yourself to cheat or lose the feeling of the muscle working just so you can finish the set and reach an arbitrary rep number. This is immature, and you’re too old for this behavior.
Hitting a cheat rep increases your risk for injury and doesn’t even give you a better training stimulus anyway, because the compensations you’re using to complete the set are offsetting the stimulus away from the main muscle you’re trying to target. So there’s no point in doing this under any circumstance. It’s purely an ego thing.
When your last rep is your best rep, you are doing one of the most intelligent things a hockey player can do in order to get better and keep the pains and aches away.
Secondly, it’s important to choose joint-friendly options for your speed, agility, and conditioning work.
For example, avoid high-frequency sprint training or moving your plyometric work to the end of a workout, both of which I discussed above. Additionally, feel free to use joint-friendly cardio options such as ellipticals, bikes, rowers, sled work, pool training, jump rope, etc. so you can create a killer training stimulus without banging yourself up.
I’m not saying you should never do higher impact speed/agility/conditioning training, but it’s wise to use a combination of both. You’ll recover better, feel better, move better, and get better results.
5. Iron Grip Strength
From a neuromuscular perspective, your hands have the most important connection with your brain and nervous system. This is why grip strength is used as a prime metric in sports science to identify the first sign of overtraining.
Challenging your grip through high force production (grip training) or complex movements (stickhandling) also challenges the nervous system and can help keep it functioning optimally.
Furthermore, grip strength has been connected to reversing age-related mental decline and age-related injuries, and even enhancing longevity. Not to mention, actions such as passing, wrist shots, and snapshots rely heavily on the amount of force you can generate within your hands, forearms, and upper arms.
Because of this, enhanced grip work will have a very obvious transfer to enhanced performance in these areas.
The slap shot, however, is a much larger movement that incorporates the lats to a high degree. Luckily for us, a couple of the best “bang for the buck” shot power exercises in the entire game are wide-grip pronated lat pull-ups and snatch grip deadlifts. And almost everybody’s weak point within this movement is their grip strength, not their posterior chain strength.
So, with more grip/forearm training, we can have an immediate impact on our passing, wrist shots, and snapshots—but when we get a stronger grip, we can perform more pull-ups, which will have an immediate impact on our slap shot power.
By adding something as small and simple as grip work, we create a ripple effect on all things shot power and shot release time, and since they predict overtraining and prevent age-related issues, it makes it a no-brainer for men’s league hockey players.
6. Fluid Movement
I am going to be blunt with you: having sore joints is no excuse to let up. I know that runs contrary to what every other coach has told you; however, it’s my experience that almost everybody who has sore joints has earned them through having bad habits.
For example, if you skip your warm-ups or cool-downs, avoid mobility sessions, never do yoga, and consistently eat pro-inflammatory foods, it’s almost inevitable that you will have sore joints. To top it off, you have many years of playing one of the highest-impact sports in the world under your belt, so of course, you’re going to have sore joints.
I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear; I’m here to tell you what you need to hear: stop allowing bad habits to manifest themselves into injuries, and start taking better care of your body, because the youthful days you used to have where you could do anything you want and never get injured are gone.
Your best recourse is to get smarter about your training and understand the performance vehicle you are in today is not the same performance vehicle you were in yesterday.
Do exercises that don’t hurt you; use grips or foot positions that allow you to train without pain; reduce the range of motion if you need to; lower the weight to something more realistic; slow the tempo down for better technical quality; do anything you can to train around the pain and not through the pain.
And in-between workouts, your active recovery should include well-established methods to prevent future injuries and loosen you up so you always feel better on the ice and in your training.
For men’s leaguers, I like to incorporate a “built-in mobility system” right into the program warm-ups and cool-downs, so they get all of the mobility benefits without feeling like they have to spend all day in the gym.
Beyond this, for the go-getters, I like to provide a customizable option for them to perform structure-specific mobility routines (e.g. if you have tight hips, then we will do a hip-unlocking circuit), hockey-specific yoga sessions, and edgework ankle mobilizer/stabilizer flows on non-training days to act as an active recovery modality, hockey performance accelerator, and joint pain solution all-in-one.
Your Solution: SmartPower™ Matrix
The SmartPower™ Matrix is the name I coined for the training program design that I have utilized with my most recent men’s league hockey players to get absolutely insane results this past year.
Put simply, it combines all of the above into a logical and progressive format so that men’s leaguers can get the best of both worlds: amazing results on the ice without sacrificing their personal or professional life.
Currently, how I structure the above into the SmartPower™ Matrix is one of my best-kept coaching “secrets”—and now, the secret is all yours with the brand new Men’s League Domination ’22 system.
If you’re serious about becoming a better hockey player this year and you want to take your abilities to the next level, then pay close attention, because starting today, you can be one step closer to becoming a star player.
You don’t have to be a “natural talent” to instantly up your game and have the best season of your life this year—because you can get instant access to the exact program you need to maximize your potential.
Look, I know playing in the men’s leagues is all about having fun, but it’s a lot easier to have fun when you’re dominating on the ice and reaching every goal you set for yourself.
Sure, you could go through all the research studies I have read and slowly piece it all together with everything I laid out above and you’d probably do just fine, but if you want to take all the guesswork out of it and get access to a completely “done for you” high-level program to get the best possible results, then check out the brand new Men’s League Domination ’22 system and let’s get started today.
Lean on my experience of working with thousands of hockey players (including NHL players) and discover what you need to do in order to be your absolute best on the ice.
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Unstoppable speed, edge work, conditioning, and agility can all be a reality for you this year; join the team here, and let’s crush this thing.