Training Hockey Players… Linemen and Defensemen

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS)

Skaters - Top The difference between training goalies and defensemen/linemen (hereinafter referred to as “skaters”) can be compared to the difference in training catchers and fielders in baseball.  Although there are similarities, there are also many differences.  Today, we’re going to talk about skaters.

Linemen skate predominantly linear (north to south), with defensemen skating more backwards than their offensive counterparts. Both utilize a crossover step to turn and rely heavily on stride length to increase skating speed as well as t-spine mobility to add power to their shot. And both can give and take a beating up against the boards, requiring a strong body and stable base of support to help avoid injury.

Skaters - Middle

Furthermore, in the speed department, top-end speed is not as important as short distance quickness due to the nature of the sport.  Good old speed and agility drills such as ladders and track and field drills don’t carry over well to hockey due to the fact that there is very little upper body movement while the feet are moving quickly. Lastly, skaters almost never skate in a straight line therefore transitional speed (changes in speed and direction) is king.

It is imperative for skaters to follow a strength and conditioning program that places an emphasis on all of these issues as well as strength, mobility and stability.  Off-season training is crucial to help these athletes not only recover from the season, but also prepare them for the kind of volume they’re going to encounter during the next season. Where would this guy be without preparing for the next season?

Skaters - Bottom

The following are some of the key points we look to include in a well-rounded strength and conditioning program for skaters (note: the parameters will change some depending on time of year and where the athlete is in their season).

1. Soft Tissue Work (foam rolling): Improving soft tissue quality helps reduce trigger points without lengthening the muscle (please click here for more info).

2. Ankle Strength and Mobility: After a long season on the ice, an extensive amount of mobility is lost from being in skates for long periods of time.

3. Hip Strength and Mobility: Hockey players have inherently tight and weak hip flexors. This can dramatically affect explosive side-to-side movement on the ice, as well as being a contributing factor to sports hernias. Bear crawls are a great exercise to work on not only hip flexor strength, but anterior core strength and shoulder stability as well.

(Bear Crawls)

Please also feel free to click here for more info on maximizing hip health and strength in hockey players.

4. T-spine Mobility: Hockey players rotate approximately 100x’s per game. Without proper t-spine mobility athletes will get that rotation from elsewhere (such as the lower back). Additionally, feeling “tight” up top will quickly translate to lower half instability as well. We use stability ball DB bench press when we want to work on t-spine mobility as well as upper body strength at the same time.

(St. Ball Alt. DB Press)

5. Shoulder Strength and Stability: The amount of shoulder flexion and extension used while taking a shot can compound on itself after doing it on a daily basis for months at a time. Strengthening the shoulder and creating balance in the rotator cuff is key to injury prevention. Landmine presses work great for improving both.

(Landmine Press)

6. Core Strength and Stability: The ability to transfer lower body power through the core to the upper body is needed for all things explosive whether it be skating, taking a shot or delivering and receiving a check into the boards. Here at RPP we believe in building the athlete from the “core out” (Please feel free to click here for more info on creating core stability in hockey players).

7. Increase Single Leg Strength: All sports are unilateral (one leg at a time) hockey is no different. Unilateral strength is crucial for stride and lateral movement. We use weighted lateral lunges to work on strength in the stride position.

(Lateral K.B. Lunge)

8. Conditioning: Just because the general length of a linemen’s shift is one minute doesn’t mean he’s being completely explosive for that entire length of time. The average amount of time a player is explosive is roughly 15-20 seconds per shift, so conditioning should be approached within those parameters.  The great strength coach Vern Gambetta said “watch the player not the game”.

Here at RPP, our programs are focused specifically on the physical requirements of a hockey player and on improving their speed, power, strength and conditioning.  Keeping a skaters training specific to the movements of the position gives players a distinct advantage over their peers at an age where players are starting to play in front of more scouts.