Principles of Conditioning
From Complete Conditioning for Ice Hockey by Peter Twist

Several training variables can be manipulated to make a conditioning program optimally beneficial. One general priniciple to remember is to always stress quality over quantity. Long, general workouts with random exercises do little to improve conditioning or on-ice abilities. A short, intense, specific workout produces much greater results. Other important principles for hockey conditioning involve safety, exercise preparation, progressive overload, rest and recovery, periodization, and specificity. Considerations for each of these areas will be detailed in the following sections. These principles help coaches structure practices and are manipulated to present further challenges for players as they improve.

Safety Considerations
Conditioning builds your body up. Hockey tears your body down. More conditioning helps repair your body and build it back up again. Then comes the next hockey game . . . it is a constant cycle. But tearing down the body should be restricted to hockey itself-the on-ice and off-ice conditioning you do to prepare for hockey should never be the cause of injury. So, when developing a conditioning program, always think “safety first.” Follow these guidelines:
-Establish an adequate base of strength, aerobic fitness, and athleticism before progressing to intense or explosive exercises and complex movements.
-Always assess technique. Technique includes body position, balance, foot placement, amount of knee bend, and landing position. Technique corrections help prevent injury and optimize fitness and performance.
-Warm up before each and every workout.
-Use a break-in period when starting a new conditioning program or when introducing new components (e.g., plyometrics) to an existing program.
-Always rest each body part after a vigorous workout, allowing 24 to 48 hours rest and recovery.
-For off-ice conditioning, wear footwear that provides lateral support and good shock absorption. Wear crosstrainers or high-tops when performing plyometrics and agility drills.
-For all heavy weight training, a spotter should be present to assess technique, help move the weight into starting position, and, if necessary, assist with the last couple of reps.
-Make sure that all surfaces are clean and that all unnecessary equipment and nonparticipating athletes are clear of the area.
-Drink plenty of water before, during, and after workouts, especially in hot weather.

Exercise Preparation
Warm up and stretch before each workout. An ideal warm-up consists of light, low-impact cardiovascular exercise for about 5 to 10 minutes at 60 to 70 percent maximum heart rate. “Breaking a sweat” indicates a sufficient warm-up. A good warm-up raises core muscle temperature (which increases muscle elasticity), increases the rate of agonist muscle contraction, and increases the rate of antagonist muscle relaxation. (Agonist muscles contract to contribute to the movement; antagonist muscles oppose the agonist muscles and must relax to allow movement.)

Following a warm-up, complete the preparation routine with stretching; this will increase muscle relaxation, elasticity, and extensibility. Regular, long-term stretching will increase the range of motion across each joint. Improper stretching can result in minor muscle tears and decreased flexibility. For beneficial stretching, move into each stretch slowly and smoothly, and hold in a comfortable position for 30 to 60 seconds, without bouncing or jerking. If there is not enough time to adequately warm up and properly stretch, you should use gentle, fluid dynamic stretching to prepare for activity. Dynamic stretching will warm up the muscles and lubricate the joints.

Break-In Period
Muscles require time to adapt to new loads imposed on the body. When starting or restarting any conditioning program, begin with a break-in period. During this period (about two weeks), initiate your program with light weights, low intensities, and low speeds. When starting a new conditioning program, detrained muscles are susceptible to injury during contraction. A break-in period allows safe, sensible progression to the eventual training level.

Using muscles unaccustomed to weight training and conditioning will produce a delayed muscle soreness. If they do too much too soon, players will be quite stiff and sore 24 to 48 hours after a new workout. Even world-class athletes experience delayed muscle soreness if they work out after a layoff of just a few weeks. Overworking deconditioned muscles will slow down progression because the athlete will miss workouts due to stiffness and soreness.

Even if participating in a regular, intense conditioning program that consists, for example, of aerobic, anaerobic, strength, and flexibility components, an athlete should still use a break-in period when introducing new components (e.g., speed or plyometrics) to the program. A break-in period also allows time to learn the proper technique and movements with lower risk of injury.

Progressive Overload
Exercise must be stressful enough to stimulate a physical change in the body. Often this involves working muscles and energy systems against a heavy enough resistance to induce momentary fatigue (overloading). Training sets the muscles and body parts up so they will adapt and recover to become stronger and more fit.

As improvements are made, the conditioning program must progress to keep challenging the muscles and energy systems. The basic exercise variables manipulated to progress your program and promote further physical development include training volume, density, intensity, frequency, and duration. Ongoing physical adaptations depend on progressive overload to ensure the training stimulus is stressful enough to challenge the body. You may accomplish this by increasing the number of sprint repetitions (volume), decreasing rest intervals for bike sprints (density), cycling with a higher heart rate (intensity), progressing from three to four strength-training workouts per week (frequency), or running for a longer amount of time (duration).

Volume refers to the total number of sets and reps in your program. Volume is often quantified as sets 3 reps 3 load for a given workout. A higher training volume often produces better training results; however, volume is manipulated at different times of the season to achieve specific conditioning results. A large training volume is used to build a base of conditioning, specifically improving strength and lean mass, decreasing fat, and sometimes improving aerobic fitness. Lower volumes are characteristic of high-intensity training that includes anaerobic power and capacity, speed, quickness, and agility. Lower volumes are also common during the in-season period to accommodate games, on-ice practices, and travel.

Workout density involves the amount of rest between sets. Circuit training would be an example of a dense workout with little or no rest between exercises. A high-density workout usually features a lower duration and volume and is therefore more time-efficient. High-density workouts are sometimes used in-season, when fitting in a dry-land strength and muscular endurance workout, often postgame.

Intensity is a measure of physical exertion and is the most important factor in physical adaptation-the more intense the training, the greater the physical change in your body. When strength training, lifting to momentary fatigue each set will produce greater changes in the body. For aerobic activity, raising your heart rate to within a certain training zone will result in the desired cardiovascular changes. To adhere to the progressive overload principle, it is most time-efficient to increase intensity.

Frequency-that is, the number of times you train-also affects conditioning. For substantial physical changes, training must be performed three or more times weekly. Maintaining a certain fitness level requires at least one or two training sessions per week, depending on the level.

For a given intensity, the greater the duration of training, the greater the training effect. The duration can be manipulated to satisfy the progressive overload principle. Common examples include lengthening the time of a jog or cycling workout. But the length of time an athlete should work out each session depends on the type of training. Remember that quality training is much more efficient and beneficial than sheer quantity training.

Rest and Recovery
The stimulus to a training effect is the training session itself; however, the actual physical improvement, or physical adaptation, occurs after the training session is over. Microscopic muscle tears occur naturally during an intense workout. The muscles need time to adapt to training loads as they repair and grow to a new level. The muscle groups worked need 24 to 48 hours to recover from a training session. During this period of rest, the muscle responds to the training stimulus and physical development occurs.

The rest and recovery period is as important to conditioning gains as the actual workout itself. If an adequate rest period is not taken, over-training will cause an injury and physical development will be delayed. As Keith Brown, a 16-year NHL veteran with Chicago and Florida, explains, “When I was young I used to train too hard. I’d overtrain, tear my body down, and become more susceptible to injuries. Now, even if I still have lots of energy after working out, I realize I should take time off to rest. I feel so much better, and I end up more fit and stronger.”

Many coaches still have trouble with the “rest” concept. Teams have been known to practice every single day, simply because that’s the way it’s always been done or because they are worried that they need to look like they are working hard to improve. Because hockey is rooted in tradition, the hockey community has often resisted change. Today, many coaches and players are beginning to understand that improvement relies on physical recovery, and that both players and teams benefit from mental and emotional rest.

Periodization, or the schedule and design of your conditioning program, divides the year into different cycles to help organize conditioning programs. Periodization is based on scientific principles that suggest the best time and best method for conditioning.

During the season, periodization accommodates game and travel schedules to make time for workouts with adequate rest and recovery. Training volume, density, intensity, frequency, and duration can be manipulated to control the training effect. Variables such as speed of movement and movement patterns can also be adjusted. Drills can be selected to prescribe exercise suitable to each individual and the time of season.

The hockey year is divided into four phases-the off-season, pre-season, in-season, and postseason. What is conditioned and how it is conditioned will vary depending on the phase.

Some players dedicate a lot of time and effort to general workouts, hoping they can later benefit from this nonspecific training during hockey-specific actions. But any benefits from general workouts will not transfer to the ice. Often, nonspecific training is actually counterproductive.

Training mainly with exercises nonspecific in movement pattern, speed of movement, range of movement, joint angles, contraction type, and contraction force will hinder on-ice skill execution that requires very different movement patterns, speeds of movement, ranges of movement, joint angles, contraction types, and contraction forces. My specificity principle also considers muscle groups used, work times, distances, and rest periods. The more specific the conditioning program is to game demands, the more the training effects will transfer onto the ice to benefit skills and improve hockey performance. Hockey Lunges and Speedtraxx Strides are good examples of sport-specific resistance training exercises that prepare athletes for on-ice activity because they use all the “skating muscles” and incorporate a similar movement pattern.

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