One would assume that training a youth hockey player and training a professional hockey player are very different tasks, but there are both similarities and differences. What varies is the degree of stress we place upon the athlete, the complexity of exercises and physiological prescriptions and our expectations of the athlete. Below are a few key principles of training that should provide good insight into how we train a youth vs. a professional client here at Rink Testify Performance.
Primary training priorities.
Single-leg strength & stability.
Hockey-specific hip musculature training.
Principle 1: Primary Training Priorities
With a youth client the primary training priorities we choose to focus on and develop are improving strength & stability in a wide variety of sport-relevant positions and enhancing movement quality in fundamental strength training movements. A great example of an exercise we commonly prescribe is the 3-Way Skater which is a drill that is designed to challenge and improve single-leg stability which is a very important component of the skating stride at a young age.
With a professional client the primary training priorities we choose to focus on and develop are improving particular physical qualities whether that is speed, power, strength or work capacity. Often, athletes of this level have ample training experience with exercises focused on improving basic positional strength and movement quality in fundamental strength training movements, so continuing to prescribe such style of training would fail to yield results. Instead, we take a deeper dive into the individual needs that may be holding a professional player back in their on-ice performance and prescribe our training programs accordingly. An example here would be a Technogym Sled Sprint where we may prescribe very heavy loads for a player that struggles with the physical quality of strength or very light loads for a player that struggles with the physical quality of speed.
Principle 2: Single-Leg Strength & Stability
Now this is principle is more common across youth and professional players, just the degree of stress that we place upon them changes. Single-leg strength & stability is a major focus in our training programs for both types of players since it is a key aspect of maximizing efficiency of the skating stride.
With a youth client, we often prescribe a Bodyweight Split Squat Isometric Hold to enhance stability in a position that challenges the work capacity of all major muscles in the lower body. Proficiency in this position is of the utmost importance to prepare the body for future progressive loading and lay a foundation of relative strength.
With a professional client, we simply add more stress in the form of load or speed. We often prescribe the Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat to players of this level with different loading strategies and speed of movement to improve the adaptation or physical quality that we are targeting. The video below is of a professional player moving well over 300lbs of load (combination of weight & air pressure) to improve his ability to put more force into the ice with each stride.
Principle 3: Hockey Specific Hip Musculature Training
Skating is stressful on the hips, therefore, specific & isolated training of key muscles in the area surrounding the hip is an important aspect of our off-ice training program. Due to the nature of the skating stride and the unique movement pattern that it is, we often find a high incidence of stress and inflammation in and around the structures of the hip of high-level youth and professional players. We believe health is of the utmost importance, in fact, we have a saying in the gym - “availability is the best ability”. We have a progressive system in-place within all of our programs to focus on training the hip musculature to restore proper strength & function to this area and gradually increase the speed & intensity of exercises to better prepare these structures for the demands of high-speed skating.
With a youth client, a very commonly prescribed exercise is the Adductor Side Plank Isometric Hold. This exercise challenges the isometric strength of the groin which is a capacity in this area that is often overlooked and under-trained. Prescribing this exercise helps to maintain a balance of strength in the hip and keep players healthy.
With a professional client, we still prescribe the above exercises and focus on maximizing health in this area of the body, but we often progressive through certain stages faster due to a professionals training experience and better access to recovery & treatment resources throughout the in-season. As we progressive through some of the more basic exercises at a faster rate, where we finish may be with our reactive band hip exercises. This will challenge the athlete to improve the strength and contraction abilities of smaller muscles in the hips that can have major impacts on hip health and skating performance. There are many factors considered before prescribing these types of exercises but below is an example of what it looks like.