Training is crucial for maximizing performance both on and off the ice. If you don’t have a dedicated training program then you are missing out on a huge aspect of your game. It is important to note that there is no one size fits all training program. Each training program should be catered to your specific goals, but with so many options, and so much information out there, how do you decide which training program is the right fit for you?
In this article I hope to dissect the key components of a good training plan so you can create or select the one that will be the best fit for your specific goals.
Step 1: Make Your Training Program Specific
This is the most important step in creating your training program. Your training program should be designed to address specific weaknesses in a targeted way. If you don’t know what your end goal is then you can’t say you are taking steps to achieve it. A general fitness program may be great for achieving an acceptable level of fitness, but it does nothing to directly address your weaknesses.
The first step is to identify your weaknesses and figure out what you want to fix, be as specific as possible. Let’s say you have looked at your game and decided you want to improve your skating speed. Well first we have to break down the skill of skating. Where are your weaknesses? Maybe your skating stride is too short because you have tight hip flexors and adductors, in which case we would want to make mobility work a priority. Maybe your glute strength isn’t what it should be, in which case incorporating strength training may be your focus. Perhaps it is simply technique which needs improving, and in that case your training program may have a focus on motor control. Be brutally honest, you can even ask teammates and coaches for feedback if you’re not sure, but you won’t improve if you don’t know where you need to work. It is okay to work on multiple areas within one training program, for instance, using our example above, you could work on mobility, strength and technique, but always keep your ultimate focus in mind and be careful not to go overboard. If you are trying to improve your skating speed you probably don’t need two arm days. Always be aware of what you are actually trying to accomplish.
The second step of creating a specific training program is to make it functional. When deciding which exercises to include in your training program, pick the exercise that most closely resembles your end goal. If you are trying to improve the speed of your shot, a two handed cable chop may be more appropriate than a chest fly, even though both exercises work similar muscle groups.
Finally, make sure your training program is balanced. There are a number of ways to do this, but I like to think in terms of push and pull. For example, if you include a weighted back squat (push) in your program to improve the power of your glutes and quads, it would be beneficial to include an exercise like a deadlift or a good morning (pull) to make sure you don’t become so strong in the quads that your hamstrings can’t keep up. After all, many injuries are caused by imbalances of strength, flexibility or both.
Step 2: Make Your Training Program Measurable
Once you have decided what you want to improve, you have to find a way to measure it. You can’t maximize your training if you don’t know what is working and what isn’t.
Let’s say you want to improve your skating speed. There are a ton of ways you can measure this. You could take a stopwatch and have a friend time you in an all out sprint from one goal line to the other, you could time how long it takes to skate the dots, you could measure how fast you can go from blueline to blueline to blueline and back, you can measure forward skating speed or backwards, there are infinite options. Just make sure whatever you choose is actually measuring the metric you are trying to improve. If you measure skating speed by your 1RM squat strength or how high you can jump, you are selecting a measurable variable, and one that likely correlates to your goal, but not one that specifically measures it. It is also important to make sure you keep as many variables the same as possible when remeasuring. If your coach times your end to end sprint the first time, try to get him to do it again the next time. If you go blueline to blueline from a stop the first time, make sure you aren’t moving when you’re starting the second time. You also want to make sure that your chosen metric is sensitive enough to show a change. Choosing to measure skating speed from the goal line to the bottom of the circle is probably not a good option because the change in speed is not likely to be detected due to the human error inherent in starting and stopping a timer.
Whatever metric you choose, it is important to measure and record values before, during and after your training program so you can have an objective measure of how effective you were. Be careful not to measure too frequently, as it is unlikely you will see a significant change after a single training session, but make sure you are taking measures at regular intervals. At the very least you should measure before and after you have completed your entire training program, but measurements taken at 1-2 week intervals can also be helpful in course correcting along the way.
Step 3: Make Your Training Program Realistic and Achievable
Once you have decided what you are going to work on and how you’re going to measure it, it is time to make sure that your plan is attainable. If you are planning a training program during the season make sure you will have sufficient time to complete your program, and if you are planning an off-season training program then make sure you have all the necessary equipment and don’t overreach.
Keep the big picture in mind. If you are practicing 3-5 times a week it is probably not realistic, or advisable, to plan to be in the gym 4 times a week. If you can only carve out an hour twice a week to get in the gym, don’t schedule yourself for 4 times a week in the gym, find ways to incorporate bodyweight exercises or things you can do anywhere. The same is true for each individual workout. If you only have an hour in the gym, don’t make a program with 15 exercises that would take 2 hours to complete, find the ones that most directly address your goals and narrow it down so you have a 60 minute workout you will actually finish. You can’t say your program wasn’t effective if you only complete 50% of it because you planned poorly. The old adage goes that the good plan you will stick to is better than the perfect plan you won’t. Set yourself up for success.
Setting realistic goals is vital. If you shoot 70 mph prior to starting a 6 week training program, a goal of 75 mph is likely achievable, whereas a goal of 90 mph is overreaching and will make you feel like you failed your training when you actually failed to set an achievable goal. You can have a big picture goal in mind when setting up your program, but make sure you have smaller, more attainable goals that will keep you focused along the way.
Step 4: Make Your Training Program Time Based
Having a time frame is one of the most important factors in creating an effective training program. I typically create programs that are between 6 and 12 weeks in length. Shorter than that and you are unlikely to create a permanent change, much longer and it is easy to become unfocused, bored or lose sight of your goals. Creating a program in several week chunks also allows you to address multiple weaknesses without taking a scattershot approach or feeling like you have to squeeze a ton into one program. If you are trying to address too many areas at once you won’t make a significant change in any of them. A time based training program also gives you a hard date when you can sit down and reevaluate your strengths and weaknesses. If your training programs are successful then what was your biggest weakness may now be a strength and you should address another area to become a complete player.
When you sit down to create your training program, always know ahead of time how you will progress your program if you hit goals early, or what you will do if you are falling behind in a specific area. There is nothing worse than hitting a goal early and not advancing your exercises because the training plan didn’t have any progressions. We have an idea where we will be at certain times along our training programs, but we can’t predict the future, so plan for all options.
- Keep a log. Make sure your program is written down somewhere, in a journal or on your phone, and track your workouts. The human mind is amazing at many things, but tracking all those numbers isn’t one of them.
- Play to your strengths. If you know you are someone who gets bored easily, try to vary the specific exercises (with your ultimate goal still in mind) from workout to workout. If you thrive on routine, find the mix that will allow you to get into a groove and stick with it. Don’t make training harder than it has to be.
- Pick exercises you enjoy. If you’re dreading your training because you picked exercises you don’t like you’re not likely to stick with it. Find what works for you and go with that. If you hate back squats, don’t make them your primary exercise, find something that hits the same muscles, but that you enjoy more.
- Don’t only play to your strengths. This is an important caveat of the above bullet is that it is easy to only do the things we are already good at, but that won’t improve your weaknesses. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Strive for consistency. Life happens, I get that, but if you don’t train consistently you won’t get consistent results. Make your training a priority. Don’t make excuses.
- Prioritize mobility and safety. This is maybe the most important point of this whole article. It is easy to get excited about strength training, but remember, you can’t strengthen a position you can’t get in and you can’t optimize a movement you can’t perform correctly, The potential of getting injured in a game is an unfortunate reality, getting hurt in training is an easily avoidable and unacceptable mistake. Be smart.