While there is no substitute for an athlete’s time spent training on the ice to develop the necessary skills to become a better hockey player, there are training techniques in the gym that can be employed to enhance performance. Developing stable core muscles and strength throughout the primary muscles of the upper and lower body are prerequisites for getting your son ready for competition. Once a base level of conditioning through traditional strength-training exercises such as the dead lift, squat, lunge, bench press, seated row, and shoulder press, is achieved, consider progressing to powerful movements such as the power clean, barbell jammer, overhead medicine ball slams, and reverse medicine ball throw. Starting with a foundation of strength, and then progressing to high-velocity plyometric types of movements that integrate the body as a whole (as described above) will address the various demands of playing the sport. With ice hockey, another performance variable—skating on the ice—has to be considered. Accordingly, there should be exercises that address the technique of skating.
Skaters who can perform smooth, coordinated abduction and adduction of the hips and shoulders will be a more efficient than skaters who cannot produce these movements. Thus, the primary movers involved in the stride technique for speed skating are the hip abductors (gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia latae), hip adductors (adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, pectineus, and gracilis), hip flexors (iliopsoas), shoulder abductors (deltoids), and shoulder adductors (latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major). Other muscles of the trunk and lower extremity are involved to the extent that they act as powerful stabilizers to keep the body in the flexed forward position. The erector spinae, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, and tibialis anterior work to keep the skater’s body in the forward-lean position to facilitate increased speed on the ice.
Exercises that can be performed in the gym to improve a skater’s technique include plyometric exercises that promote propulsion off of one leg in the frontal (lateral) plane. One such exercise is the lateral hop or “cross-over.” This is performed by lowering the body down into the skating position and crossing the left leg behind the right leg. Then hop from the right leg onto the left leg and finish by putting the right leg behind the left leg as if it was a reverse cross-over. The action is repeated as the athlete hops from one foot to the other. This exercise can be performed for 30 seconds up to 2 minutes, depending on the anaerobic fitness level of the athlete. Equipment such as slide boards and glide discs can also be used to mimic the actions of skating to enhance balance and promote conditioning of the muscle groups involved in skating.
Altogether, preparing an athlete for a seasonal sport requires months of preparatory conditioning and skills training. Plan on spending at least 12 weeks getting your son ready to play. At the same time, intersperse his training regimen with other unrelated physical activities (e.g., skateboarding, surfing, etc.) that he truly enjoys doing to prevent burnout, overuse injury, and help maintain motivation.