This is an excerpt from Total Hockey Training by Sean Skahan.
A calendar year for any hockey player should include three main components: the off-season, the preseason, and the in-season. Each component represents times of the year where different parts of an all-encompassing program are emphasized more than others.However, strength training will always be consistent. For example, although training for speed off the ice will not be emphasized during the in-season, strength training will be consistent on a year-round basis. Hockey players should always try to get stronger.
In this chapter, all aspects of the yearly program are identified and described. The ultimate goal is for hockey players who embark on this program to apply the principles to help them become the best players they can be.
The off-season is when players are away from the competitive demand and stress of the game of hockey. It is a time of year when they can make positive changes to their bodies with the intention of improving on-ice performance. A high-quality strength and conditioning program is very important at this time. With hockey being such a high-pace game, every hockey player should be training to increase his strength and power while also improving his conditioning levels. This will also help reduce the chances of injury. The off-season is the optimal period for these changes to happen.
In Total Hockey Training, the training is broken down into blocks of 3-week phases. During the off-season, there will be 4 of these 3-week phases to make up a 12-week off-season. Each phase consists of several exercises that will progress from the previous phase in terms of difficulty or set and repetition ranges or both. This allows for training variety to prevent boredom and to apply different stresses to the body, with the intention of building a stronger and faster hockey player who is resilient to injury.
Off-Season for a High School Player
At the high school level, the entire off-season could be from March through November. High school hockey players may also be multisport athletes, which is beneficial for athleticism and conditioning. During the fall, they could participate in football, soccer, volleyball, or other fall-season sports. During the spring, they may participate in sports such as baseball, softball, or lacrosse. Whether they play multiple sports or not, the nine-month period should involve two to four weeks of active rest when the hockey player needs to get away from the game of hockey.
The summer months (June, July, and August) are for strength and conditioning. The12-week off-season program (at least four days per week) consists of exercises for flexibility, core strength, acceleration, speed, plyometrics, lower and upper body strength, and conditioning.
Off-Season for a Junior Player
Junior hockey players, whether they are at the Tier-I, Tier- II A, or Tier III A, B, C, or D levels, will have a much shorter off-season program than high school players. Their season could end in March or in late May (depending on the level of play). A junior hockey player should also embark on a 12-week off-season strength and conditioning program during the summer months. Players at the junior level are probably not participating in other sports. These players have already made the decision to specialize in hockey.
Off-Season for a Collegiate Player
The collegiate hockey player will have an off-season that is longer than the junior player but shorter than at the high school level. This will usually be from May through August. This allows for a postseason phase of four to six weeks after the in-season phase and before the off-season phase. Although there might be some multisport athletes at the collegiate level, for the most part, these players are committed to playing just hockey. At the Division I level, athletic scholarships are awarded to players. It is a full-time commitment to be a scholarship athlete who focuses on academics and hockey.
At the higher levels of collegiate hockey, the athletic department will most likely employ a strength and conditioning coach who works with the hockey team. Most university hockey programs that award athletic scholarships have this luxury. The strength and conditioning coach's job is to look after all aspects of the team's strength and conditioning program on a year-round basis. During the off-season, some programs will ask their players to take summer school classes so they can train as a team. This pays huge dividends down the road for team-building purposes. Since most NCAA Division I programs have outstanding facilities, a really good off-season program and hardworking culture can be developed.
Off-Season for a Professional Player
The professional level's off-season is a little different. A player on a team that doesn't qualify for the playoffs will have a much longer off-season than someone who plays for the championship. For example, a Stanley Cup - winning player's off-season will be much shorter. There is a big difference between a 16-week off-season and a 9-week off-season. If you ask any professional player, he will always opt for winning the Stanley Cup and worrying about the off-season after.
Professional players can do whatever they like in the off-season. When the regular season concludes, they are on their own. Many professional players do not live year-round in the city in which they play. They return to their off-season homes and either train on their own or with a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach. Although the team provides a strength and conditioning program, ultimately the player has the option of following the program or completely disregarding it. Players who stay in the team's location throughout the off-season have the benefit of working with the team's strength and conditioning coach.
Junior, collegiate, and professional players should participate in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program during the off-season. Although players should get away from the rink at the beginning of the off-season, they should get back on the ice as the off-season concludes. Power skating and pick-up hockey sessions are great options toward the end of the off-season.
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