As we're slowly drifting away from end of the 2010-11 season and heading closer to the start of the 2011-12 campaign, hockey players are in the gym five-to-six days a week, molding their bodies to improve upon their weaknesses, hoping to find that extra half-step or full pound that can be the difference between on-ice success and failure.
There is a multitude of ways to train. These days, many players are latching on to a fitness gurus like Gary Roberts(notes) to put them through the paces in the off-season. Others self-motivate; others grab a workout partner; but in the end, they're all pursuing the same goal: improvement.
There are many ways to skin a cat, but in general, whatever specific workouts the guys do will be tailored around a similar game plan, which progresses something like this:
On average, a hockey player will lose between five-to-10 pounds from training camp to when the buzzer goes to end their final game, even with being conscious about crushing protein shakes and staying in the gym.
Those more prone to weight gain may not see the actual pounds slip off, but their muscle mass will rarely stay the same.
What that means is, the early stages of summer are all about rebuilding. After the restful few weeks off, you get back to basics: eating like a … um, something that eats a lot of protein, and slowly lifting your way back to where you once were.
You're used to being stronger than you are, so it's a frustrating time. Your arms shake as you strain to lift weights lighter than you used to be able to lift, but you work through it (it's a good time to have a spotter). This segment of summer is best represented by the two words "constant soreness."
As you get back to where you've been, it's time to try to get ahead. You don't want to go into the season too bulky, but you need to put extra muscle on now before you get to the more athletic latter stages of training and it gets harder to do.
This means a lot of Olympic lifts: stuff like squats, deadlifts, snatches, bench press, clean and jerks, all that monotonous stuff. You lunge your heart out. It's just about getting ahead of where you've been in the past strength-wise. If you're going to take one step back over the course of the season, you better take two forward now.
A clichéd hockey complaint from players being forced to do the heavy lifting stuff is "nobody ever scored a goal on the bench press." It's a tongue-in-cheek protest, but at some point you have to remember that hockey is an athletic sport.
(I should probably mention before I move on that the focal point for hockey training these days is simple: core. Core, core, core, core. During all phases of training you work on your core and flexibility, because that's how you end up damn near impossible to knock off the puck.)
Now that you've put on that muscle, it's time to get moving. A lot of players are fans of plyometrics — it's a lot of box-jumps (it's a lot of jumps in general, really) and repetitive, quick action that help you get quicker and stronger not with weights, but with movement.
It's also time to introduce sprints, and any other exercise that emphasizes speed.
By now guys are on the ice, and really putting things into overdrive as they head into the season.
The Total Package
It's a few weeks until camp, and it's time to put it all together. Diet gets some extra attention here — a lot of guys stop drinking a few weeks prior to the season.
The goal from the summer is to end up lean with explosive quickness, but that's no good if you can only do it in short bursts. That means a bulk of the daily work will be devoted to whatever a player's chosen form of cardio is.
Most guys choose to bag skate or ride the bike (long-distance running is a less-than-awesome choice for a hockey player), but all of them are playing more competitive shinny than they have over the course of the summer.
It's an exciting time when you know you've put in the off-season work, and you're feeling stronger and faster than ever.
But that time is still a ways away. Right now, guys are somewhere between phases two and three, lifting heavy and mixing in more athletic stuff.
There's a lot of competition out there, and each day your goal is just to out-work that guy who wants the same job you do, wherever he is, whoever he is.
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