By Conor Doherty
Hockey players have been using strength-training exercises to improve their performance for some time now. All kinds of information can be found on the internet, but in my experience players tend to use the information they find on sites that focus more on bodybuilding than they do on performance.
Hockey is a game of speed, quickness, agility, and endurance. You need these attributes in order to perform at a high level, yet what most players focus on is muscle size and a high rate of repetitions. That type of training will improve your muscular endurance and you’ll look good in the mirror, but it’s almost a waste of training time if your goal is to improve performance. That said, the types of exercises for hockey players you should focus on are those that create strength, explosiveness, and power.
Another thing to consider is the fact that hockey, like other sports, is played on one leg at a time. You’ll never see a hockey player pushing off with both legs at the same time, so bilateral exercises like the Squat and Deadlift—although I totally endorse them to improve strength and power—aren’t as efficient at doing so as the Bulgarian Split Squat or the Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat.
The Bulgarian Split Squat is one of those exercises for hockey players that I program for my players consistently because of its huge benefits. It’s an exercise that is done on one leg at a time, with the opposite leg elevated on a chair or bench behind you. One thing to consider is the height of the chair or bench: I’d recommend starting out with an aerobic step and then progressing to a higher bench when you’re more comfortable with the balance- and hip-flexibility aspects of the exercise.
The benefits of doing these exercises for hockey players are numerous
1. Single Leg Training
Research now shows how beneficial single-leg training is. Mike Boyle, a top-level trainer in the Boston area, explains it like this: If an athlete can back-squat 200 lbs., then in theory he or she should be able to single-leg-squat 100 lbs. with each leg. You get all of the same benefits as the back squat, without the added load placed on the spine.
With only one leg on the ground at a time, balance is going to come into play whether you intended to work on it or not. Unfortunately, hockey training is being taken over by silly balance balls and boards, which are more suited for rehab centers.
3. Hip Flexibility
Hip-flexor injuries are some of the most prominent types involved in hockey. Players are constantly in a flexed position at the hips, causing them to become tighter over time. What the Bulgarian Split Squat does is work on the hip flexibility of the back leg while you lower yourself to the ground. Not only is this exercise great for strength and power, it’s also injury preventative in nature as well.
4. Strength and Power
If you’re starting out with this exercise, then strength should be your focus. With exercises like the Squat and Deadlift, you’ll often find one leg compensating for the other in certain spots of the movement. With the Bulgarian Split Squat, each leg needs to improve on its own. After you’ve developed some strength with this exercise, try moving through the concentric motion more quickly to develop more power in your training. You can also try the exercise without weights to make it more of a plyometric exercise, by jumping at the top of the movement.
Using exercises like the Bulgarian Split Squat will improve your on-ice performance because of all the elements it includes. Other exercises that work well for hockey players that include many of the same benefits are Walking Lunges and Single-Leg RDLs (Romanian Deadlifts). Those exercises need to be included in a hockey player’s program if they really expect to see their performance improve.
Conor Doherty is a strength and conditioning coach from Dryden, Ont., Canada. He holds an Honors Bachelor of Kinesiology and his main goal is to help improve the performance of hockey players. For more information, check out his profile at stackmvp.