• Kyle Kokotailo

How Hockey Players Can Design Their Own Workouts

Updated: May 22


As the game continues to evolve – the unique and intense physical demands of hockey have made off-ice training a prerequisite to compete in today’s game. Strength & Conditioning plays a huge role in performance for Hockey Players today - and players are investing more time and energy into training now more than ever before.

As a former player, I’m jealous of the accessibility that today’s players have to high-quality training information. Even 10 years ago, players were using workout programs they found in Men's Health or Bodybuilding.com. Occasionally we’d luck out and get a copy of a program that our older brother’s friend got from their college/pro team’s Strength Coach. Today there’s more high-quality information from world-class Strength Coaches on Instagram than all the books/websites combined just a couple of years ago.

The flow of training content has not only “leveled up” the industry from a coaching perspective, but it’s also allowed players to take ownership over their training by being able to integrate different exercises, drills, or concepts learned from Instagram.

Saying this, one of the downsides to the rush of content on Instagram that athletes can get easily seduced by variety. One of the key pillars to any good Strength & Conditioning program is a progressive structure that ensure you’re getting better week-by-week and that workouts are designed to be structurally balanced. Integrating the latest flashy Instagram drill is okay here and there but can be counter-productive to your training efforts.

I’d still argue most players should work with a Coach to make sure their programming is optimized and that they’re receiving hands-on coaching or be following a structured and progressive program from a Strength Coach designed for the demands of hockey. Saying this, there’s circumstances where players may not be able to commit to a program (travelling, tight budget, etc.) and need to do workouts on their own.

We’ll routinely connect with these players who ask how they should breakdown their workouts and figured it justified creating an article on how players can create their own workouts.

It’s important to note, we sell online training programs designed to give hockey players workout structure they need to get better on-ice and this article is counterintuitive to our business. We realize that not all players want to commit to a program & still want to have a resource to point players if they want to train on their own.

The End of “Chest & Tris” Days:

One of the motivators to writing this article was the 35 DMs asking when we’d recommend doing “chest & tris” or “bis and backs”.

If you’re still breaking down your workout by body part – you need to cut that out.

Isolating a specific muscle group is a bodybuilding strategy designed to overload specific muscles and given them 2-3 days before the next session. If you’re focused on physique or bodybuilding, I think this is the most appropriate strategy.

Saying that, hockey is a full-body sport that relies on kinetic chains more than any one specific body part. Because of this, we train our players exclusively with full-body workouts. Some Strength Coaches will break days into being “push” or “pull” focused – but even this is dwindling in popularity.

Instead we’re focusing on incorporating what I would consider the 5 movement patterns into each workout. I’d consider these:

  1. Lunge

  2. Hinge

  3. Squat

  4. Push

  5. Pull

Depending on the day, week, and phase – we’ll be focusing more one of these movement patterns more than others. This is obviously simplifying our programming, but if a workout can incorporate these 5 movements, then I’m typically happy.

The 5 Movement Patterns Examples:

Let’s look at a couple of examples of these movement patterns that be easily utilized in to a workout:

Lunge:

This movement pattern could easily be considered the most important for hockey players. Because of it’s unilateral nature (single leg) it’s essential there’s at least one lunge variation in your workout. We’ll typically build 2-3 into each workout.

Here’s a couple of examples:

1) Reverse Lunge

2) Lateral Lunge

3) Split Squat Front Loaded

Hinge Exercises:

This pattern can often be under-utilized by hockey players doing their own workouts. Hinge exercises are essential for hockey players because they target the posterior-chain (hamstrings, glutes, muscles on the back of body) that are essential to having a healthy and powerful stride.

Here’s a couple examples:

1) Trapbar Deadlift

2) SL RDL

3) Sumo Deadlift

Squat Exercises:

When a lot of athletes build their own workouts, their go-to lower body movement is the squat. Squatting is essential for athletes and should really be considered the most fundamental movement pattern.

I’ve always used the expression “The best skaters are the best squatters” – but this doesn’t necessarily mean the heaviest, but those with the highest movement quality. Control and range are often far more impressive than just raw load.

Furthermore, we rarely use heavy back squats with players. With the amount of hip/pelvis issues in hockey players, the risk-return is rarely justified. Here’s variations to consider:

1) Front Squats:

2) Goblet Squats:

3) Asymmetrical KB Squat

Push Exercises:

Upper body push-based exercises are often what athletes like to train most; and, while there is an over reliance on exercises like bench press, including push based exercises in your workout is essential for developing upper strength & power.

Instead of focusing these on "shoulders" or "chest" exercises, push-based exercises can be broken into horizontal or vertical pushes, and you should typically aim for a 1:1 ratio between the two movements.

Hockey players should also try to get away from too much bar-based exercises, such as the classic bench press. Utilizing more unilateral exercises, or exercises that load both side with the same weight prevents further imbalances between the right/left sides, and supports creating symmetry across the body.

1) Push Ups

2) Alternating DB Press

3) Half Kneeling Landmine Press:

Pull Exercises:

Unlike push exercises, hockey players typically extremely underutilize pull-based exercises. The inclination for push exercises (specifically "chest" exercises) often creates overly tight anterior muscles in the upper body and often exaggerates the forward rounded shoulder position.

Pull based muscles helps counterbalance this return balance to the upper body. This why we'll typically suggest at minimum a 1:1 push to pull ratio, and often spend early off-season in a 1:2 ratio

1) Pull Ups:

2) Half Kneeling Lat Pull Down:

3) TRX Inverted Row:

Workout Structure:

Understanding the need for different movement patterns, the next question is how to select and structure exercises so that workouts are effective for your training objectives.

This is typically where a Strength Coach adds a lot of value. Not only are workouts strategically structured to elicit a specific training response, but you also need to consider the structure of the week, month, and larger macro phase.

While there’s a lot of variance in this, we’ll breakdown what could be considered the perfect structure if we were program only one workout.

It would potentially look something like this:

  • Dynamic Warm Up – Movement, mobility, and activation exercises for 15 minutes.

  • Athleticism Work – speed, agility, plyometric work (15-25 minutes).

  • Strength/Power Based Work:

  • One block of 2-3 exercise with 3 different movement patterns

  • One block of 3-4 exercises with 3 different movement patterns & core exercises.

  • Additional Core/Mobility focused work

  • Potentially: conditioning-based work (depending on time of year/needs).

Summary Points:

  • If you’re training to be a hockey player you probably shouldn’t have a “back and bis day”.

  • If you’re making your own workouts, go full-body, and try to include all 5 movement patterns.

  • Every workout should consist of at least one exercises that fall into: push, pull, squat, hinge, and lunge.

  • Extra work should be focused on core/mobility-based exercises.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kyle Kokotailo, B.Kin - Performance Coach & Founder of Relentless Hockey


Kyle is a Hockey Performance Specialist who’s worked with hundreds of hockey players from Peewee to Pro. A former elite hockey player, Kyle earned his degree in Kinesiology before becoming a Strength Coach that specializes in hockey performance. Today, he runs Relentless Hockey where he works with players across the world, including pros in over 20+ leagues including the NHL, KHL, and OHL.

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