Understanding Off-Ice Conditioning for Goalies
Updated: May 22
Out of shape goalies are a thing of the past.
While goalies used to get away with not working hard off-ice or having peak fitness, in today's game goalies need to have elite conditioning in order to be successful.
To continue our series on goalie specific off-ice training - we look to answer the popular question: "what's the best kind of conditioning work for goalies?"
Long Duration Cardio Training
Let’s get this one out of the way right away.
While people typically think long runs or jogging when they think cardio or conditioning work, an hour-long run is simply not the best thing to be doing as a goaltender.
Just because the game maybe 60 minutes, doesn't mean that it should be confused for 60 minutes of straight work.
The energy systems goalies rely on are more anaerobic than aerobic in nature due to the on/off aspect of the game. There are short and intense bursts where a goalie is very active, typically followed by long rest periods. To simplify this, the way that our body utilizes energy for the interval demands of goaltending is completely different than the way energy is utilized for a long run.
While it's great to train similar demands that you'll see in a game, long-distance cardio is simply not the main priority for goaltenders. Adding more long jogs are rarely the answer to enhancing your conditioning levels as a goalie.
Does this mean that longer conditioning sessions are completely irrelevant? Not necessarily.
All athletes need to have an “aerobic base.” While this supports base levels of performance, the aerobically trained athlete also have been shown to have an enhanced ability to recover and are generally healthier than an athlete with no aerobic capacity. Saying this, most goalies already have an aerobic base that's high enough - a long weight session or practice is still training your aerobic energy system.
So while there's no reason why it would be considered back to include a jog or bike in the off-season, our argument is that there are more productive approaches to conditioning training if your goal is to increase on-ice performance.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for Goalies
Enter HIIT. Shorter, high-intensity bursts of exercise, followed by a rest period, repeat.
HIIT more closely resembles the structure of your performance in the crease and trains the anaerobic system as well as the aerobic system.
There has been a ton of research in recent years on HIIT (Source 1, 2) with Martin Gibala from McMaster University leading the way. He has shown that the cellular adaptations are very similar, if not better following HIIT training compared to traditional endurance training. This is not to mention that sessions are drastically shorter and contain less volume (thereby being less stressful on your joints).
Most goalies should focus their conditioning work around this style of training and it can be done in many different ways so long as there is a hard burst of exercise (10-30 seconds is a good place to start) followed by a rest of equal or greater duration. This could be sprinting, biking, or even exercises like kettlebell swings or squat jumps - as long as the exercise is intense, it can be used to challenge this energy system demand.
Regardless of what exercise you use for this, it's important to be monitoring your rest just as much as your work. While it's easiest to start with a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio, such as 15s on followed by 15s off, our goal is to get close to fully recovered before we start again. Sometimes this will mean increasing or decreasing rest times depending on your current conditioning levels.
If you're looking for a place to start, this article provides some good interval-based bike workouts that you can utilize.
This style of training will undoubtedly enhance conditioning specific to goaltending and ultimately carry over to on-ice performance.
Difference Between Goalies and Hockey Players?
Again the differences between what goalies and players should do are very minimal and for the most part this type of training should be pretty much the same. In my opinion any small differences will be addressed when the goalie is on the ice actually playing the sport as this is where that final degree of specificity can be addressed.
The adjustments that can be made are pretty simple. While a player may opt for a few more linear sprints, a goalie may look to train with more lateral movement or something that required them to get up and down quickly again and again.
I believe there are benefits in a complex style of training here with exercises such as med ball slams, kettlebell work, bodyweight squats, burpees, push-ups, battle ropes, or anything that can be done safely at a high intensity for the set time. Exercises that challenge the body to get down on the ground, and upon their feet quickly can be effective as goalies spend a ton of time getting up and down on the ice and it may have more carryover than linear sprints.
You can’t outrun a bad diet.
Such an important concept is so often forgotten however and people will tend to turn to laborious cardio to try to work off the extra pounds from their subpar diet. Now this could be an entire article, however, the key thing to remember is that every bit of training is taxing on the body, and simply doing way more cardio to try to lose weight is using up resources. If the goal is to lose weight or improve body composition, a little bit more cardio can be helpful, provided it is in conjunction with a high-quality diet.
Losing fat, adding muscle, or improving cardiovascular fitness are all separate factors and certain individuals will be better at different aspects so there is a degree of individualization. Insuring your conditioning work is primarily interval-based, and not simply straight sprints or bike work is a good place to start for goalies looking to improve their conditioning.
Looking for more goalie articles? We have them for you!
About the Author:
Isaac Seabrook, B.Sc/CSCS
Isaac is a Strength & Conditioning Coach who earned his Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from Queens University, where he also interned as the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) Strength Coach. Also interning with Gary Roberts & Hockey Canada, Isaac has worked with some of the world’s top hockey players. A former Goalie, Isaac serves as the Goalie Performance Specialist at Relentless Hockey along with continuing to work with elite players of all levels.
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