Bike Workouts for Hockey Players: A Complete Guide

Bike Workouts for Hockey Players

Hockey players love the bike. 

If you step into any pro or NCAA dressing room, you’ll find a bike. If a group of hockey players show up at the gym, you’ll find them getting started on the bike. If we had a dollar for everytime we heard a hockey player say “I’m just gonna hop on a bike” we’d be filthy rich. 

Bikes are ingrained in hockey culture. 

But is biking actually good for hockey players? And, if it is – what should hockey players actually be doing on the bike? 

The goal of this article is to answer both those questions. 

If you’re looking for bike workouts, you can scroll to the bottom. But if you want to learn about why biking might not be great for hockey players – and a couple of factors that hockey players should consider about bike workouts, then you’ll get insane value from this article. 

So let’s dive in. 

Are Bike Workouts Good for Hockey Players? Pros and Cons.

Just because biking is commonplace in hockey training culture, doesn’t mean that it’s always valuable for hockey players. 

A lot of hockey players cite a study that biking utilizes the exact muscles as skating – and therefore it’s the most valuable conditioning tool for hockey players. 

Surprisingly, that’s in fact true. (We only say surprisingly because we’ve heard hockey players cite “studies” for some pretty bizarre claims).

There was a study looking at muscle activation in speed skaters and cyclists and it was incredibly similar. The study authors even suggest that cycling would be a valuable training tool for skaters. 

So confirmed – biking is valuable for hockey players. 

But we still often recommend our hockey players avoid the bike.

Let’s break down why in and pros and cons list: 

Pros of Biking for Hockey Players:

  • Easy to use and control resistance: This is one of the biggest advantages of bike work. Unlike running sprints, you don’t have to worry about space, level ground, or weather conditions. The bike allows you to do the work anywhere and anytime. Another significant advantage is that, unlike sprint work, biking allows for controllable resistance. This means that you can control your workload intensity (through resistance), which is a difficult variable to control through sprinting.  
  • Lower risk of injury than sprint workouts: Because the cycling rotations put you on a fixed path, there’s very little opportunity variance in movement. This means that unlike a sprint workout, you’re unlikely to injure yourself through poor sprinting mechanics, fatigue compensations, or various other potential injury risks. While there is the potential risk biking could contribute to the degradation of more chronic issues (explored more in the “cons”) the fixed position of the bike eliminates a lot of injury risks from max-effort work.  
  • Improved muscular endurance: If you’ve ever done an intense cycling workout, you know – your legs absolutely burn in a way similar to a bag skate. Bike workouts will absolutely fatigue the quads and create a muscular endurance demand throughout much of the lower body. While this type of localized muscular endurance is rarely an issue for hockey players, it may still have some advantage in training for late in a long shift.  

Cons of Biking for Hockey Players:

  • Poor Position: This is a big one. I often tell my players to avoid biking all together in the early off-season, and then only use it selectively as a conditioning tool through the rest of the off-season (poor weather, lack of space). One of the goals of Strength & Conditioning is to reverse the structural damage and compensations created through the physical demands of hockey. 

The repetitive stress of each stride on the hips, along with the innately poor posture (hunched back, flexed hips) associated with skating reeks havoc on the body over the course of the season. That’s why the majority of off-ice training is structured to reverse these effects and recreate a body optimized for performance. 

We can see that cycling essentially puts the body back into these same positions, and now as we add max-effort intensity, we are only further exaggerating the stress of these positions. The lack of hip extension and demand for work intensity in a flexed hip position will only further create a tighter hockey player, and eventually, hinder on-ice performance. Understanding this, it’s important to weigh the upside against the downside of being in this position.

  • Failure is more likely localized muscular fatigue than global/energy system fatigue: So, while biking is often sold as the perfect conditioning tool for hockey players, it’s important to consider whether it’s targeting energy system conditioning or just a “burn out” of the quad muscles. Without proper workout structure, intensity can result in more of a “leg burn” feeling instead of eliciting a cardiovascular training demand and adaptation. While using a heart rate monitor would be ideal, monitoring breath and full-body fatigue is helpful for players to evaluate if exertion is being applied appropriately.

So all this to say – we typically want hockey players to avoid the bike because of the strain it puts on the same structures that skating does.

We rather focus on work that reverses this strain. 

That being said, biking can be a phenomenal way to enhance conditioning in hockey players in many situations such as:

  • It's non-impactful nature, unlike running/sprints, is joint-sparring for players with knee or ankle issues.  
  • Players with upper body injuries that prevent running/skating mechanics can use biking to maintain or enhance fitness (this is the most common reason)  
  • Ease of use makes bike workouts appealing, not only is intensity easily controlled, but lack of space/running surfaces/weather conditions are all eliminated (although I'd argue if you're healthy, arena stairs are a much more appealing option).

‍So we suggest that you use bikes sparingly, and if you do, make sure that you’re also adding mobility and reconstruction work to counterbalance the strain of biking. 

Bike Workouts for Hockey Players

Alright, so let’s get to why you’re really here. You want to know what you should do on the bike. 

We’re going to share some of our favorite protocols that we give to our players – but before we do, a couple of “pre-workout” considerations. 

  1. You need to do a full dynamic warm-up before getting on the bike. Just because you’re not on the ice or getting into a full lift doesn’t mean you should skip a playing or lifting doesn't justify skipping a full body dynamic warm up. These movement practices are the most basic version of "pre-hab" work and include the fundamentals of creating a healthier body.  Place some extra emphasis on hip extension/hip flexors here. 
  2. Players must set up the bike in the optimal position for their body. This sounds silly, but so many players just jump with whatever position the last person left it. Take the 45 seconds to setup the bike properly to ensure your leg moves through an optimal range (not fully extending, with a slight knee bend at the bottom position). Also ensure you've adjusted the seat/handle bar proximity to prevent that forward slumping position. 

To define our work intensity we use Perceived Rate of Extersion (RPE), this means that a 10/10 in a workout would be the highest level of intensity you possibly can, while a 5-6/10 would be fairly  casual. 

"Rest" periods are technically considered active rest, meaning that athletes continue to move instead of just sitting. We use these in all of our conditioning workouts.

So with all that information, here are our 4 of our bike conditioning workouts:

Hockey Bike Workout #1:

Start with a 2-3 minute bike at a moderate (5-6) pace. Complete all of the assigned rounds in a series before getting off the bike for a 1-2 minute break before the start of the next series. The total length of this workout is 15-20 minutes.

Series A: 20:40 – Bike 20 seconds at pace of 9.5/10 or higher, followed by 40 seconds rest. Repeat 5 times.

Series B: 30:30 – Bike 30s seconds at a pace of 9/10 or higher, followed by 30 rest. Repeat 3 times.

Series C: 15:30 – Bike 15 seconds at a pace of 9 or higher, followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat 3 times.

Bonus: 10:15 – Bike 15 seconds at pace of 9/10 followed by 10 seconds rest for 4-5 rounds.

Hockey Bike Workout 2:

Start with a 2-3 minute bike at a moderate (5-6) pace. Complete all of the assigned rounds in a series before getting off the bike for a 1-2 minute break before the start of the next series. The total length of this workout is 10-15 minutes.

Series A: 2:1 – Bike 1 minute at a pace of 8.5 or higher, followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat 5 times.

Series B: Bike at moderate pace of 7/10 for 4 minutes.

Bike Workout 3:

Start with a 2-3 minute bike at a moderate (5-6) pace. Complete all of the assigned rounds in a series before getting off the bike for a 1-2 minute break before the start of the next series. The total length of this workout is 10-15 minutes.

Series A: Complete all the following rounds at an intensity of 9/10. 2 rounds minimum.  Work-rest indicated below:

- 10/10

- 20/20

- 30/30

- 40/40

- 50/50

- 60/60

After round 1, you have the option to regress to every other level (10,30...) or continue the entire series.

Tabata Protocol

Tabata is a popularized high intensity interval training protocol based on the research of Dr. Izumi Tabata and his team at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. Tabata's research found that those using his high intensity protocol versus a steady moderate intensity were not only better aerobically conditioned, but also anaerobically conditioning.

While there's lots of research on this, it breaks down simply to a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio, or more specifically 20 seconds of intensity work, and 10 seconds of rest. Traditionally this is suggested for 8 rounds per exercise (ie. body weight squats/push ups/etc) but can easily be used for biking.

We typically like to follow these 8 rounds with 2-4 minutes of high-steady state work (7.5/10) and then another 2-5 minutes of slow-steady state. 

Wrapping It Up 

Elite conditioning levels are insanely valuable for hockey players. 

In fact, in almost all of the workouts in our hockey training programs, we include high intensity work like this for players to either do on the treadmill or bike. 

If you’re considering taking your training to the next level and want to get structured with your off-ice training – you should check out our Relentless hockey training programs. These have been designed to be the complete training systems for hockey players to get their training dialed in and take their game to the next level! ! 

kyle kokotailo hockey training
Coach Kyle

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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