As the science behind exercise and sports grows, coaches are constantly updating and revising how they test performance. In fact with some of the newer technology the ability to predict sports success is at an all-time high and will only continue to develop.
Although not every sports organization has the funding for expensive equipment, there are a few fitness tests that are relatively easy to implement and have good predictive power.
Obviously hockey skill, and a players ability to read and react to the game, is essential to success but there are a few tests that we believe coaches should pay attention to when assessing their player's development, as strong scores on these tests tend to predictability to then develop the necessary on-ice skills. Core stability tests (although super important) are also left out here as we would typically look to an FMS (functional movement screen) or another movement screen to get both an objective, and subjective diagnostic of how an athlete braces their core for stabilization.
In this article we look at four tests that coaches can use on hockey players. They are excellent predictors of physical capacity and cover a wide range of necessary attributes. What's interesting about these four exercises is their ability to predict sprint speed. No, skating and sprinting are not the same, but they require the same physical prerequisites for stride technique. Performing these four exercises well is a trend you will likely see among the vast majority of strong skaters.
Lastly it is important that the tests you chose are not too heavily skill-based or they quickly lose their validity. Sure the following tests include a degree of skill, but they are all pretty easy to learn and are likely already included in your program to some capacity. A power clean is a great exercise for developing explosive strength, but for a hockey player it is not necessarily the most valid test. That doesn’t mean we don’t do cleans, but when testing we look for a more simple movement with less extreme skill requirements, that is isn’t overly blurred by the proficiency at a skill other than hockey.
Must-Do Test #1: Trap Bar Deadlift
Total body strength, with emphasis on the lower body is demonstrated at its finest with the trap bar deadlift. It shows not only how well an athlete can produce force with their legs, but also how strong their back and core is as the torso must be locked in and stable in order to produce force through the entire body. Although the squat and straight bar deadlift is other great options, I find most athletes learn this movement quicker and are able to perform it a little smoother than the others which have a higher demand for mobility and skill.
Although it is somewhat a correlation rather than a causation, several highly respected strength coaches have shown that you can pretty confidently predict sprint speed based off of this lift relative to bodyweight. Both Joe Defranco as well as Ryan Flaherty are known for using this exercise both as a training tool, and predictor of 40-yard dash with some very successful NFL draft picks at the combine.
What about skating? Although there is less data for predicting skating speed from this lift, and we know that skating requires efficient technique, it is important to remember that the athlete who is able to produce more force per stride will probably have the ability to accelerate harder and skate faster should their mechanics be good. The best skaters, may be the best because an efficient stride, but force production is still a prerequisite for this and the trap bar deadlift is a great measure of this.
Don’t want to get caught up in the science of force production? Here is McDavid easily moving 500 lbs for some anecdotal evidence for the value of the trap bar deadlift (Video).
Must-Do Test #2: Broad Jump
Since strength isn’t everything, and an element of explosiveness is necessary for the sport of hockey we need a test to assess raw power and explosiveness. The broad jump and vertical jump are two great options to see how a hockey player uses their strength to transfer force powerfully and accelerate their own bodyweight.
With hockey players I believe the broad jump has a little bit more carry-over due to the angle of force production being on more of a horizontal angle rather than straight up, making it a little closer to a skating stride in comparison to the vertical jump. The rate at which an athlete can develop force is a factor in almost any athletic ability, and the broad jump measures it as good as anything.
Again with a few simple cues we can get everyone jumping properly and there isn’t a ton of skill involved with a jump making it a pretty valid test. One thing I like about jump tests is that they are quick and easy for guys to do and are not too physically taxing. Because of this we can use them as a monitoring test as well throughout the season. Weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly jump testing can give us a ton of information as to how much strength guys are maintained throughout the year, or whether they are getting overworked. This makes it a simple yet reliable tool for both sports coaches and strength coaches to use to monitor how the team is handling the stress of the sport and help determine when to ramp up or back off the intensity.
Must-Do Test #3: Chin Ups
When looking at repeat upper body strength, relative to bodyweight it is hard to beat a chin-up test.
Not only does this test pair nicely with the others to round out the picture a bit as it is an upper-body test, but it also fits well with the others as it is correlated with speed. No, how many pull-ups you do doesn’t cause you to be faster or slower, but you will often find that those that are good at this test, tend to be reasonably fast as they have to be both lean, and strong to do well.
The relation to body weight was alluded to already in this article and is probably the best aspect of this test. It is great to be super strong on the trap bar, but you need to also be strong for your weight, and the broad jump and chin up test require exactly this.
Although in other sports the bench press is a typical upper body test, with hockey players I prefer the chin-ups for a couple of reasons. First of all, for a sport like a football the bench press has a little more carryover as one of the main jobs of a lineman is to push the opposition, therefore they test it at every level and guys tend to train it hard. With hockey, although we do train pressing motions, we tend to spend more time doing exercises other than the bench press as it doesn’t have quite as much carryover.
In addition, many hockey players tend to have shoulders that are pretty immobile and quite frankly don’t function the best on a bench press. The bench press test puts a ton of stress on this area and many guys avoid this exercise due to shoulder health. There is also the issue of testing skills as we have mentioned previously, as a good bench press is a skill, and the time it takes to practice and develop this skill is probably better spent elsewhere for a hockey player.
A pull up, however, is much easier for most hockey players to handle, pulls are a movement we tend to use a ton in training as we want to strengthen the back muscles to help reset the shoulder joint and restore its function.
The max pulls up test also requires a less extensive warm-up and preparation time than a bench press test does, where an athlete would have to make several weight steps to work up to their testing weigh. As long as a general dynamic warm-up is done we can pretty much get right into it, and since it isn’t incredibly taxing, it can also be a good test to use for the purpose of monitoring.
Must-Do Test #4: Beep Test, Yo-Yo Test, or 300 m Shuttle Run
The conditioning tests are typically something hockey players look forward to however they should be an aspect of any testing battery for hockey players.
There are a variety of tests that can be done with some being more aerobic, and others more anaerobic. One that leans more to the aerobic end of the spectrum is the beep test as it is the longest duration of these tests but doesn't pick up for several minutes. The beep test is probably the most common conditioning test and is looked at very highly by Hockey Canada with some pretty high minimum acceptable scores.
With most of our girl's teams, the beep test is the gold standard for Ontario teams as well making it the test we chose for our female programs.
The Yo-Yo test is very similar to the beep test in the way it builds up, however, it starts off a little bit faster. It is still primarily anaerobic test and is a good alternative to the beep test.
The 300 m Shuttle Run, still stresses the aerobic system somewhat however, it tends to be more on the anaerobic side of things as it is essentially an all-out sprint for 300 meters (usually set up as 25 meters there and back 6 times). This test is also sometimes done in an interval structure where you are given a short rest period between the run and then repeat the test to measure the drop off 2-4 times. What I like about this test is that it mimics a long shift as most people complete this test between 50 and 70 seconds.
Other Notable Tests
1. 5-10-5 Pro Agility
This test is a measure of change of direction ability. Although true agility is reactive and can only truly be tested in a competitive setting this test can provide a good measure of a hockey players ability to change direction. Because this test is very short ( typically 4-5 seconds) and it often hand timed, there can be some error which makes it hard to monitor small changes without the use of fancy timing gates.
2. 1 Push Up Tests
This test measures upper body muscular endurance and is great test to perform with little equipment. Although often used with younger teams due to it's simplicity it is useful with all age groups and skill levels. One issue with this test is that it is hard to regulate at times. We typically do this in partners where the individual doing push ups has to lower their chest down to a partners fist. This helps regulate the bottom end but it is hard to ensure athletes completely finish the rep at the top making it somewhat unreliable with large groups
3. 2 Minute Plank Test
Coaches often like to have some measure of core stability and although this test is one that everyone should be able to pass, it provides a good screen for any outliers. Again it can be tough to regulate form at times as it can be an easy test to cheat, but with a 1 warning only protocol, most hockey players are able to hold a pretty solid plank for the duration. The only reason the plank test is not in the big 4 is that in my opinion the entire team should be able to hold a 2 minute plank so it is hard to draw much from it. A better way to determine core strength would be to do an individual assessment for every athlete and note what positions challenge them and what causes technique to break down.
4. 10 yard Sprint
This test is great to measure linear explosive power in a short sprint and in theory should correlate with skating acceleration since the physical demands are similar. The main concern I have with this is that there is so much technique involved in a sprint acceleration and the actual test may be skewed by differences in sprint technique rather than physical capacity. The combination of a trap bar deadlift and broad jump can accurately measure the prerequisite physical capacity, and if the coach want's a direct test of acceleration, the best option is probably to measure it on the ice.
Obviously there are a ton of good tests we can do, and a lot of other attributes that we believe hockey players should be good at if they want to be their best.
That said if you are looking for an easy way to get a strong snapshot of your player's physical strength and power, it is hard to beat these 4 tests.
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.