It’s safe to say biking is a well-entrenched in the training culture of hockey players.
Take a peak in junior/university arena and you’ll find stationary bikes lining the halls outside the dressing rooms. It's commonplace to find players hopping on the bike after practice for extra conditioning work, or injured players basically living on bikes while the team is on-ice. During my freshman season at university it felt like I spent more time on a bike than on ice.
But just because biking is a popular training practice, does that make it the best training tool? And when biking is appropriate – how can players make the most of it, instead of just steady-state aerobic conditioning? We’ll explore all of that in this article.
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 appropriate for hockey players. While the intention to do extra work is good to get better, any training modality can be used inappropriately, so let’s break it down:
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 bike eliminates a lot of injury risks from max-effort work.
- Improved muscular endurance: If you’ve ever done an intense cycling workout, or battled through a spin class, you know – your legs absolutely burn. 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.
Conclusion: How & When Should Hockey Players Bike?
Understanding the pros & cons of biking for hockey players allows us to understand that biking may not be the greatest tool for hockey players – but still has its place. While it carries a significant downside in forcing players to work in potentially compromised positions (flexed hip/spine), the ease of use is undeniable. Not only can players bike while injured, but they also can maintain steady workloads without any space, and more safely than traditional sprint work.
While there’s lots of conversation on steady-state aerobic training for hockey players – I find most of the guys have a base level of conditioning that wouldn’t justify additional steady-state work. That being said, it could still be recommended for players returning from injury, or players struggling with body composition.
Saying that – high-intensity interval training is most likely the appropriate use of bike work. As we explored earlier, the ability to control resistance, along with the limited injury risk from poor sprint mechanics allows hockey players to perform high-intensity work with minimal downside.
In conclusion – should hockey players bike? My answer is: it depends, but maybe, sometimes.
Looking for some high-intensity interval bike workouts? I’ve shared the bike workouts I give to my hockey players in Part 2 of this article.
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.