8 Ways to Make this Your Best Off-Season Ever
Alright so last season is officially behind us.
Maybe it wasn’t the season you wanted. You know you can play at a high level, be more productive and impactful on the ice, and want to have an off-season where you come back a completely better version of yourself.
Maybe it was your best season ever. That means you have new expectations next season and you know that you can push your game even further. This needs to be the off-season you need to elevate your game to a whole new level.
Either way, whatever happened last season – next season is going to be determined by the work you put in this off-season.
The players who maximize their off-seasons are the ones that get ahead. And the truth is, this doesn’t mean going hard core militant style discipline all summer. It means focusing on the right things that are going to move the needle forward.
In this article, we’re breaking down on the 8 focuses that elite hockey players have in their off-season. After working with thousands of hockey players in the past decade of off-seasons – we wanted to put together an article that would give hockey players the exact things to focus on to ensure they’re getting the most of their off-season.
So let’s dive in.
Focus #1: Return Back to Zero
This is an important concept.
We call zero your balance. It’s homeostasis, the state where your body feels good, your performance is optimal, and your energy levels are high.
After a hockey season you are not at zero.
Your body is tight and restricted. You’ve built imbalances and compensations. Your nervous system is fried and run down.
Over the course of an NHL season, studies show that power output can decrease by 20%, strength levels by 15-25%, and significant range of motion is lost.
And this is at the NHL level. With players who have had access to the best coaching, therapists, and resources.
So our first priority in the off-season is to return to zero.
Eliminate the debt that performance has caused on the body.
This looks different depending on the player, but some of the things to consider:
- Get off the ice.
- Double down on self myofascial release.
- Focus your gym work on activation work and mobility.
- Take some time off.
Focus #2: Fix Your Body, Address Pain, Attack Imbalances
This is highly tied with the previous point – but as soon as hockey season is done, hockey players need to double down on repairing the body.
If you talk to any sports therapist in Canada, they’ll tell you spring is the season of therapy for hockey players. All the sudden pros and elite junior/college players start to fill the clinic to try and fix the nagging injuries they’ve had all season.
We love this, and have always encouraged our guys to get into physio or massage work as soon as their season ends.
They can take a break with workouts and skating for a bit – but now’s the time to try and fix their bodies.
But this isn’t just getting to see a therapist.
Hockey players can do a lot of this style of work on their own with everything from massage guns, to foam rollers, to yoga and mobility sessions. Not only that, but when we do actually start to get back into the gym – we spend the first phase of the off-season addressing any lingering issues and reconstructing the body for performance.
The early off-season should be the time you rebuild and reconstruct your body.
This means that, in addition to mobility and release work, we also want hockey players to start workouts with intentional activation work to address imbalances and full range exercises to try and reclaim range of motion.
In our Relentless Off-Season Program we literally call this the “Reconstruction Phase”.
Focus #3: Develop Strength
With the early off-season focused on restoring the body, eventually we want players to shift into strength development.
Strength is the foundation of literally everything hockey.
Want to play stronger in the corners? Be tougher to knock off the puck? Skate faster? Shoot harder?
Then you have to get stronger.
Where a lot of players get this wrong is they assume this means just using heavy lifts, using old school hypertrophy workouts, or hitting 1 rep maxes and maxing out machines.
We also see a lot of players go the opposite direction and think that because they’re fast and agile that they don’t want to put on muscle and get slow.
Both approaches are wrong.
For the “heavy lift bro” – if you’re just focusing on heavy lifts you’re missing out on some of the more “functional” work that allows you to develop more efficient kinetic chains and actually utilize your strength on the ice. We see a lot of players who have insane squat or deadlift numbers – but just aren’t fast and are missing that transferability.
For the “I don’t wanna get slow” players – if you look at literally any small/fast player in the NHL today, they have an outsized strength/size ratio. Players like Marner, Kane, Caufield who are all considered agile players have all made strength a priority in their off-ice training. Strength allows you to play more confidently, stronger on the puck, and unlock more speed.
In each workout we want 1-2 heavier compound lifts (deadlifts, squats, hip thrusts, etc.) and then to continue strength work with more functional and kinetic-chain focused exercises like single leg RDLs, lunge to presses, and core work.
We’ve broken down this way further in this article here: “Workouts for Hockey Players: A Complete Guide”.
Focus #4: Develop Power Expression
Power = force x velocity.
This is the equation that sport scientists use to determine the power of an athlete. Simply put – how much force can you express and how fast can you express it.
But what does this actually mean for hockey players and how can we apply it practically?
Well, it reaffirms the importance of strength (force) when it comes to developing speed. But, it also tells us that we need to develop our ability to express force with speed.
This isn’t developing more muscle, but rather training our nervous system to wire and fire more efficiently and recruit greater force with greater speed.
While many trainers overcomplicate this force plates, complicated tech, and complicated olympic lifts – the reality is that in order to develop power, you need to let it rip.
This means choosing exercises that’s going to allow you to express a maximal power expression.
These are exercises like ball slam or ball throws for shot power or kettlebell swings or tempo focused squats for stride power.
More technically complicated exercises like hang cleans or single arm hang snatches can be used – but often But often it’s not necessary for power development.
Focus #5: Enhance Athleticism
We consider “athleticism work” a combination of speed, quickness, change of direction, and any other footwork style drill.
This is because focusing on just one element of this training isn’t enough for hockey players.
Hockey is an intensely multi-directional and multi-movement sport.
That means hockey players need to not only train their technical skills (edge work, power skating, etc.) but they also need to be focusing on enhancing their movement capacity/athleticism with off-ice work that challenges multiple movement patterns.
This can be tough to do in-season, because often this work requires you to be fresh – but the off-season is the perfect opportunity to double down on this type of work.
In our hockey training programs, we build athleticism work into the start of every workout and then also include full athleticism days to be done at a field or court.
If you’re doing your own athleticism work keep these three things in mind:
- Do it fresh & take breaks. Athleticism work is actually motor learning not conditioning. If you’re gassed, you’ve lost your capacity to express maximum power and the capacity for your body to refine more efficient movement patterns.
- Focus on change of direction work. Your ability to change direction ultimately defines your ability to move on the ice. From Connor McDavid to Cale Makar, all the best skaters aren’t
- Seek to refine movement quality. It’s not all about going as fast as you can. We like exercises that challenge players to get low in their hips, light on their toes, and keep their arms pumping. Athleticism work is about becoming a better mover, not just going through an obstacle course as fast as possible.
Focus #6: Build New Habits
You are the sum of your habits.
If you’ve read any books on personal development or been on the motivational side of social media – chances are you’ve heard people talking about the importance of habits.
But the reality is that for athletes, it can often be challenging to change our habits mid-season.
We have set routines that we know work for us and we tend to stick with them.
Furthermore, we don’t want to experiment with new habits that could leave
This leads to a lot of athletes getting stuck in a rut of doing the same thing they know works for them – and accepting “good” when “great” could be right around the corner with just a couple of lifestyle tweaks.
Use the off-season to try to refine your diet and supplementation, create a morning routine, create a pre-skate routine, optimize your sleep.
It doesn’t have to be a complete lifestyle overhaul in the off-season. Just start by choosing one area of your life you could improve, do some research on some habits that would improve this area, and then try to implement something for just 7 days.
Small actions, like habits, compound over time.
Focus #7: Stickhandle & Shoot More Pucks
Being in Toronto, I’ve had the opportunity to work hands on with some of the best hockey players in the world.
One attribute that stood out with the majority of pros was that as soon as a workout was done – they’d find a way to get a hockey stick in their hands.
Sometimes it was bringing a golf ball to a session and working on their hands, sometimes it was doing knock downs off a wall, and eventually it was shooting pucks when we bought a net and shooting pad for the gym.
We’d have players do an entire workout and then spend an additional 90 minutes stickhandling and shooting pucks. It was here they’d experiment with new things. Changing their release, tweak how they’d catch and release a puck, refine their touch.
There’s a lot of lessons here, but the primary takeaway is that hockey players need unstructured practice time to master their skills.
We’ve seen players take a bucket of pucks to a tennis court and shoot pucks. We’ve seen players create their own stick handling aids and spend an hour just practicing little touches with a golf ball.
It doesn't need to be fancy. Just throw on some music and play around.
Focus #8: Seek Coaching or Support
A lot of elite athletes are “self-coachers” – and this leads to a lot of success.
They’re constantly looking for new ways to improve, trying out new drills, watching videos of moves they could implement in their game.
But there’s a reason why coaches exist.
They’re experts in breaking down where you’re at and where you need to be.
There’s a reason why the best NHL players continue to work with strength coaches, skill coaches, and power skating instructors in the summer.
Of course they could coach themselves, they’re world class in all of these things – but they know the power a good coach can have in breaking things down and giving them the path they need to follow to get better.
Consider where you could use help in your game.
Need to get stronger this summer? Get a training program built for that. Want to refine your shot? Reach out to a shooting coach. Feel like you could get more fluid in your skates? Find a power skating instructor.
There’s a Coach or expert for every element of the game who can help you. In fact, even asking veteran players you’re skating with to coach you through something specific can pay massive dividends.
If you watch any pro off-season skate, you’ll see players constantly teaching each other new things, asking why they do something, or how they do something.
The point is – don’t be scared to ask for help.
Wrapping it Up
Alright so that’s a wrap on this article.
What you focus on matters – especially when it comes to the off-season.
You have a limited window to maximize your development and truly elevate your performance to a whole new level heading into the next season.
We’ve seen players completely transform their game. Go from being a mid-pack player to a league all-star. Follow a 20 point season with a 65 point season. Be off the radar for college scouts to having dozens of offers.
We always say – you’re just one off-season away.
So make sure you take advantage of this off-season and get dialled in on the right things, creating better habits, refining your craft, and pursuing consistent growth and progress.
If you’re looking for a structured off-season training program that will give you the exact game plan for most of the things we mentioned in this article – we recommend you checking out the Relentless Off-Season program. This is the complete training system for hockey players to get dialed in with their off-seasons.
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.