So your Coach said you have to get bigger and stronger to get to the next level. Or, maybe you feel that you get bounced around in the corners and it's limiting your game.
Regardless of the why – oftentimes players have to add muscle to their frame to take their game to the next level.
Even though the game is getting faster and more skilled, we'll still routinely see players held back from transitioning to the next level for not being "big enough". Even if players are skilled enough to play on a team, being undersized often gives the Coach an excuse to choose another player and let you get another "year of development" somewhere else.
So while the focus shouldn't be on just throwing on bulky size, there are numerous case studies of players who transformed their game by adding 10-15 lbs of lean muscle to their frame. Whether it's playing more aggressive and confident or being able to step into the next level, often the extra size can be a game-changer for players.
In this article we'll explore our top 5 pieces of advice for players looking to add size and muscle to their frame.
How to Get Bigger Tip #1: Get Structured
This is the most boring, yet likely most important part of getting bigger.
If you know where you want to go, you need to know how to get there. Same thing with your body – you know what you want, you now need a plan to get it.
For most players, they need an intentional training plan that's designed to add muscle.
Simply put, you’re in trouble if:
- You’re showing up to the gym without a plan;
- You have a plan, but it has a “chest & tris” day;
- If you’re planning one week, or even one month at a time.
You need a structured strength-based program designed to progressively overload your muscles and ultimately create a hypertrophic response.
This needs to also be performance-driven. Many bodybuilding-style programs are designed to create muscular hypertrophy but doesn't mean that they're right for Hockey Players. Just like our goal isn't to get heavy and chunky, we also don't want to just add "bro muscle" just for the sake of it. Whether you work with a Strength Coach, use size & strength-focused program, or create your own program - your workouts should be centered around becoming a better hockey player first.
Having a game plan isn't just "micro" or focused on that individual workout, but also laid out weeks or even months. While exercises can progress in intensity or complexity, the weights used should be increasing week by week.
We've taken a deep dive into how you can create your own hockey training program in this article.
In summary: have a structured strength-based program, know what you're doing for each workout and how it's progress Print out your program, and actually bring it to the gym.
No more “what should I do today” days.
How to Get Bigger Tip #2: Lift Heavy
So you’ve got the plan to get bigger. Now the fun stuff, let's load up the bar.
Let’s put this in the simplest terms: lifting heavy stuff is going to make those muscles lifting that stuff bigger and stronger OR Increase Weight on Bar = Increase Weight on Body.
Maybe because it’s hard work, maybe because it’s fear – but a lot of players don’t want to load up the bar. This is a problem because aside from helping you put on size, you'll also struggle to add the strength that's an essential component to staying healthy over a hockey season, performing your best on ice.
So hopefully you understand the physical effects of lifting heavy (simple terms: muscle damage that lets them come back stronger) so let’s explore the real hidden gem that will get you bigger and stronger: hormones.
There are three massively affected hormones which are optimized when you lift heavy, and all will support muscle growth, strength gains, and athletic performance. (Skip this next section if you don’t care about the science and just want to get big – I won’t judge).
- First is testosterone. Heavy compound lifts such as Olympic lifts and deadlifts have been shown to create significant increases testosterone, a major catalyst to strength and size.
- The second is growth hormone the hormone with the primary function of getting your muscles bigger. Studies have found that high intensity (heavy) lifts with loads around 75% of 1RM create large GH secretion.
- This same protocols have been found to increase insulin-like growth factor which as its name indicates – is responsible for working concurrently with GH to increase muscle size.
What is lifting heavy really mean? It means using a weight that is challenging for YOU. While we’re trying to get bigger and stronger – we still have to put our ego aside ( and compare ourselves to our previous lifts. Sure there’s that guy at your gym with cut off sleeves and veins popping out of his neck that’s lifting x2 what you’re lifting – but you’re focusing on your own numbers and progressing daily.
Lift heavy. Use compound lifts. You’ll get bigger and stronger.
How to Get Bigger Tip #3: Eat.
Another fun part of the pursuit of getting bigger.
With your games/practices your body is burning a lot, but now that you’re putting yourself in an anabolic state and forcing your body to grow, it’s looking for more resources to support and fuel growth.
If you don’t change your eating at all, you’re under-eating, and you’re going to be increasingly tired/sore as your body is utilizing energy to repair your muscles. This means you're essentially putting your body in “keep up” mode.
Simply put: you need to eat to grow.
Find how much calories you need for maintenance (tons of free tools online, or through apps like MyFitPal), and make sure you're never below this. For very simple guidelines, take this maintenance number and add at least 500+ calories daily. This should be your minimum calorie goal.
Does this give you permission to eat like an asshole? No.
Cookies, cupcakes or other sugary rich food, which are easy calorie additions, are not acceptable additions. This is kind of like putting low-quality gas with sand in your car. It’s going to slow you down mentally and physically and create inflammation in your body. If you’re serious about your performance and creating a high-performance body – you need to get serious about what fuel goes into it.
So what should you eat then?
You need foods to fuel your on-ice performance AND your body. The focus should be on lean proteins (chicken/fish) and ensuring you’re getting enough protein to repair your body. Players should also be sure to be getting in some sort of protein calories (likely a protein shake) post-lift. This is a time your body is specifically looking for fuel to build. Aim to either time your meals around your workout, or bring a protein-rich snack/protein shake for post-workout.
If you’re struggling to get your calories, a protein shake as a snack can be a useful boost. While protein bars can helpful (and more enjoyable than constant shakes) most have the same sugar levels as a Mars bar (not an exaggeration). Quest and Biosteel are brands that are of high quality and low sugar.
How to Get Bigger Tip #4: Sleep
8 hours minimum. Period.
If you’re serious about your performance, this is an area of your life you also need to be serious about. Some hockey players struggle with sleep (beyond just not making it a priority) so we have a whole separate on the significance of sleep for hockey players that takes a deep dive into this.
Simply put, if you're trying to add muscle, you're really trying to get your body to grow - and growth requires rest and recovery.
How to Get Bigger Tip #5: Measure stuff
You have a plan, you’re lifting heavy, eating and sleeping like an elite athlete. Perfect.
Is it working? As a Strength Coach I live by the mantra “You need to measure it, to manage it.”
You think you’re managing your diet and getting enough calories but are you? You can’t tell if you’re not measuring it. The most valuable tool for tracking diet right now is MyFitPal – a free app to track your diet. It may be tedious at first, and I’m not saying you have to track everything for the rest of your life – but you should do 72 hours of tracking at least once a month.
You think you’re getting stronger and lifting heavier, but are you? You need to be recording what you’re doing in the gym, especially your primary lifts. Your program should allow you write down the weight and reps you lifted every workout. Bring a pen to the gym and actually record this stuff, it won’t make you look like a nerd – it’ll make you look like an athlete serious about progressing (if you notice, even the bodybuilding meatheads are writing their lifts down).
Short term: this habit allows you to know what you lifted last week so you can try to beat it this week. Long term: you can see if this program is really working for you, if you’re actually progressing and developing.
Sleep can be tough to measure, but absolutely can be managed. Instead of diving into it here, I’ll recommend you check out our “Sleep Hacking for Hockey Players article”
Set your goals. Create a plan. But don’t lose focus on the reason why you’re doing this. You’re putting on size to become a better hockey player, but nothing should detract from your on-ice performance.
Make sure you take time to reflect on if you’re getting better or just bigger, there’s certainly value for some players to add on some size and turn a skinny sniper into a more well-round offensive weapon – but it may make other players slower. Make sure your priorities are set and commit to getting better daily.
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.