Fighting through the pain

Well it’s Sunday night in my living room and the fists are just a flying! I’m beating the heck out of some dude named Ben, gleefully draining his morale with brutish pounding to the body and taking delight in launching him airborne with great, violent uppercuts.

It’s day nine of my training regimen and poor Ben is the solution to a problem with which I’ve been grappling throughout my first week of training: how to achieve an aerobic workout while limiting the strain on my poor, distraught legs.

My answer on this evening is to cue up some boxing on the Xbox Kinect. So I’m standing in front of the motion sensor, wearing nothing but a pair of cycling shorts, and punching the air for all I’m worth.

The workout is doing what I want. My heart is pounding and I’m panting like a terrier as the sweat pours off me. But best of all, my legs aren’t complaining.

Two-pronged approach

At this point in my program, I’ve completed some form of training every day except one. All together, I’ve done more exercise in the last week than I’ve done in the last 10 years.

My training is being guided by a more thorough reading of the Peter Twist book (Complete Conditioning For Hockey) and two nuggets of information I’ve extracted from it.

The priority in these early stages of my training should be on raising my overall fitness level. This means doing exercises aimed at achieving two distinct objectives: 1) increasing my aerobic capacity, which is the ability to catch your breath after exertion, and 2) building up my anaerobic capacity, which is the energy found in the muscles.

The book states that there are two anaerobic energy systems. One supplies bursts of energy for up to 10 seconds. The other, the lactic system, provides about 30 to 45 seconds worth of energy. This is the system by which lactic acid builds in the muscles, causing a player to run out of gas at the end of a shift.

The book outlines how to train for each of these aspects and lays out how many times a week I should focus on each of them: four times a week for aerobic and two times a week for anaerobic. As my aerobic capacity develops I will shift the focus of my training toward more anaerobic development, as this is most directly relevant to hockey.

I’ve drawn up a daily schedule for the first three weeks. My short-term goal is to be as ready as I can be for my first league game, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Working the systems

According to my guide, the way to work on the aerobic system is to exercise continuously for at least 30 minutes, keeping the heart rate at about 75 per cent of its maximum. As time goes on the athlete is supposed to gradually increase the workout length to 60 minutes.

Working the anaerobic systems involves wind sprints of varying ratios of running and resting.

The book also contains many exercises designed to increase strength, power, agility, balance and speed. Some of the exercises are done on the ice. Some require special equipment or a partner. I’ve gone through the book and have made a note of those exercises that I can do by myself with no special equipment or items I already have.

A future blog post will provide a summary of these exercises. But for now, here’s a day-by-day accounting of my time so far, in case you’re scoring at home.

Day 1

My very first impetuous foray into this training thing was an attempted aerobic workout achieved via a 20-minute Zumba dance workout on the Xbox. Some aspects of the routine got my heart rate going but others didn’t. So I supplemented that workout with a 20-minute run around the neighbourhood.

Day 2

I did my first wind sprint session around my neighbourhood plus another aerobic running session. I also delved into some footwork exercises in my garage.

Day 3

My legs were pretty stiff and sore so I stuck to strength and balance exercises that don’t tax the legs too much.

The first such exercise was pushups with a hockey stick placed across a large, inflatable exercise ball. This is a very wobbly exercise that’s supposed to develop full-body stability, upper-body strength and shoulder stability. I could feel it taxing all these elements.

Another uniquely hockey exercise called for the stickhandling of a 10-pound barbell weight, so I dug an old barbell plate out of the shed, slapped it down on a piece of plywood and stickhandled the thing with the butt end of an old hockey stick. I could feel the exercise working my entire body: shoulders, arms, hips, legs.

I also did some fast footwork drills in my garage.

Day 4

I was scheduled to do another general aerobic session and had to figure out a way to achieve this without taxing my legs too much, as they were experiencing what the book describes as “delayed onset muscle soreness”, or DOMS. Put more simply, they were stiff and sore from overexertion. I thought a brisk bike ride would do the trick.

The area where I live is relatively flat so I thought I could get my heart rate up by pedalling at a high RPM without having to power up hills and thus overtax my leg muscles. Before venturing out I removed the unneeded baby seat from the back of my bike. My youngest kid just turned four and he’s never ridden in that seat. That illustrates how sedentary I’ve gotten over the last few years. Anyway, the ride went fine. It got my heart going and only made my leg muscles scream a few times.

This situation with my legs illustrates a delicate juggling act that I’ve had to negotiate in these first few days … how to get my aerobic workout without taxing my legs to the point that I can’t move for two days afterward. This situation is particularly delicate because of my age. I’m hobbling proof of the well-known fact that the muscles of middle-aged people don’t recover from exertion as quickly as those of young people.

I also did some ball pushups and barbell stickhandling.

Day 5

I put in a real solid workout, starting with some very short sprint intervals designed to build capacity for the short, highly-intense bursts of speed that hockey players are called upon to display. On top of that, I did some squats and lunges with light weights, some agility footwork and two types of jumps (vertical and lateral) designed to increase speed.

Day 6

I was scheduled to do an aerobic workout but forgot to log my activity so I don’t know what I did. I know I did something. Honest, I did.

Day 7

I was scheduled to do an aerobic workout but I felt such a deep, overwhelming fatigue that I called it a rest day. I went to bed at the same time as my seven-year-old and slept for 10 hours.

Day 8

Did some wind sprints and was also scheduled to do an aerobic workout. Instead of just going for a run, as I’d been doing up until that point, I decided to achieve my aerobic requirement by performing the various footwork exercises that I’ve been learning. These are aimed at boosting quickness, agility and balance.

I’ve noticed that these drills quickly get the heart rate going, so I figured they were better than running for satisfying my aerobic component, since they involve movements that are more directly related to hockey.

I also did various jumps and lunges aimed at building strength and speed.

Day 9

I was scheduled to do a general aerobic workout. My legs were groaning from the previous day’s onslaught of bounding, lunging and leaping so I used Ben the Xbox boxing loser as a punching bag.

I also stickhandled the barbell weight.

Firm and fatigued

There, that’s the first nine days in a nutshell. It feels good to be doing something physical every day.

After nine days I’m feeling more firmness throughout my body, especially in my legs. I also end the day feeling deeply tired. It’s a largely satisfying fatigue that curls up like a snoozing cat at the very core of my muscles. After this type of feeling overwhelms the body, sleep is bliss. Another change I’ve noticed is that my appetite feels like it’s waking up from a long slumber.