Digging deeper

Hockey season starts in about a month and as far as I can tell I’m on track to be in peak form when the puck drops. This is despite an inauspicious start to my off-season training.

In the early going I struggled to address the strength and cardio components laid out in my guide book while also providing my muscles with sufficient recovery time.

One thing that was tripping me up, I eventually realized, was that I was misreading my body’s signals. What I interpreted as muscle fatigue caused by the workouts I was doing actually turned out to be plain old weakness in my leg muscles. As a consequence, I wound up resting my legs, thinking they needed time to recover, when I should have been working them more regularly to make them stronger.

A more thorough reading of my book supplemented by some Internet research and some simple trial and error helped me to sort through my confusion and I put together a solid plan for the summer.

This plan involved dividing the off-season into three segments. The first segment focused on building my basic cardio capacity through regular runs and Xbox boxing sessions, with a secondary focus on building leg strength and beginning to develop the anaerobic energy systems in the legs, which is accomplished through timed sprints.

The second segment dialed down the frequency of cardio workouts and increased the frequency of anaerobic workouts. The third segment, which I’m just beginning, will continue to build strength and power in the legs, as well as overall cardio capacity, but will concentrate almost exclusively on hockey-related movements to achieve these goals, so the results translate as much as possible to the hockey rink.

Key change

A key adjustment I made this off-season was changing how I’ve performed my 30-second anaerobic intervals, which are a critical element in priming the leg muscles for the dynamic demands of hockey. Last year I approached this element by sprinting in a straight line but I’ve since realized that this type of movement has little relevance to hockey so I switched to doing hockey-related movements like lateral footwork, crossovers, leaps and pivots.

These exercises really make the leg muscles burn, which signalled to me that I needed to focus on them, since they mimic what my legs must endure during a hockey game. By doing these exercises regularly at a high intensity, I’ve been able to gradually increase the interval work time to 45 seconds and decrease the rest time from two minutes to 1:10. By the time the off-season is over, my aim is to have the work time up to a full minute followed by a minute of rest. This will closely approximate the shift-rest cycle I typically experience during a beer-league hockey game.

Need for speed

A key component of the latter half of my off-season has been a concentrated effort on exercises designed to boost my skating speed. This is achieved by making the legs stronger through squats of increasingly heavy weight, lateral leaps and sprinting against some form of resistance.

My book says that before undertaking serious speed training, a player should be able to perform several repetitions of deep squats of his own body weight. I started the off-season squatting 140 pounds, which is 10 pounds less than my body weight. I gradually worked up to 150 pounds and within a couple sessions was able to comfortably perform three sets of 10 squats.

This was my cue to start undertaking serious speed training, which I’ve been doing for the past month or so. This speed work is key, as speed used to be my hallmark as a player and its departure is what I’ve missed the most as I’ve aged.

I’m not sure how much of my lost speed I can recover, but I hope to be fast enough to keep up with the fast, young guys who populate our league. I’m emboldened by the fact that, when I was in my late 20s, I played regularly with some older guys and the fastest guy on the ice was this 44-year-old guy who was about my size.

The reason that this guy – let’s call him Brian – was able to be so fast at his age was that he took care of his body. I think of him often when I’m out training and visualizing what I hope to achieve this upcoming season. As a formerly fast player who’s now trapped inside a 44-year-old body, my dream is to be able to step on the gas and have my body respond.