Today’s post is the 3rd and final part of the series, so before we get stuck in let’s have a quick recap. Basically, in Part 1 we established why it’s so important to get your off-season training right, and then in Part 2 we looked at how and why so many people tend to screw it up. In particular, we looked at the problems caused by the intuitive approach to training, and why you need to periodise your training to focus on different athletic qualities at different times of the year. Or, to put it another way; if you want optimal results, you can’t just simulate the sport, you have to stimulate the body to adapt the right way to improve performance.
Stimulate… Don’t Simulate!
In this post, I’m going to explain how you should approach your off-season training, and in particular how to structure it for optimal results. So, if you want to be an explosive bulletproof athlete, forget about that 10-mile training run your coach told you to do, and let’s Train Smart!
In a sport like ice-hockey you have a relatively long off-season, but as we will see, you also have a lot to achieve in that time. So, for optimal results it helps to split your off-season into 3 separate phases, each with a distinct focus:
  • Early Off-Season: Recovering from the previous season and preparing yourself for the general off-season
  • General Off-Season: Becoming a beast of an athlete
  • Late Off-Season: Turning athleticism into performance
Now let’s look at each phase in more detail, explain what you should be doing at each stage and the basic principles that you should apply.
  1. Early Off-Season
Ok, so you’ve had a long hard season and it’s time to give your body a well-deserved rest! Take a break from the ice, and let your body recover. How long you should rest will depend on a few things, such as how much ice time you’ve been getting and how beaten up your body is. Usually, 2-4 weeks will suffice.
But… That isn’t an excuse to eat pizza and play video games for the next 2-4 weeks! There’s a lot you can do in this initial period to make sure you’re ready for the General Off-Season.
  • Get yourself assessed. Ideally you should find an off-ice coach who is able to perform a postural / movement assessment such as the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). Tests like this are not ‘Hockey Specific’ but assess your basic movements to provide valuable information about what movement limitations you might have developed over the season.
    • More specific to hockey, an orthopaedic hip assessment is also useful, especially if you have any pain in the legs, groin or lower back. This can provide more detailed information about your lumbo-pelvic function which helps your off-ice coach to devise an effective corrective strategy.
    • Depending on the results of your assessments, you should now start performing some corrective work to address your physical limitations. This will help your body to recover from the previous season, and also help to rebalance your body to prevent problems developing in future.

Get yourself assessed, and start performing some corrective work.
  • The early off-season is also a great time to work on exercise technique. For example, if there are any new exercises in your off-season program, or any movements that you know need a bit of work to make sure you are executing them correctly. Sloppy technique will not just limit performance gains, but also make injuries much more likely, especially once you start loading things up and training to fatigue.
    • Focus on movement quality and stick to lower loads with higher rep ranges where appropriate.
    • You should also avoid from sport-specific movements in order to give the neuro-muscular system and soft tissues time to recover properly.
  • Finally, in preparation for the next phase you should ensure that you have a good basic level of cardiovascular fitness. This ‘Aerobic Base’ will help your body to cope with the demands of the general off-season training and also help you to recover and adapt in between sessions.
    • Don’t worry, I’m not saying you should start your aerobic conditioning already! In fact, depending on what sort of shape you are in, you might not need to do anything at all.
    • If you do need to work on your Aerobic Base, there are a variety of methods you can use, such as low-intensity circuits, dynamic mobility circuits, small games or even just plain old traditional boring steady state low intensity cardio… if that’s what you like! Just try to find something you enjoy, and don’t push the intensity.
So, overall the Early Off-Season should be a relatively easy de-loading and corrective phase for the athletes involved. On the flip side, it’s quite a challenging time of year for the off-ice/fitness coach (if done properly) as the training should be highly individualised to your specific needs.
By the end of the Early Off-Season you should be ready to start hitting it hard… Bring on the General Off-Season!
  1. General Off-Season
 Welcome to the heart of your off-season program. This is a great time of the year because you get to focus on developing yourself as an athlete; lift heavy, move fast, recover and adapt.
  • Aerobic conditioning can take a back seat for the moment. Right now, you need to devote all your energy to developing anaerobic fitness qualities; maximum strength, power and speed. Or, if your limiting factor on the ice is a basic lack of size and muscle, then you can also use this time to add some lean body mass. Like we said earlier, focus on the things that are difficult to train in-season.
    • Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to work on conditioning later. In fact, aerobic fitness can actually be developed relatively quickly. Unfortunately, you also lose it relatively quickly, so you should only develop it when you’re going to need it… not before.

Aerobic conditioning can take a back seat… It’s time to focus on Anaerobic fitness qualities
  • On the other hand, anaerobic qualities are more difficult to develop, but they last longer and are the foundation of your athletic performance and future development. Think about it, who would you rather have on your team, the 100m champ, or the Marathon winner? I think we’d all agree, it’s the 100m champ every time!
    • The fact is, you can’t train maximal speed endurance until you have first developed maximal speed. It’s pretty obvious really. The same goes for maximal strength and strength endurance.
    • Moreover, as we discussed in Part 2, any aerobic endurance work that you do right now will inhibit your anaerobic development, so you won’t get stronger or faster, you’ll just train yourself to be slow for longer.
    • So, cut out the training runs… Yes, even those shuttle runs at the end of your max strength session. Save your energy… you ‘ve got bigger fish to fry!
Cut out the training runs… you’ve got bigger fish to fry!
  • Depending on where your talents lie, you might need to focus more on developing maximum strength and explosive power or you might need more work on reactive strength and speed. If you’re fairly well balanced as an athlete, you can start off focusing more on absolute strength and then switch to power and speed as the general off-season progresses.
    • Just remember, if you focus more on one area you must do less of the other. There’s only so much recovery and adaptation your body can do before the next session and if you keep pushing it too much you will eventually crash and burn!
  • Which leads me nicely on to my next point: Make sure you recover properly in between training sessions. It’s important to remember that you don’t improve strength or speed whilst you are actually in the gym, but while you are recovering. So, you need to structure your training week to allow enough time for your body to adapt, especially in between those max strength and power sessions that are very taxing on the nervous system.
    • In order to recover properly, you must ensure that you get enough good quality sleep and that your nutrition is dialled in. You need to eat and sleep enough to support your body and maintain a favourable hormonal environment for growth and development. That’s not an excuse to be lazy eat crap all day! If you recover properly and make healthy food choices, then you should end this period at your ideal fighting weight. You don’t want to worrying about body composition as you head into the late off-season.
You must eat and sleep enough to support your body and maintain a favourable hormonal environment for growth and development.
  • While we’re talking about recovery, if you want to develop maximal strength, speed and power you need to perform each set with maximal effort, and that means recovering fully between each set. Whilst you may not perceive strength, power & speed training to be as fatiguing as your metabolic conditioning work, you need to allow the neuro-muscular system time to recover. I typically say full recovery + 20-30 s. This is a time to focus on quality not quantity.
  • As always, you should continue with your corrective training, soft tissue work (foam rolling etc.) and dynamic mobility. The time in between your main strength and power exercises is a great opportunity to slip these in. You should also perform assistive exercises that help to develop your weakest links. The more balanced you are, the more resilient your body will be, and the sooner you can start introducing more sport-specific training methods.
  • And finally, as the General Off-Season progresses, you can start performing more sport-specific movement training. That means re-introducing lateral and diagonal acceleration, change of direction, crossover movements etc. You can also start increasing the metabolic challenge by introducing isometric holds and strength endurance work.
Just hold back on the intensive conditioning for now. The more you can build up your general athletic qualities the better you will be as a specialist athlete when you finally get back on the ice.
  1. Late Off-Season
If all went to plan you are now a well-balanced beast of an athlete, so now it’s time to make sure you can actually use your new athletic potential on the ice. We know that pre-season is going to be brutal, so we need to make sure that you are ready for the volume and intensity that is going to be thrown at you. Being properly prepared and conditioned will not only help you to demonstrate your new strength and speed, but will also reduce your risk of injury.
Exactly when you should start the late off-season will depend on how well you respond to conditioning work. You need to be honest with yourself and with your off-ice coach about this, but typically about 6-8 weeks is perfect.
  • First let’s get one thing straight, we’re not just going to just forget about the anaerobic qualities that we’ve worked so hard to develop. We need to make sure that we maintain strength, power and speed, but with a lower volume of training in order to accommodate the conditioning work. The exercises used can also be more specific to the movement patterns required on the ice.
  • The conditioning work itself can and should be performed in many ways, including shuttle runs, high intensity circuits, strongman, slide-boards etc. Just make sure that it’s high intensity; you don’t want to start training yourself to be slow!
Make sure it’s high intensity; you don’t want to start training yourself to be slow!
  • Where possible, you should also try to individualise your conditioning using either a heart rate monitor or a system such as Max Aerobic Speed.
    • Using a heart rate monitor to track your resting heart rate and heart rate recovery can also provide valuable information about how your aerobic fitness is progressing.
  • A simple way to integrate conditioning with your strength and speed work is to just reduce the recovery periods between sets. In doing so, your first few reps/sets are still targeting the anaerobic qualities but the aerobic contribution increases as you progress with incomplete recovery. Recovery times can be gradually reduced as you progress.
  • Don’t forget you also need to develop static fatigue resistance. You can easily train this using isometric holds, which can be then be progressed using bands, balls, weights and even adding jumps (i.e. isometric-explosive training).
  • Again, make sure that you don’t neglect your recovery and nutrition practises. You’re going to be pushing yourself hard for the next few weeks and don’t want to be heading back to pre-season with your body stressed and under-nourished. You want to be feeling good and ready for anything.
Don’t forget about static fatigue resistance, and don’t neglect your recovery and nutrition!
  • And finally, a small taper at the end of the late off-season will help to ensure that you are properly prepared and ready for the pre-season. That means gradually reducing your training volume, but maintaining the frequency and intensity so that you don’t lose your edge.
So, there it is… your perfect off-season… Now you’re ready to take on the world, and win.
I should point out that the structure described above is ideal if you have full off-season with no other sporting commitments. However, if you do have other commitments such as with the national team, then you’ll have less time to play with and will therefore need to adapt this approach and make some sacrifices.
Whatever your situation, whether you are a seasoned professional or a youth player with a dream of one day making the NHL, it’s vital to get your off-season training right as it can have a massive impact on your future performance. Especially in these days of early specialization, where kids simply aren’t exposed to different sporting movements like they used to be, getting the off-season right is even more important for long-term athlete development.
As always it comes down to one thing:
If you want to play hard… you have to train smart.
So, if you have any questions about your off-season training, or if you just want to take away the guess work and get an individualised off-season training program from Spike Fit, just get in touch… I’m here to help!
Until next time,
Train Smart… Play Hard