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Should Hockey Players Do Sprints During Off-Season?

Is there more you can do off the ice to increase your skills? Sprints are a valuable exercise for athletes. We breakdown the value specifically for hockey players and how important sprints can be for your game.

The following article was written by hockey strength and conditioning coach Dan Garner, who contributes to on a regular basis. Check out the website if you are interested in more hockey training articles. Enjoy the post!.

Should hockey players be sprinting in the off-season?

This is a question that is often up in the air with many hockey athletes because they do feel that sprinting provides a great workout but they are not confident about the amount of carryover improving their sprint will have to their on-ice skating speed.

This lack of confidence in the exercise naturally exists due to the different movement mechanics that occur with sprinting vs. skating and the repeatedly spoken training methodology from a sub-population of coaches that believe you must train laterally in order to improve speed development.

The inspiration for me writing this article today came from this type of confusion and I am here to tell you today that yes, absolutely you should be sprinting in the off-season if you want to improve you speed and agility on the ice.

For three main reasons:

  1. Force production
  2. Structural balance
  3. Sport specific energy system demand

Force Production

There are very few exercises out there that create the sheer force production that maximal sprinting creates. When sprinting at top speed levels, the forces coming down on your feet can equate to 5-6 x your total body weight per stride. This is a lot if you consider the average 200 lbs man may be creating ground reaction forces of 1000-1200 lbs per stride.

What does this mean for you as an athlete?

Well first off it means you should definitely warm up prior to sprinting. Without a proper warm up receiving these types of forces can quickly lead to some injury issues. A pre-sprint warm up should always include some dynamic work + build-up sprints.

Secondly, sprinting with proper progressive sprinting variations can over time improve your body’s force production capability which will have a carryover to your speed on the ice. Greater relative force production capabilities improves speed potential whether you’re on the ground or on the ice.

One of the biggest reasons why sprinting speed can and will carry over to your skating speed is because this improved relative force production is going to improve your stride length potential.

I’ve talked about this in depth throughout both videos and blogs, the two biggest factors that come into play when improving an athletes speed are stride length and stride frequency. Stride length being the total amount of distance covered per stride, whereas stride frequency is the total amount of strides taken per unit of distance.

One of these is much more trainable than the other once an athlete has exited his youth years and that is stride length. Stride length is the much more trainable quality that we can improve in our hockey athletes in order to improve their speed on the ice. An effective way to do this is with a properly executed sprinting program in the off-season.

Increase relative force production = increase stride length potential. One of the best things possible you can do for your overall speed development. Total speed development of course contains several other aspects including total body relative strength, mobility, mental agility, power, body composition, conditioning and stride length vs. stride frequency but increasing force production through sprints checks a few of these off.

Structural Balance

This is an area of off-season development so many coaches get completely backwards. The off-season should be about restoring balance to the body to improve performance and reduce injury, not creating even worse imbalances.

An important thing to understand is that too many athletes and coaches overuse this lateral motion trying to mimic the skating movement pattern; using slide boards, bands and false ice tactics. This is a big reason why so many hockey players have knee pain, too much repetitive motion during the season and then continuing it trying to add resistance in the off-season.

Think about it like this, a computer worker doesn’t get carpel tunnel syndrome or lots of inflammation in their wrists because typing is such high intensity task. They get it because of too much repetitive motion.

Same goes for hockey players, if you mimic this motion all the time you are going to run into knee issues or knee inflammation. Not because the movement pattern is “bad”, but because you do it so often. You can only stress a certain area through the same movement mechanics so much before it will start to fight back.

Structural balance in reference to hockey players mainly resides within the lower body and when it comes to overdoing this repetitive motion you can create an over developed vastus lateralis in comparison to the vastus medialis. This is because of all of this lateral motion, you’re heavily training and loading up the lateralis all the time while neglecting other important musculature within the quadriceps.

Anatomy of the Quadriceps

Anatomy of the Quadriceps

We don’t want to encourage this motion any more than we need to, it will only create more problems and deeper structural balance issues that you will have to dig your way out of. The imbalance will only become compounded if you focus your attention on these so called “functional” movements.

Knowing this, hockey players need to have a heavy focus in the off-season on developing the vastus medialis and hamstrings with the time that they have before they are back into playing again. Developing these muscles is going to create a more balanced musculature which will convert into a greater ability to be faster and prevent injury.

Sprinting helps this process along as it is not a lateral movement. When thinking movement mechanics and imaging what I’m talking about here, picture where your toes are when you’re skating forward.

They point out slightly to the side as you press your blades into the ice and explode from there, this toes pointed out motion is what is creating the imbalance within the lateralis. Sprinting on the other hand is much more forward, I don’t know anybody who runs like they skate.

When running the toes are pointing forward which recruits much more medialis and hamstring into the movement while still not totally neglecting the lateralis. The differential in muscle recruitment pattern in combination with its force production capabilities is giving us a lot of reasons to start sprinting so far.

If you increase the athlete’s ability to create force, it will enable him to transfer into a great stride length. Sprinting is one of the most explosive things an athlete can do and when you increase their sprinting speed, you will also be increasing their skating speed.

Sport Specific Energy System Demand

There is no such thing as being conditioned.

The question is always, conditioned for what?

Sports have varying energy system demand requirements for optimal performance that alters the definition of “conditioned” from athlete to athlete. For example, a power lifter is very well conditioned for power lifting, but could he run a marathon?


Likewise, would a marathon runner be able to drop what they do and instantly become conditioned for power lifting?

Absolutely not.

There are major differences from sport to sport in what energy systems need to be developed in order for you to become maximally conditioned for that specific sport. Hockey is primarily an alactic-aerobic sport. Meaning, it is a game that is played with short, high i

There are major differences from sport to sport in what energy systems need to be developed in order for you to become maximally conditioned for that specific sport. Hockey is primarily an alactic-aerobic sport. Meaning, it is a game that is played with short, high intensity explosive efforts interspersed by low intensity activity.

An example of this can be drawn from skating as fast as you possibly can down the ice, taking a slap shot and scoring. Followed up by slowly returning back to your bench or to center ice for a face off.

Alactic (high intensity breakaway + shot) + Aerobic (slowly skating back to center ice or the bench).

Another equally entertaining example of hockey’s alactic-aerobic nature would be getting in a fight and then going to the box.

Hockey conditioning all by itself is a Pandora’s Box of a conversation and since this blog is directed solely at sprinting I’m not going to be going into the details behind it. What I will mention is that once a hockey athlete has developed the proper aerobic base (heart rate of less than 60 bpm), directing their conditioning workouts towards alactic power and alactic capacity efforts will have much more carryover to the game than continuing to work on aerobic work or incorporating too much lactic work.

Sprinting is about as alactic as it possibly gets and through different training modalities you will be able to train both alactic power and alactic capacity in the off-season. So not only will you be improving your force production and structural balance but you will also be appropriately benefiting your sport specific energy system development.

Sprinting is a real no-brainer in my mind and something that I have seen benefit so many hockey players time and time again. Here’s a couple example off-season sprinting workouts to try out:

Alactic Power Sprint Training

A: Falling sprints for 15 yds x 5 with 2 mins rest between sprints

8 mins required rest between exercises

B: Double broad jump x 5 with 3 mins rest between double jumps

Alactic Capacity Sprint Training

A: Maximum effort cycling: 5 x 15 secs with 45 secs rest between efforts

No required rest between exercises

B: 3-point stance sprinting: 5 x 30 yds with 75 secs rest between efforts

For full hockey training programs you can visit programs

Train Hard,
Dan Garner
Head Hockey Strength and Conditioning Coach