Young players will develop muscular endurance and efficient skating habits. Emphasize knee bend from the first rep to the last.
Hockey leaders never bothered to convene a panel of coaches to define “hockey endurance.” If they had, coaches would have said, “It is the ability to maintain (for an entire game) the qualities needed to win: skating speed, agility, efficiency, explosive strength, stick skills, and most importantly, grittiness and decision-making.” There’s nothing slow in that description.
But nobody met. Coaches were not asked, and traditional slow endurance training without a strategic (hockey) purpose has dominated the training manuals of players forever.
Scientists defined “hockey endurance” for us. Textbook definitions of endurance in other sports were super-imposed, even though the demands of a hockey game are unique. Laboratory tests measured cardiovascular fitness – mostly on bicycles, not on the ice, even though research by Daub and co-workers (1983) had shown that lab physiological test results were not related to those on the ice*. Daub’s research protocol called for half a team to train on bikes all winter – three times per week after practice. Pre- and post-season endurance tests measuring oxygen consumption and expired gases showed no on-ice advantage for the bikers compared to players who left practice without the extra bicycle training.
For the record, aerobic-cardiovascular fitness is very important, but two questions should have been discussed by the non-existent panel before athletes were assigned to long distance aerobic training (slow cardio): 1) Of what value are well-trained hearts and lungs if players lack muscular endurance to maintain knee bend for an entire shift and game? 2) Can we train to develop skating speed and efficiency, while increasing the endurance capacity of skating muscles, and at the same time improve aerobic-cardiovascular fitness?
The short answer is, “YES.” There are many workouts that contribute to skating endurance, but any solution – whether on the ice or off – must incorporate High Intensity Interval Training, not long, slow distances. Remember, it is SPEED we’d like to maintain for the whole game.The slide board is one solution. Eric Heiden and his coach, Diane Holum, wore their slide board out in preparation for the 1980 Olympics, where he eventually won ALL FIVE speedskating events.
It would be impossible in track to win all the sprints and distance races, but Heiden did it because of the skating-specific efficiency and endurance he developed from legendary workouts: low skate-walks around a golf course with a sand-bag on his shoulders, weighted skate jumps, sprints, hills and strength training. He “rested” in an isometric squat position for a half hour, rehydrated and continued training.
Slide board workouts should feel just like skating. Swing your arms and shoulders freely, so your torso actually rotates slightly as you push to the side from your hips (abduction first, then hip rotation and extension). This is the movement pattern in every skating stride.
Bend your knees – from the first rep to the last. This requires discipline, because it can get painful. Use video, and have a training partner watch for good squat posture with your weight more toward the heels than the toes.
Use a 1-to-2 work-to-rest ratio. In other words, pretend there are three of you training on the same slide board – one works while two rest and recover. As muscular endurance improves, add more sets and reps, but start with five sets (perhaps 10, 12, 14, 12, 10 reps per set).
I encourage everyone to visit a speedskating competition or practice and observe the athletes. Then ask, what if hockey trained legs as hard and intelligently as they do? How fast could our sport be?
* Daub WB, 1983. Specificity of physiologic responses from ice hockey training. MED SCIENCE SPORTS and EXERCISE, Vol 15(4): 290-294.