There is arguably no more punishing postseason than the NHL playoffs. It’s two months of brutal, high-intensity war, where muscular, hairy, angry athletes hurtle toward each other at whipsaw speed, brandishing sticks while chasing a puck across a hard, cold expanse of ice. Broken bones, torn muscles and plenty of lost teeth litter the road to Lord Stanley’s Cup, first awarded in 1893 and revered like no other trophy in sports.
Preparing for that grind requires a game plan that begins in the weight room. It takes a multifaceted approach that includes general cardio fitness and overall strength. It also requires specialized adaptations to boost skating speed and improve short-burst energy and power for all-out efforts during each 40- to 60-second shift on the ice.
“A lot of casual sports fans may not realize it, but hockey players might possibly be some of the best-conditioned athletes in the world,” says active-duty U.S. Army Special Forces soldier Dustin Kirchofner, a certified strength-and-conditioning coach and owner of Modern Warfare Fitness in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has been working with a few NHLers this offseason on their off-ice regimens.
“When you play hockey, you move in all three planes of the body: the sagittal [median], coronal [frontal] and transverse [horizontal] planes,” Kirchofner explains. “Not only do you move in all three planes, but you may be moving in multiple planes at the same time. Those multiple movement patterns use many muscles, particularly in your core and lower body.”
Hockey players are always balanced on a 3-millimeter blade on a sheet of ice, Kirchofner points out. “In order to move the way they do, they need an extremely strong core and lower body — that means glutes, quads, hamstrings and erector spinae, as well as the key stabilizer muscles surrounding the ankles, knees and hips.”
Those key areas are Kirchofner’s focus in this workout, a valuable training protocol for a hockey player at any level of the game and a plateau-busting change of pace for anyone who wants to develop a powerful, more muscular foundation. “Focus on keeping your rest periods on the shorter side, about 30 to 90 seconds depending on your fitness levels, and handling as much weight as you can while still being able to control it. You’ll want to employ controlled negatives and fairly explosive contractions on each rep,” he says.