Hockey-Specific Endurance Training

Brandon Aldan Skating Performance

View Full Story

By: Brandon Aldan – Bio

Hockey is an extremely demanding sport physiologically.  Most agree that endurance is very important to performance but, there are many misconceptions and few people understand how to properly train for hockey-specific endurance. Hopefully, this article will clear up some common misconceptions and dispel myths associated with endurance training. I apologize for the technical information but, I believe it is necessary to support the arguments for or against certain training modes and protocols.

There are tremendous energy requirements in hockey and all three energy systems are used.  Muscles’ primary source of energy comes from something known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  The body has three means of producing ATP; ATP:PC, anaerobic glycolysis, and aerobic phosphorylation.  The ATP:PC system is used for short, explosive bursts as this system produces energy very rapidly.  This system is addressed by short-duration speed drills and strength training and therefore, won’t be covered in this article.  Aerobic phosphorylation is used for slow, long-term activities and is used only to a small degree during a game. Hockey relies heavily on anaerobic glycolysis which is why your legs burn at the end of a hard shift.  This energy system produces lactic acid which is wrongly associated with the burning sensation.  This is actually due to the over accumulation of hydrogen ions, creating an acidotic environment.  Aerobic training does have a place in a training program, but anaerobic endurance should be the main focus.  In the past, coaches and players have mainly focused on aerobic endurance training. This is partly due to the misconception that since a hard shift causes heavy breathing, it is aerobic. Actually, when ventilation increases disproportionately, it is a sign that the working muscles have undergone a shift to greater anaerobic glycolysis. Anaerobic glycolysis produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct of energy metabolism which must be blown off through an increase in the respiratory or breathing rate.

There are two categories of adaptations caused by endurance training, central and peripheral. Central adaptations include improved lung capacity and increased cardiac output. Contrary to popular belief, lung capacity is rarely a limiter to performance with the exception of those who have breathing disorders such as, asthma. Peripheral adaptations refer to those that occur directly in the muscle. Some of these include increased capillarization, greater mitochondrial density and increased concentrations of an enzyme known as, phosphofructokinase (PFK). PFK is often a rate limiter for anaerobic glycolysis. The primary objective of hockey endurance training should be to elicit these peripheral adaptations.

There are many methods and modes of endurance training available. Hockey has very specific demands which training should reflect.  For example, many hockey movements have a frontal plane (lateral) component but many modes only have a sagittal (front to back) component.  It is most effective to combine movements for each.  A great way to do this is to alternate between frontal plane modes such as, slide boarding and sagittal plane movements such as, running. Endurance training on ice is obviously going to have the greatest effect on performance especially, during the season.

Cycling has long been the most popular form of endurance training with hockey players, however, there are some major drawbacks to this modality. For one, there is no use of the lateral hip musculature.  Also, there is a very limited range of motion. The bike can have some use though.  It can be used at the beginning of a warmup to increase blood flow to the quadriceps and raise body temperature. Some also suggest recovery rides after a game or hard practice may expedite recovery but, research has yet to support this.

Circuit training is a common training method used for hockey players. Circuit training involves moving from on exercise to another with little or no rest. Typically, circuits use resistance exercises. An advantage to circuit training is that it trains strength and muscular endurance simultaneously while also having a small effect on aerobic endurance. Circuits can also increase general work capacity and cardiac output.

The most useful method of endurance training for hockey is using high-intensity intervals with short rest periods.  For example, one anaerobic endurance workout would be 30 seconds at a high intensity followed by 60 seconds low intensity (30:60).  The next workout would be 30 seconds moderate to high intensity followed by only 30 seconds recovery. Izumi Tabata is a sports science researcher that developed a protocol that effectively develops anaerobic and aerobic endurance simultaneously.  It is done by performing eight sets of 20 second work periods followed by 10 seconds rest.  This can be done with a variety of training modes such as, squats or slide boards.  It is best to use a combination of various work:rest periods.

Aerobic endurance training and testing such as, 3 mile runs and the 12 min run test have very little correlation with hockey performance. In fact, some of the people that do very well on these tests, have a larger percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers than fast twitch which could indicate a limited potential for speed and explosiveness. Excess aerobic training can have even a negative effect on performance. This is not to say aerobic training should be avoided entirely. Many players like to use aerobic training for recovery or general health which is fine but should be limited to less than 20 minutes a couple times a week.

Following is an example of two supplementary workouts that could be used in-season in conjunction with age-appropriate, ability-based on-ice workouts:


Side lunge: 10 reps each leg

Burpees: 10 reps

Skate Hop: 10 reps each leg

DB Squat Press: 10 reps

High Intensity Intervals:

Slide Board:

8 x 45 seconds work, 60 seconds recovery

3 x 2 minutes work, 2 minutes recovery

Greater endurance will allow for more effective shifts and better playmaking ability throughout a game. Well-designed endurance training programs can have a dramatic impact on performance. Unfortunately, many programs utilize ineffective modes or focus on the wrong energy system and have little positive effect or even negative effects on endurance. Using the aforementioned guidelines will enable you or your players to play at a high capacity longer and more frequently.