The sport of ice hockey can be difficult to prepare for during the off-season when an ice surface is unavailable. This limits the ability of the athletes to get specific, on-ice conditioning work in prior to pre-season camp. Athletes will often rely on alternative conditioning methods like running, hill sprints, slide board work and even cycling on an ergometer bike. These training modalities are often criticized for not being specific to ice hockey. According to the SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) principle, cycling may not transfer over to on-ice skating ability. However, little research on this topic has been performed. The effects of off-ice conditioning work on on-ice performance are unclear. Further research into the possible effectiveness of activities like cycling are required to better determine effective off-season conditioning strategies for ice hockey players.
Some recent research out of the University of Tampa in Florida by Naimo et al. (2014), published ahead of print in the International Journal of Sports Medicine may shine some light on this topic. The researchers recruited 24 players from the University club hockey team and split them into two groups. One group performed 4 weeks of periodized interval training on a cycle ergometer while the other group performed 45-60 minutes of continuous cycling at 65% of heart rate reserve. The interval program involved 10-20 second sprints against a resistance equal to 7.5 – 10% of body weight for between 4-10 reps with 4 minutes of rest between sets. Both groups performed the cycling workouts twice per week separated by at least 48 hours. Body composition, muscle thickness, anaerobic power and on-ice measures including 33 m sprint, 127 m sprint test and 6×9 m stops were assessed before and after the 4 week training program.
Post testing revealed that muscle thickness improved significantly more in the interval group versus the continuous group. In addition, the interval group experienced significantly greater changes in peak power and mean power on the Wingate test. Finally, the 33 m and 127 m sprint times improved significantly more in the interval group compared to the continuous group. The interval group improved both on and off-ice performance markers despite a lower overall training time and volume compared to the continuous training group. This speaks to the efficiency of the high-intensity interval training. Sprint interval training on a cycle ergometer appears to facilitate performance improvements in hockey players and thus may serve as an alternative training modality to use in conditioning programs when an ice surface is inaccessible.
Naimo, MA. et al. High-intensity Interval Training Has Positive Effects onPerformance In Ice Hockey Players. International Journal of Sports Medicine, In press.