Hockey Fitness: Agility training

Last month’s Hockey Fitness post focused on building explosiveness. Hockey is all about stops and starts and quick, explosive movements. The plyometric inspired exercises illustrated last month should paint a picture of where to begin with that side of your training.

That explosion training will not only build strength but also help with footspeed on the ice. Adding agility drills to your off-ice workouts are another great way to strengthen your skating skills. Agility training is something that forwards, defensemen and goaltenders can all benefit from.

There are a number of fantastic resources on the internet talking about different types of agility drills and training that specifically impact hockey players and the muscle groups they need to target. Below are four drills which might be strong additions to your offseason program.

20-yard Shuttle

20-yard Shuttle

If you happen to tune into the NFL Combine you will see this drill done quite a bit. It is a great speed and agility drill that can be adapted and altered as you see fit. Start off by setting up three cones, or markers five yards apart. If you happen to have access to a football field you can go by the yard lines.

Start at the middle cone, sprint forward five yards to the next cone, change direction and sprint ten yards in the opposite direction before finishing back at the middle cone. This is a great drill for explosiveness and change of direction. As you improve with the drill you can expect your first three steps on the ice to improve as well.

One wrinkle that is interesting to throw in is switching sprinting for backpedaling or shuffling. This is particularly effective for goaltenders and defensemen to institute along with the traditional sprint.

30-yard T-drill

30-yard T-drill

This is a drill that takes some of the 20-yard shuttle but combines it with other agile movements. The main focus of this drill is not only the explosive first step but developing fluid hip movements and improving change of direction.

Starting at the back cone, a player will sprint forward and rapidly change direction into a five-yard shuffle. Upon reaching the third cone, you will shuffle the ten yards across before shuffling five yards back to the middle. To finish, backpedal to the starting cone.

In a similar manner to the 20-yard shuttle, this keeps you moving at all times but combines, sprinting, backpedaling and lateral movement. One wrinkle you can add would be to substitute karaoke or crossovers for shuffling. In fact, that is something you can do with each of these drills.

20-yard box

20-yard box

This is yet another drill which draws from the 20-yard shuttle above. It also has some similarities to the 30-yard T above but has more of a focus on short movements than the endurance used in the T-drill.

This drill can be started at any of the four locations, but it is typically best to start by sprinting forward, changing direction into a shuffle (or crossover), backpedaling and finishing with another shuffle. Like the T-drill this uses all three movements and focuses on explosive, fluid movements and agility through the change of direction.

Zig-Zag Drill

Zig-Zag Drill

This particular drill can be adapted in a number of different ways. Depending on what kind of focus you wish to have, the cones can be kept in close proximity to one another or spaced further apart. Adding more cones is also recommended, as it will allow you to lengthen the drill beyond 15 or 20 yards.

Starting with the cones five yards apart is a good trial approach and can serve as your base set-up. Determining shorter or longer distances will allow you to focus more on straight-line speed, or tight agile movements. This drill can also be adapted to use a shuffle or backpedal instead of sprinting.

The Zig-Zag drill really hones in on keeping fluid hips (particularly if you’re backpedaling) and tight cuts. To start, sprint from cone-to-cone in a zig-zag pattern making sure to cut your turns as tight as possible at each cone. You should always cut to the outside of each cone as you reach that point.

These four drills offer a good mix of different approaches you can take to agility training. Using speed ladder drills (as mentioned last month) and other advice from your coaches and around the internet will allow you to build a well-rounded off-ice speed and agility training regimen.

Hockey Fitness: Build explosiveness

Hockey is a special game that combines just about every aspect of an individual’s athleticism. Hand-eye coordination, stamina, balance, strength and speed are all valuable traits for a player to possess. While it is incredibly important to have the endurance to give the same effort with three minutes left in the third period as you did on your first shift, having the explosiveness to burst past an opponent, rip a wrist shot top corner or make a clutch save is equally important. In fact, hockey is just as much about quick explosive movements as it is about endurance.

Developing and training the muscle groups that will make you a more explosive player is an important portion of any off-ice training regimen. Using traditional weight training like squats, lunges and other lower body exercises will aid in building the necessary strength in muscle groups used in skating but there are other exercises you may not be using already.

Plyometrics and speed ladder training can be supplemented as additional training tools to not only build and stimulate growth in certain muscle groups, but they will also help to increase foot speed, agility and explosiveness in a player.

Speed ladder training is particularly effective for building foot speed and agility as you can mix-and-match various movements to create a workout that is fully customized to your strengths and weaknesses. A few personal favorite speed ladder exercises include one and two-foot hops through the ladder and side-to-side, quick shuffles side-to-side through the ladder and explosive front steps and backpedals up and down the ladder. Additional hockey specific speed ladder drills can be found from Livestrong and this link.

  • One and two-foot hops: This can be done in a straight line or side-to-side with a speed ladder. As you gain more comfort and balance with the drill you will be able to increase the speed in which you do the drill. The motion is simple: hop on one or both feet in a straight line making sure to step in every box on the ladder. For side-to-side hop in and out of each box as you make your way down the length of the ladder.
  • Side-to-side shuffles: This is a slightly more advanced drill, but is particularly effective for goaltenders and building foot speed. For this drill begin on one side of the ladder and quickly shuffle across each box, making sure to touch both toes in the box as you make your way across. Move up and down the ladder in a zig-zag pattern moving in both directions. Increase your speed as you gain comfort with the drill.
  • Forward and backwards explosion: This is a terrific explosion drill that should help build strength and speed for that first step towards a loose puck. Begin on the side of the ladder and move to your left or right, one box at a time, taking hard steps backwards and forwards ensuring that you touch both feet in each box as you go.

Plyometric exercises are another great wrinkle to add to an off-ice workout that will not only focus on lower body but the upper body as well. With the focus on quick movements and building strength, plyometrics are a great thing to add to your offseason regimen.

Simple box jumps – as highlighted by this Livestrong article – are my personal favorite and can be done on steps or any firm object. The higher the object, the more energy needed to reach the top, thus, you will literally see your progress as you build more strength. Adding weight to this drill is a great challenge as even 10-pound dumbells will make the exercise that much more strenuous. Plyometric pushups – also noted in the article – are another interesting exercise. I have used a medicine ball in the past to balance myself and add a wrinkle to the exercise. Here are ten more plyometric exercises to build into your workout.

Hockey Fitness will be a running feature on the Great Skate blog that will feature different techniques and workouts to help you become a better player. Stay tuned for further installments of this series.