Ice Hockey, The Most Physical Sport on Earth

If you have never watched the sport before then you should tune in to see the masters at work. Ice Hockey is probably the most physical sport on earth. Imagine playing Rugby, on ice, hitting an object that can move up to 100mph into the smallest goals in professional sport…whilst 5 other people are desperately trying to smash you into a solid wall.

The athleticism of the top players is ridiculous. They have to be fast, powerful, agile, graceful, robust, be capable of making split second decisions and then have the skill to be able to execute precise movements under huge amounts of pressure.

Needless to say, S&C for Ice Hockey is never boring. I have worked with numerous professional players over the years and last summer was no different. I went through 6 weeks of solid training with two players before they moved away for pre-season with their respective clubs (Lewis Hook – Nottingham Panthers, Luke Ferrara – Sheffield Steelers).

Nottingham Panthas


First and foremost we worked on a lot of bilateral compound lifts. Both boys have worked with me for 5 years since they were 14/15 years old so I know they have pretty sound technical ability. This is a huge bonus because it means that after a couple of sessions to dust off the cobwebs we can get straight into some pretty decent lifting quickly in their programmes.

I am not the biggest geek in the world but numerous research has been done surrounding Ice Hockey, I read everything I could get my hands on and the general consensus is as follows:

  • Maximum effort bench press has a strong correlation with an increased slap shot.
  • Vertical jump performance has a strong correlation with an increased skating speed.
  • Repeated sprints have a strong correlation with an increased ability to cope with the fast intermittent speed of the matches
  • Pull up performance has a strong correlation with the reduction of shoulder injuries

Who am I to argue with experts who have made those summaries? There was nothing ground breaking or unbelievable, and I wanted players who could skate fast, hit hard, avoid common injuries and be able to perform for the full 60 minutes.

Ice hockey collision

Throughout the weeks the boys got really good at front squats, back squats, deadlifts, cleans, jerks, bench press and pull ups – I picked two of these per session which then formed the basis of our sessions and were always performed straight after warm up and mobility. I wanted to get big numbers where possible, so these were always done fresh for maximum performance.

The second half of each session was made up of complimentary exercises. An important point to note here is that I have worked with both lads for 5 years so they have done hundreds of my sessions in the past. Now they are adults I let them pick exercises they think should be used to compliment the compound lifts…with me to advise where necessary.

What I find is that the more they enjoy what they are doing, the more likely they are to do it when they are away from me (which in these cases is around 40 weeks of the year haha). But this can only be done with experienced athletes who have been educated as to why they are doing certain things.

The supplementary exercises would often include some unilateral work too. So for example, if they had heavy Deadlifts and Bench Press at the start of the session, they would choose to do maybe Pistol Squats and single hand Inverted Rows afterwards. If I gave them Front Squats and Cleans at the start they might choose Single leg RDL’s and single arm Push Ups on the TRX.

Then at the end we would always have competitive ‘finisher’ drills. Could be sprints on the rowing machine/hill sprints, could be vertical jump onto plyo boxes…anything to give them some 1 v 1 competition when they were tired.

These are just basic examples. Although from the outside they might not be the most perfect selection of exercises possible but it worked really really well. Both players increased their speed and power and are capable of maintaining their performance levels throughout the entire match; neither have been injured 5 months into the season.

Not only did their results improve in all areas but both of them commented on feeling fitter and stronger than ever when they got onto the ice for pre-season.

By no means am I the most accomplished Ice Hockey S&C coach in the world, but I will be constantly learning and trying new things. Over the years this is the approach I have found that has worked best with the many professional/international players I have worked with, and guess what….it’s simple.

I caught up with Luke recently and asked him about things from his perspective. He reiterated the point about how important speed and strength are to his game, “You need to be FAST. Having more speed gives you more time to make decisions. This can make the difference between winning and losing”. Having speed is one thing, but no matter how fast you are you cannot avoid contact for long, “there are a lot of big guys in my league – most are probably 16 stone. When that is moving quickly it can cause some damage haha. Although I am only around 13 stone I know that my strength and power give me the confidence to compete with the heavier guys”.

If you are an Ice Hockey fan then tune in to the NHL All Star weekend (30/31 January). If you aren’t a fan, then I would suggest it is well worth watching to see the incredible athleticism on display.

Having spoken to Luke his tip of the day is to look out for Patrick Kane, “he is leading the league in points, having his best year ever and is probably the most skilled player and one of the best athletes in the sport at the moment”.

Until you hear from me next time, remember S&C is a simple game often overcomplicated by fools.


Mark Laws