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5 Keys to an Explosive Offseason

By Steve Mann, Special to Minnesota Hockey, 04/13/21, 9:15AM CDT


With how fast the game is today, every player has a need for speed.

But it isn’t just top-end speed that is a game changer. Many times, it’s a short, quick burst that gets you from point A to point B before your opponent does. That burst is also known as acceleration – and whether you’re a youth player or a professional, there are ways to add that acceleration and explosiveness to your on-ice repertoire.

“Acceleration and explosiveness are pieces of the pie and you need to have both to get separation,” said Mark Poolman, certified athletic trainer and human performance director for the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team. “Think of acceleration as how fast you can run the first few yards of a 40-yard dash. These are things you can work on off the ice. So many skills you need to be on the ice to practice, but that part of your game you can do in the offseason and pretty much anywhere.”

It Starts with Strength

While young hockey players (and in many cases, their parents) can be eager to see quick results, it’s important to remember athlete development is a long process. When it comes to improving acceleration, Poolman says it’s important to first focus on simply building strength before going too far with any advanced training.

“Strength is a baseline you need to have before you get serious about things like plyometrics or thinking I want to be fast and explosive,” said Poolman, whose three sons, Tucker, Colton and Mason Poolman all starred at East Grand Forks. Tucker has now played more than 100 NHL games and Colton signed an NHL deal in 2020. “Before you get to that level you need to focus on mechanics and strength training.”

Proper technique is critical.

“If you’re doing single-leg squats, wall sits or side lunges, if you go down nice and slow like a count of 5 to 10, you’re using more muscles and building strength,” he said. “It’s important to have an expert show you how to do this and remind you to think about technique while you’re going down and holding, to be sure your mechanics are solid.”

Check out USA Hockey’s Training at Home compilation of age-appropriate, off-ice training exercises:

Should Kids Wait on the Weights?

One of the most frequent questions athletic trainers and coaches get from youth sports parents when it comes to strength training is on the subject of weightlifting – how much is too much, how young is too young and what truly are the benefits?

While there are varying opinions, Poolman believes in a common-sense approach based on the child’s maturity level and experience.

“Strength training should be about getting stronger and improving balance,” he said. “Over the spring or summer, a kid can work out three times a week for 30-45 minutes with his or her friends and not consider it a grind. It can be more of a team function they enjoy. While there’s a benefit to having someone to tell them how to work out properly, it doesn’t mean they have to start grinding on a daily basis at the gym.”

How to Improve Acceleration in the Offseason

Poolman considers the post-season an ideal time for this type of training, because “during the season you want to save a lot of that energy and recovery for games and practices.”

Beyond a strength training focus, there are a variety of exercises, drills and games kids can utilize to enhance their acceleration and explosiveness. Great strides can be made without stepping foot inside a hockey rink.

Poolman suggests:

  • Simple steps at home – “You can work on quick, explosive movements, like running up and down some stairs. Just do one or two steps at a time, running up and down quickly (and carefully).”
  • Expensive equipment is not required – “I love the old school stuff like jumping rope, running hills – doing lunges on the way – or tying a rope to a tire and pulling it.”
  • Bring it to the beach – “Doing different drills, like shuttle runs, in the sand is also great for balance work. You’re barefoot, using your calves more and it’s easier on the joints. It’s something you can do at the cabin or the beach.”
  • Try other sports – “You can tell when hockey players play other sports in the way they move. Sometimes if you watch hockey players do sprints, they look mechanical, because hockey doesn’t use traditional running form. Your hips or legs turn out, and you don’t have as much movement in your ankles. What you get from strength training and movements in other sports, all those things transfer and can make you a better athlete overall. Tennis is a sport I tried to get all three of my boys in. It’s a great crossover sport, with starting and stopping and quick, lateral movements. Baseball is another one. If you do something fast like sprinting to first base that will make you more explosive.”
  • Make it fun with friends and don’t force it – “When my three boys were younger, they would try to find 3-4 other likeminded kids who wanted to get better and get together to train. They did warm-up and cool-down stuff at the Peewee level, ran hills and made it fun. But it’s really dependent on the kid. You can’t make a kid do something they aren’t in to, don’t understand or just don’t want to do. If you force them to do something they don’t want to do, they won’t want to do it anymore. It should be something they enjoy.”

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