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: https://www.usahockey.com/dryland
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.