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Olympic Weightlifting and Hockey

WEEKLY CROSSFIT NUGGET - Olympic Weighlifting for Hockey by Carla McDonald, crossfit san diego trainer, former Marine officer & U of ND varsity player Ice hockey is a sport that demands much of its athletes. To be a threatening force on the ice, a hockey player is required to have powerful, explosive legs but quick, agile feet. A player needs to be fast on the ice, yet be able to maintain his ground and dig in his skates when battling for a puck in the corner or in front of the net. A hockey player needs to be able to stop and change to any direction quickly. A player needs to have a strong core and upper body to manipulate slap shots from the blue line and hold opponents against the boards while another skater gets by. The physical and technical demands for the athletes are endless. Hockey players spend extensive time training on and off of the ice to develop the strength, power, speed, balance and technique required of them by the game. There are many excellent drills and fitness programs that benefit the hockey player; however, the focus of this article is the ability of Olympic weightlifting to develop a more powerful, explosive, and balanced player on the ice. General Benefits of Olympic Weightlifting Olympic weightlifting is one of many methods of high resistance training available to an athlete that will promote muscle growth, strength, balance, and power (1). An additional benefit of Olympic lifting is its potential to provide anaerobic conditioning, which has great application to all sports requiring short periods of intense work such as hockey. Strength In general, athletes need to be strong, but what does it mean to be strong? Harvey Newton, a former U.S. Olympic team weightlifting coach and former editor in chief of the NSCA, defines strength in his book, Explosive Lifting for Sports, as "…the ability to exert a maximal force against a resistance." Furthermore, he state, "To move an object's mass successfully (either your own or your own with an opponent), you must exert an amount of force greater than that of the object." In order to gain strength, progressive overload is necessary; the resistance used by the athlete needs to be increased periodically in order to stimulate a higher level of response from the muscles (2). By nature, Olympic lifting does just that; although most athletes begin with a light weight relative to their strength and skill level, the resistance is increased over time. This type of training is a very efficient way of increasing an athlete's strength, which will only increase the amount of power he is able to produce in sport, whether it be on the field, on the floor, or, in this case, on the ice. Power Power is the combination of speed and strength, expressed by the simple formula: "Power = work (mass x distance)/time". In essence, we are looking at how an athlete can move his own or his opponent's mass over a certain distance in the least amount of time—this is power. Olympic lifting is a sport in which the body is trained to do exactly this—move heavy resistance over a distance as quickly as possible. Newton points out that most sports are ground based (2), meaning that much of an athlete's power is generated by the lower body and torso. Not only is this the case with Olympic lifting, in that explosive power and momentum on the bar are generated by driving off of the floor with the legs, but it is also the case with skating, where a hockey player's explosive starts, power, and acceleration are generated when the skater pushes against the ice. Olympic lifting is seemingly more vertical in nature and hockey more horizontal; however, the benefits of one affect the other. In his writing, Newton recognizes that even though vertical force may be more applicable to the basketball player or volleyball player, that "…improving the ability to propel the body rapidly upward can improve the ability to propel the body forward…". Balance and Stability Olympic weightlifting is also an effective way to train the body in terms of balance and stability. For instance, when an athlete performs a snatch and ends up with a barbell over his head in the squat position, he is forced to maintain a tight midsection and engage his posterior chain in order to fix the load instead of crumbling under its weight. Not only does this require stability in a squat position, but through the entire range of motion as the athlete drives out of the squat, consequently developing great balance, core strength and stability. Anaerobic Training Anaerobic metabolic systems provide the majority of energy for high intensity work up to approximately two minutes in duration. The phosphagen system provides energy for explosive power demands, anywhere from one to ten seconds, while anaerobic glycolysis supplies energy for high intensity work beyond this. One benefit of training within this energy system is that "anaerobic conditioning raises the lactate threshold, which allows players to compete at a higher intensity before the accumulation of lactic acid exceeds its removal.". When snatching or clean and jerking single reps with a set period of rest in between, you are training the phosphagen system due to the explosive nature and short duration of the lift. However, the lifts can be used to condition the glycolytic system as well. For example, rather than performing single reps of each, an athlete can perform as many snatches or clean and jerks as he can in a thirty to forty-five second period—a typical amount of time a player stays on the ice during one shift, absent special circumstances. Transferability of Olympic Lifting to Hockey If Olympic lifting improves an athlete's strength, power, balance and stability, as well as improves the athlete's anaerobic capacity, why not train your hockey players with these lifts? It is an outstanding tool that will benefit the individual player, the team, and ultimately, your win/loss record. Strength Remember Newton's definition of strength: "…the ability to exert a maximal force against a resistance."? Recall how he also stated that, "To move an object's mass successfully (either your own or your own with an opponent), you must exert an amount of force greater than that of the object."? Consider the need for a hockey player to move his own mass down the ice along with a hockey stick and pads. Easy enough? Sure, but he still needs the strength to set the force in motion and keep it going. It becomes more challenging when the hockey player needs to move something or someone other than just himself. For example, he may be checking another opponent against the boards, riding the player into the boards, or pushing him out of the way in front of the net. If you are a defensive player in front of your own net trying to move the opposing forwards out of the way, or you are a forward in front of your opponent's net trying to stay there, chances are you are going to be digging in your skates, in a semi-squat position, pushing like hell to maintain your ground. Strong legs aide a player's ability to stride out and accelerate, initiate a push, and contribute to endurance for repetitive strides. "A solid base of strength and lean muscle mass supports a player's physical abilities and technical skills and is a prerequisite to anaerobic conditioning, power, quickness, agility, and speed. Strength assists such skating skills as acceleration, cornering, stopping and starting, pivoting, shooting, and dynamic balance. Increased size and strength are also important for body checking and defending opponents." (4) Strength is needed; however, there is more involved in the game of hockey than just strength—a hockey player needs to be powerful. Power Hockey is an extremely fast game under most circumstances. A player is forever moving on the ice. In doing so, whether you are circling in your section waiting to receive a pass or pass yourself, at some point you are going to have to skate like hell in order to chase a puck or an opponent. This involves extreme explosiveness from the legs and hips for the necessary acceleration. This is where that ground-based power mentioned above comes into play. If a player has been training his explosive power by working the Olympic lifts, it is only going to benefit him when he needs that same action on the ice. The surfaces are different, but the effects are the same: the feet meet the ground; the feet push away from the ground. You've now just set in motion your muscles from your legs to your hips to your upper body to get you where you need to go. Sound familiar? If not, consider the snatch and the clean and jerk. Additionally, consider the need of a hockey player to stop and start quickly, moving in the totally opposite direction. This is usually coupled with short sprint efforts in order to gain speed and gain ground. Again, ground-based power. A great amount of power is also needed when checking an opponent into the boards as well as winding up to shoot. For instance, when a player checks another, in preparation he squats down, leans his shoulders and hips into the other player, and thrusts up as hard as he can, causing that player to come off of the ice and hit the boards. This is actually somewhat vertical in nature and quite similar to the force generated by triple extension in the Olympic lifts. How about winding up to shoot a slap shot or a snap shot? This requires great power from the hips and the core. "Weightlifting training may be adapted to assist in the improvement of sport-specific skills that originate in the hips and core musculature. Power-oriented sports require quick muscular action and adequate strength in order to produce power.". This is definitely the case with hockey. Balance and Stability On any given day, balancing yourself when you are wearing shoes can be tough enough. Throw on a pair of skates and try balancing and off-loading your body on two thin blades. What muscles need to be engaged to keep that balance and make you stable? I would certainly contend that you need a strong core and posterior chain. A hockey player spends a lot of time in a squat-like position, whether it be static or broken. This is the position you are in when pushing against another player in front of the net trying to maintain ground or skating backwards, both of which may be for extended periods of time. While skating backwards, you do not break ninety degrees in your squat, but you are close, and sometimes you hold that position for the length of the ice. These techniques require great balance, strength, and stability. If you are tired, you will be unable to execute these techniques for long periods of time; thus, the muscles need to be trained to maintain balance and stability in the squat position. "Great hockey players are so perfectly balanced that they appear to be linked to the ice by a magnetic force. It's common to take balance for granted and overlook its importance, but it is one of the most important aspects of hockey. Achieving balance is critical for all players; mastering it will enable you to skate with greater maneuverability and speed, perform high-velocity turns, execute sudden starts and stops, change direction more quickly, shoot more powerfully, and deliver and withstand crunching body checks." This is an area where Olympic lifting can greatly benefit the skater. Picture the Olympic lifter in the hole, weight overhead, core tight, holding his breath in order to protect himself and remain stable. This is exactly what needs to happen on the ice when you are pushing against another player, just trying to maintain your ground. A hockey player can train for this on the ice, but there is added benefit by training for this off of the ice as well. As Harvey Newton stated "…muscular imbalances may occur as a result of only performing a specific sport and not preparing the total body… One of the biggest advantages of free weights is that your balance is challenged, just as in most sports.". In hockey, balance is integral in keeping you on your skates rather than on your ass. Anaerobic Conditioning Hockey is a sport wherein an optimal line shift length is anywhere from forty-five seconds to one minute. The normal shift can be characterized by short, intense periods of sprinting, combined with explosive body checks and body contact, as well as quick stops and starts in opposite directions. A lot of anaerobic conditioning is done on the ice in the way of sprints. Coaches will line players up on the blue line to skate crunchers until the players become blue themselves. A player may sprint to the far end, drop and give twenty pushups, sprint to the other end and do the same. The nature of a scrimmage during practice will condition the body anaerobically, but why not enhance it off of the ice? Olympic lifting can augment any program you have by being an additional source of anaerobic training. As mentioned previously, anaerobic conditioning can be broken up into two divisions: the first ten seconds and the following two minutes. In order to aide both systems of training, a coach can utilize single rep snatches and clean and jerks, or have your players train for the same duration they would most likely be on the ice. Thus, if most shifts consist of forty-five seconds to on minute on the ice, lift accordingly. For example, rather than working single snatches and clean and jerks, when writing your training program, have the athlete hang power snatch or hang power clean and jerk for thirty to forty-five seconds at a slightly lighter weight. You can alternate training days wherein one session you focus on going heavy, with single reps, versus another session, where you lift as suggested above: max reps in one minute or less. The options and combinations in which you can train are endless. Conclusion A hockey player must be a multi-talented athlete. Developing this type of athlete takes a lot of work on the ice as well as off of the ice. Olympic weightlifting is an excellent tool for the coach's off-ice training tool box because of the unique stimulus it offers for strength, power and anaerobic conditioning development. (source, Performance Menu, Vol 2 Issue 23, Dec 2006)