How to prepare for a successful run in your rec hockey playoffs
By Christopher Costa, M.S.
For many hockey players, the long road to the “real” season is just beginning. In short, all the tension the rec hockey playoffs can build is here, as teams prep at all levels. With so much on the line, I’m often asked, “How can I ready myself for the long journey?” In an ideal situation, one to two weeks off would be great. It gives players time to heal nagging injuries and mentally reposition themselves. Unfortunately, most players and teams don’t have that luxury, even at the professional level. It’s likely the usual two to four days off, and then full steam ahead!
As things begin to intensify, energy levels have a tendency to taper off. We sail on adrenaline to get us through the first game, but soon the nerves calm and it’s business as usual. While more is at stake, in reality the game hasn’t changed. If you’ve been training correctly, then your regimen shouldn’t either.
If the goal is to maximize energy stores so you can continue to battle in the 3rd, then rest is key. There are a couple things that you should do to prepare. Both on and off the ice, players need time for their bodies to repair and regenerate. Eat properly, meaning feed yourself with nutrients that maximize energy. Sleep well, this goes without saying, 8 hours a night should be the goal. Drink plenty of fluids; our bodies are 70% water.
Hopefully, you were able to get to the gym 2-3 days a week throughout the season. If so, you’ve done the work to keep yourself healthy. Now it’s time to allow for recovery. If you’re practicing daily, then 2 days a week in the gym should be your protocol. Dedicate this time to what I refer to as “maintenance” training. A maintenance program should involve 4 things:
Flexibility. Elasticity. Agility. Speed.
After a long season, your muscles are sore, tight and short. Soreness is due to lactic acid build-up, which can be lessened by following a healthy diet. Tightness and shortening of the muscle is an indicator of being overworked. The thin sheath of connective tissues, called fascia, that covers each muscle becomes tight, like a noose, and restricts muscles from fully lengthening. Adding a foam roller to your arsenal is key. Before and after each practice, game, and off-ice training session, you should be using the foam roller on your legs. The roller will keep your muscles fresh by helping to purge lactic acid from them, lengthen them, and loosen fascia.
Dynamic stretching increases elasticity of the muscles. Additionally, dynamic stretching provides muscles with the proper warm-up period prior to games, practices, and workouts by introducing healthy blood and nutrients to the muscles. This prevents tears to both muscles and tendons.
Ideally, the off-season work should have been the time where you built up power and strength. Due to the nature of the game, you are likely to lose some of that power throughout the season. But that’s OK! What you should focus on is speed and agility. Exercises that increase foot speed, coordination, and lateral transitions are commonly referred to as Plyometrics. Not only does plyo increase agility, but it also addresses the other vital points mentioned above.
Finally, one of the most important factors is mental preparation. Especially during your rec hockey playoffs, nerves are running high; you’re flying on adrenaline. Take the time to prepare yourself. Learn from your past, there’s always a take away. Do things that you enjoy outside of the game. Find something that will distract you temporarily. In fact, one of the best ways to reconnect is through yoga. It’s certainly a growing trend in the hockey world. And guess what? Yoga addresses all 4 aspects of the maintenance plan.
Christopher Costa is a hockey training specialist. His life has revolved around hockey, as a coach, player and official for 22 years. His training protocols address all key aspects in producing elite talent, including nutrition. For more information about a maintenance plan and how you should prepare for the playoffs,check out AssistPerformance or contact firstname.lastname@example.org