Sled Training- not the dog type!

Sled Training for Hockey Players

Here at SST, one of the most common mistakes we see coaches make when training hockey players in the off season is to treat them like endurance athletes. Sure, an aerobic conditioning program will do some good for body composition and improving aerobic thresholds for hockey players, but overdoing it will have a decidedly negative impact on power and speed in game situations. Working too much on aerobic conditioning causes the body’s type II muscle fibres (fibres that are forceful and, therefore, beneficial to hockey players) to take on characteristics of type I muscle fibres (fibres that are slow and better suited for endurance athletes like marathoners). Obviously, this is not something we want to happen. In essence, training off-ice to become a better hockey player should focus on the proper elements of speed that simulate on-ice game situations – short bursts of speed followed by rest periods sufficient in length to allow full recovery.

One of the greatest tools that can be used in off-ice training sessions is the power sled – a device that allows athletes to run, shuffle, and perform various exercises with variable resistance accommodating the athlete’s strength level. The following power sled exercises are excellent in helping the athlete increase overall lower body strength, power, and speed – attributes every athlete strives to increase!

Backwards Sled Drag:

The backwards sled drag is an excellent exercise that targets a major weakness amongst hockey players of all ages – the Vastus Medialis Oblique muscle of the quadriceps. In layman’s terms, this is the muscle that is situated on the inside front of the upper leg, just above the knee, forming a “teardrop”. The vastus medialis oblique is important for hockey players to develop, since it is needed for on-ice balance, and also to keep the knee from buckling under stress.

To perform this exercise grab a hold of the handle, keep your arms straight, retract your shoulder blades, keep your chest up and take small step backwards for the recommended distance. This exercise seems easy for the first 20m, however at about 30m your legs start to feel like rubber and the last 10m seems to take an eternity – even if it is only a few seconds. This exercise is a great finisher! You’ll leave the training facility looking like you just learned to walk.

Sled Sprinting:

Sprinting using resistance is an excellent strength builder that can be used by hockey players during off-ice workouts. Like a batter who warms up in the on deck circle by swinging a weighted bat, the sled gives the athlete the ability to add extra weight to the sprint, thereby making them stronger and, of course, faster when they run without it. One important point to make however, is that a resistance that is too heavy has been found to lead to increased ground contact time, decreased stride length, disruption of kinematic sprinting techniques, as well as decreased efficiency during the acceleration phase of running. A good guideline for coaches and athletes is not to exceed 10% of the athlete’s weight on the sled – more is most definitely not better!

Lateral sled crossovers

Another benefit of the power sled in off-ice training for hockey players is in the sport-specific movements of on-ice skating mechanics. In essence, the sled can be used in such a fashion that it replicates on-ice movements, such as the crossover. In the lateral sled crossover exercise, the athlete attaches the belt and sled so that the sled is extended from the side of the athlete, not behind (as in the sled sprint). With the feet shoulder width apart and the toes pointed in the same direction as the shoulders, the athlete begins by crossing the leg closest to the sled (the trail leg) in front of the other leg (the lead leg) and pushing off, bringing the lead leg back into starting position (feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed straight). To work on muscular strength, the lateral sled crossover should be done in such a way that the upper body and hips are squared (no turning), which focuses on building the strength of the working leg. To maximize speed and power during the movement, simply turn the hips and upper body slightly, and focus on exploding with each stride. Maximum speed can be used here, and the goal should be to explode, accelerating across the surface in minimal time. Use the sled according to your own specific goals. Just remember to work both legs equally – after all, how many times have you crossed over in only one direction during a game??

Lateral sled shuffle

Like the sled crossover, the lateral sled shuffle once again places the sled at the side of the athlete. However, in this movement, the athlete steps out to the side with the lead leg (leg farthest away from the sled) and then pushes off with the trail leg, in a simulated hockey stride. This is one of the best exercises for hockey players, since it helps build muscular strength in the quadriceps muscle – particularly the lateral (outside) portion that is used during the on-ice stride. Once again, depending on your goals, you can use it with added resistance with a slow and controlled tempo (muscular strength) or with a lighter weight over a specified distance in as little time as possible (muscular power and explosiveness).

Be sure to use each exercise sparingly – that is, rotate each exercise into your routine every 4-6 workouts. Your body has a wonderful gift called “adaptation” and by using a technique consistently for months and months on end, the training effect will lessen, plateau, and eventually be lost altogether. By changing the exercise, increasing the time or distance used per exercise, increasing or decreasing the tempo of the exercise, and rotating each exercise, you will be on your way to out-skating and over-powering your opponent. Good Luck!!

About the Author:

Larry Jusdanis is the owner of Sports Specific Training Inc. SST has trained thousands of athletes from a variety of sports. SST’s no nonsense approach to training has been used by thousands of athletes’ from a variety of sports all over the nation!


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