I’m a defenseman for a competitive hockey team in town and this year we have not been playing our best caliber of hockey. It appears as though our team can’t keep up, and during the 3rd period we’re even slower. As a result, our coach seems to be frustrated. On top of the high intensity skating drills, he is making the team run laps after practice for extended periods of time. This is confusing to me because hockey is a high paced game where shifts last for about 40 seconds. Why are we running laps? Is it our endurance that needs help, or do we just need to get faster?
I understand your confusion but I hope it’s reassuring to hear that there is a scientific rationale behind your coach’s choices to include both high intensity skating drills and low intensity running after practice. To explain the rationale, let’s start with some background information on the main energy system used in hockey. As you mentioned in your question, hockey is a high intensity sport where players perform for periods of around 40 seconds repeatedly. This means that the dominant energy system used in hockey is your anaerobic energy system. Players compete with minimal oxygen to use explosive power for speed and quickness during shifts. Your coach seems to be training this energy system specifically through the high-intensity skating drills in practice. In doing so, players will become increasingly faster on a shift to shift basis. Although this should be the focus, it is also important to keep the aerobic energy system in mind as well.
As previously stated, the anaerobic energy system appears to be the most important aspect to be focused upon when trying to become a faster team. However, your coach appears to be paying attention to detail by training the less utilized aerobic energy system. The aerobic system is used during activities such as long distance running, because it uses oxygen to provide energy for long durations of time. Although it may seem unnecessary to train this energy system for a high intensity sport such as hockey, this system plays an important role during recovery. The anaerobic system, when used, leaves a waste product in the muscles which causes fatigue. This is where the aerobic system comes into play. This energy system trains the heart, which pumps blood to the muscles where the waste product needs to be removed. In individuals who train their aerobic energy system, it is shown that recovery is much more efficient following high-intensity exercise. To put this into perspective, your coach is making your team run laps so that you can recover quicker and more efficiently between shifts.
In summary, it is important to blend both aerobic and anaerobic training, as this will allow the team to skate faster throughout the entirety of the game. Additionally, recovery is necessary to include in training as it gives the body time for improving beyond baseline. Provided enough recovery is also included in the training routine, the team should be able to skate faster throughout the entirety of the game, instead of fatiguing by the time the third period comes into play.
I hope this helps your understanding,
Sports Medicine Counsel