Make the Transition: Preseason training completes a summer of hard work

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Darryl Nelson and Brian Sipotz are regarded as top experts in the field of strength and conditioning for ice hockey performance. Darryl has been the head strength and conditioning coach for USA Hockey’s National Team Development program since 2000 and also serves as the director of performance for Advantage Strength and Conditioning in Ann Arbor. Brian played 7 years of professional ice hockey and is the founder and strength coach of Advantage Strength and Conditioning. Darryl and Brian are also the cofounders of

By Darryl Nelson & Brian Sipotz –

This is the time of year hockey players have been looking forward to all summer. In many cases, they have spent the summer developing strength and power for the upcoming season, and they are chomping at the bit to get into the season and test out their newly developed horsepower. At this time of year, we transition to a 3-4 week preseason training program that will ensure players are conditioned and ready for the ice. This program looks quite a bit different from our off-season program. Here’s how we get ready for the season.

Strength Training

The volume of work we do will drop dramatically at this time since players are typically doing on ice and off-ice workouts. Some staples of our off-season program like sled sprints, speed work and plyometrics are replaced by a strength circuit. Circuits at this time of year turn the pure strength and power developed over the summer into strength that can be sustained during a game. We would ideally do 3 of these circuits/week in late August and early September (basically a month before games start)

How do we set up our circuits? We have found that putting the exercises in this order has worked best: double leg push, upper pull (vertical), upper push (horizontal), core/anterior chain, lower explosive lower, 1-Leg lower push, upper pull (horizontal), upper press (vertical), 1-leg lower (glute/hamstring emphasis), 1-arm upper pull, core/stabilization, and upper explosive. We will perform these circuits 2 x per week on Day 1 and Day 3, using the same format with different exercise selection. For example, we may perform a pull up (hands facing away) on Day 1, and a chin up (palms facing) on Day 2. On Day 2, we will perform a plate circuit which is borrowed or stolen from strength and conditioning coaches Mike Boyle and the Calgary Flames’ Rich Hesketh.


Off-ice conditioning looks different at this time of year too. During the summer, we use tempo runs, shuttle runs, and slide board intervals to develop the proper energy systems. Now, in the pre-season, we get away from running to save wear and tear, and we stop conditioning on the slide board because most players are back on the ice. At this point in the year, we do most of our conditioning on stationary bikes (something we avoid at all costs during the summer!) We will do 2-3 bike workouts per week on days we don’t do a weight circuit. On Day 1 of conditioning for the week, we do 1-minute sprints at a high level of resistance. During these sprints, we are looking to enhance our player’s resistance to fatigue- especially after the 30-40 second mark in which the average hockey shift ends. At the end of the sprint, we will recover to 130 bpm while at level 1 on the bike. We will start with 6 reps in week 1 and add one more rep each week. On Day 2, we will simply perform a steady state/cardiac output ride where the emphasis is on keeping the heart rate in the 130-140bpm range. This ride is to help increase cardiac output and enhance our ability to recover. We will typically go for 30-60 minutes. Day 3 bike rides are optional and will be prescribed based on how the player feels and what his needs may be.

At this exciting time of year, be sure to adapt your training to get ready for the upcoming season. The goal for preseason is to maintain the strength gains earned over the summer, and work in a way that mimics shift times on the ice. The circuit and interval work we do will ensure players are strong, well-conditioned, and healthy to start the season. Have a great start everyone!