Welcome to Part 2 of our Off-Season Training guide:  Aerobic v. Anaerobic training, which should I focus on?

Your body has different energy systems that work together to fuel your hockey performance. Although hockey is primarily an anaerobic sport, a strong aerobic base allows you to work longer and at a higher intensity by postponing fatigue and allowing a speedy recovery. The aerobic system provides energy for low- and moderate- intensity exercise and helps the body recover from fatigue. For example, a 1-hr bike ride at a comfortable pace is fueled mainly by the aerobic system. Hockey is characterized by repeated bouts of high- intensity action interspersed with periods of moderate activity and rest. The aerobic energy system supplies only a small portion of the energy needed during  moderate activity, but it is critical for efficient recovery between play stoppages and during time on the bench.  Aerobic conditioning can be improved through submaximal continuous exercise and through high- intensity, intermittent exercise. Submaximal continuous exercise at 75-80 % of your maximum heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes will improve your heart’s ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles for energy and will allow the body to recover more quickly from intense efforts. Intermittent aerobic condioning, using a series of 2-3 minutes if higher intensity exercise interspersed with 2 to 3 minutes of rest builds up the aerobic supply system and increases the muscles ability to extract oxygen from the blood.

There are two different types of programs to build aerobic fitness:

  1. Continuous, moderate intensity, long duration programs
  2. Intervals of high intensity work followed by easy recovery intervals of 1,2, or 3 minutes grouped into various packages of time

For interval programs, the training load can be increased in a number of ways:

  • Increasing the duration of work intervals from 1 to 2 to 3 minutes
  • Increasing the intensity of each work interval
  • Decreasing the time of the recovery interval
  • Increasing the intensity of the work interval
  • Increasing the number of work/recovery intervals

On the other side of things, the anaerobic systems produce energy very quickly to meet the demands of intense action, such as the slap-shot, sprinting on a breakaway, or stops-and- starts while penalty killing. These systems utilize the ATP-PC (phoshagen) system and the glycolytic system for energy. In hockey, although the game itself lasts for about an hour, the players are usually only on the ice for high- intensity shifts of approximately 30 to 45 seconds (ideally). Most teams have 3 to 4 lines, allowing for a 1:2 or 1:3 work-to-rest ratio. However, depending on the situation (e.g., penalty killing, power plays or missing player), key players often work within a 1:2 or 1:1 work-to-rest ratio. Due to the nature of hockey, it is important to train anaerobically.

The ATP-PC system provides immediate energy, in the form of ATP, for short-term, high- intensity activities for up to 10 seconds. The glycolytic system provides energy for longer high- intensity activities ranging from 10 seconds to 2 minutes. This level of training corresponds directly to the physiological requirements of the game. To develop anaerobic energy systems, we will utilize sprint interval training. These involve full-out, high- intensity, high-speed intervals followed by rest or active recovery. We will use sprints ranging from less than 10 seconds to around 30 seconds, with a 1:2 or 1:3 work-to-rest ratio. [For example, a 1:2 work-to-rest ration involves sprinting all-out for 30 seconds, active recovery for 1 minute, then sprinting full out again.] Towards the end of the training program, you should make an attempt to progress to 1:1 work-to-rest ratios, especially if you are a defenseman or part of the special team units.