Get Ready for The Season

by Patti Singer

Cramming for hockey season works just about as well as cramming for those tests back in college. Not a whole lot of fun.

Rather than a lousy grade, going into that first game unprepared will leave you shuffling into work the next morning with a sore back and tight legs. Every time you have to get up from your chair, colleagues will shoot you a look that says, “Isn’t she a little old to still be playing hockey? What was she possibly thinking?”

If you’ve been able to play regularly this summer, you are way ahead of even the younger players in your league. If you’ve stayed active in the off-season—biking, swimming, kayaking—you’ll have maintained or even developed a level of cardiovascular fitness. If you’ve been a regular at softball or golf, you’ll have some flexibility through your core that will help when it’s time to shoot the puck.

But even if you pretty much took the summer off, chances are you’ve got a couple of weeks before your first game. By focusing on the key elements required to get you up and down the ice, you still have time to ace opening night.

Think back to school:

When you got caught unprepared, you tried to find out what exactly the test would cover. Same with hockey. You know you’re going to have to work on quick starts and stops, and that you’ll be skating for about 30 to 45 seconds (opening night is no time for long shifts).

Mimic those demands in your workouts. On the treadmill or the elliptical trainer, pick up the pace considerably for 30 seconds to a minute. Go back to your regular pace for 2 to 3 minutes, and then pick it up again. If you’re on the machine for 30 minutes, you should try to do these intervals for about 20 minutes. As your conditioning returns, go at your regular pace for 1 to 2 minutes.

You also want to work the inner and outer thighs. Give yourself plenty of space. Get in your hockey stance and step as far to the right as is comfortable. You don’t want to overstride and strain a muscle. Step to the right. Bring your left leg back under you. Step again. Repeat for seven to 10 strides. Then repeat, leading with the left leg. Progress to being able to hold a light (1-, 3- or 5-pound) hand weight as you stride. A variation is to step to the right, then immediately back to the left, as though you were skating. No weights for this exercise. You want to see how long you can keep going. Avoid striding too far. As you get comfortable, you can put a little hop in your stride and get your arms pumping. The point is to build up some endurance while getting your muscles used to the side-to-side motion.

While the stride drill will get your thigh muscles used to the skating motion, the activity is more to condition you to get up and down the ice quickly. You’ll want to work on flexibility to avoid a pull during one of those mad dashes. Sitting on the floor and trying to put the soles of your feet together can work the inner thighs. Lying on your back with your arms out to the side and extending one leg over the other can work the outer thigh and butt muscles. If you can’t extend your leg all the way over, get some pillows or fold up some blankets (like yoga people do) in order to rest your leg.

Remember to do your favorite stretches for your back, neck and shoulders. You can stretch every day, and even do cardio every day. But do intervals only a couple of times a week, and give yourself a couple of days of rest between the stride drills. Unlike exam day when you were spent the moment you put down your pen, you want to feel strong and confident during the game, and show up to work the next morning with a spring in your step.

Patti Singer writes about health and is a certified personal trainer in Rochester, N.Y. She has played on two over-30 teams in the USA Hockey Women’s Nationals and is in her second season as an on-ice official.