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Get Back into Game Shape: 6 Tips from the NTDP’s Brian Galivan

By Steve Mann, 09/29/21, 2:30PM MDT

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Getting back into “hockey shape” can be easier said than done

Let’s face it: as hockey players age, even if you’re relatively fit, it takes a little more effort to get the batteries recharged and shake off the rust after a lengthy time away from the rink.

Whether you’ve been out of action for a few months over the summer, or even longer, getting back into “hockey shape” can be easier said than done. Practicing basic hockey skills is just one part of the equation. For adult skaters, doing some preseason training to ramp up physically before jumping into game mode is extremely important. It could be the difference between a fun, successful return to the ice, or spending time on the bench out of breath, or worse, injured.

Brian Galivan has worked with players of all ages and is currently director of performance and sport science for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Michigan.

“You need to get back in shape before playing hockey,” he said. “If you sit at a desk every day then go play hockey once a week, you’ll probably get hurt if you don’t do anything else. You don’t want to go to work the next day with a limp.”

Galivan urges players to check out USA Hockey’s Training at Home resource, and he offers the following tips for adult players getting back into game shape:

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  • “If you’re older and you’ve been on the couch for months and going to get up and play hockey, the biggest things to worry about are your groin, lower back and hips. Usually, players who don’t skate or train for a while will have a sore lower back the first couple of weeks. The priority for older players should be mobility and getting your cardio up.”
  • “Training should be a 3-to-1, lower to upper body ratio. Consider knee-dominant and hip-dominant movements. Do split squats, curtsy squats, anything unilateral (single-leg or single-arm movements) so you don’t build imbalances. Try a regular quad or half-kneeling quad stretch when grabbing your ankle or foot. Do hip flexor stretches. For deadlifting, we use hex bars a lot.”
  • “Shoulder health is really important. Make sure to find time to work on this. External rotation exercises, working small muscles around the shoulder to keep them healthy. We’re seeing a lot of shoulder injuries because of impacts. Not big hits in adult leagues but bumping constantly. So, you need to build up your strength.”
  • “Nutrition is a huge component to fitness level. It’s about nutrient timing (consuming the proper ratio of nutrients pre- and post-exercise). Putting unhealthy things into your body can cause muscle inflammation. Eat clean, eat often and hydrate.”
  • “Everyone is different, but generally getting around eight hours of good, quality sleep is really important. You need rest. A good way to get good sleep is to get away from cellphones and the blue light at night. It’s challenging for people to do that, but we encourage it. It’s a game changer.”
  • “Once the season starts up again, base your training on how often you’re playing. I’m an advocate for fitness. So, you should try to do something every day if you can, even if it’s 10, 20, 30 minutes. A lot of people say they don’t have the time, but I think a lot of that is excuses. Go to the gym, find the time to lift weights at home, follow a yoga video online or invest in a trainer.”

Galivan recommends sticking to a sensible workout progression and going slow, especially when you’re just returning to more intense physical activity. 

“Hockey is a challenging sport to train for because you need to be anaerobically and aerobically in shape,” Galivan said. “And you get out what you put in. One proven thing that works is to move. Move, walk, run. Just remember, you’re trying to play to have fun, so train to be healthy.”

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