Gladiator Training: Part 2!

Ryan Foster continues his foray into the theory and practice of hockey training. Part 2 focuses on the second phase of his excellent periodized hockey program, the strength phase.

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Strong to the Maximus? That's right I am referring to the Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, who was played by Russell Crowe in the blockbuster movie Gladiator. After viewing the movie, as I am sure many of you have, and witnessing some of its amazing battle scenes, there is no doubt in my mind that Crowe used some form of strength training in order to prepare for the roll.

After all, twirling around a 40-pound sword and battling experienced behemoth-like men on the battlefield and in the Coliseum is not likely the easiest of things to do. Similarly in the world of hockey battling behemoth like defensemen on the 200' X 85' sheet of ice is not the easiest of tasks either. And that is where training for maximal strength comes to the forefront.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves lets take a quick moment to look back at the overall picture. In part one we described how to periodize training for an 18-week off-season. In essence the off season would consist of 4 weeks of hypertrophy training, 6 weeks of maximal strength training, and 4 weeks of training for power with a week of rest on weeks 1, 6, 13, 18.

In addition we also discussed the first 5 weeks of the program that consisted of hypertrophy training. So now that we have added a few pounds of lean muscle mass, lets look at how we can become the Magnus Ver Magnusson of the ice.

Why Train For Maximum Strength?

Ah ha, we have all heard this one before. I sometimes wonder how many dads out there mutter something to their teenage sons that goes a little something like this: "if you want to become a better hockey player, play hockey, don't lift weights, you can't bench press your way to more goals." Well, although there is some truth to this often heard advice it is far from entirely accurate.

There are in fact many benefits to becoming stronger. For instance, if two players of the same height, weight and ability are battling in the corner for a loose puck, but one player is stronger than the other, theory reasons that the stronger player will win positioning and the puck. This is particularly true for defenseman and wingers seeing as they are most often the ones doing the battling in the corners and along the boards.

Secondly, as a player's maximum strength increases so does their potential to increase power. With an increase in power one can see an increase in skating speed, shot speed, and the speed of opponents wanting to get out of your way. Paul Coffey is a great example of how training for maximal strength can eventually lead to improved power and an improvement in your game.

As I am sure many of you know Paul Coffey is one of the best, if not the best skater the game has ever known. How serious did he take his workouts? Well, one elite power skating instructor who worked with him on a video indicated that a few times during shooting Paul interrupted things so he could get in a workout.

Another great example comes not from the ice, but rather the track. Ben Johnson was not only the fastest human on the planet for some time but no doubt one of the strongest sprinters also. His strength levels were superb; his demonstration of bench pressing 352lbs for 10 repetitions attests.1 Now that's strong.

Ben's ability to fire his fast-twitch muscle fibers quickly, which can be improved through maximum strength training was no doubt one reason he had the best start in sprinting. Since hockey players also need to activate their fast-twitch muscle fibers quickly, you can see how training for maximum strength can benefit.

The Science

Although we could spend pages and pages talking about the science behind becoming stronger, here I will outline only a few of the main factors that you may wish to store on the top shelf where mom keeps your recovery drink. The following are occurrences seen during maximum strength training:

  1. Increased recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers.2
  2. Increased synchronization of motor units.3
  3. Increased co-ordination of muscle groups.4

During the hypertrophy phase where loads were no greater than 75-80% of 1 rep maximum and the lifting tempo was rather slow (1-1-3) it is unlikely that we were able to tap into a large population of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Our muscles are rather smart and usually use slow-twitch fibers to lift lighter weights, saving the fast-twitch fibers for heavier weights and more intense situations.

So as one increases the load up to 85% of 1 rep maximum and beyond a greater percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers are required to lift the weight. With maximum strength training one becomes better at recruiting these fast-twitch muscle fibers that enable the lifting of heavy loads.5

Similar to the increase of fast-twitch muscle fibers seen during maximum strength training, we also see an increase in the synchronization of activating such motor units.6 Why would we want to do that? Well, let's look to Stan and Dan for the answer. Let's say Stan and Dan have a rope attached to a trailer full of Rockberry pies they want to pull into an icebox.

At first try Stan pulls with all his might and Dan follows suit just two seconds later, however the trailer fails to budge. After taking a break, scratching their heads and devouring one of the 600 Rockberry pies from the trailer, Stan and Dan decide to try once more, but this time in synchronization. To the amazement of the glutinous competitors gearing up for tomorrow's pie-eating contest Stan and Dan are able to get the trailer moving and in to the icebox.

So, as you can see, when two people work simultaneously more force can be produced (and NO the trailer was not that much lighter because of the one missing pie, and NO the pie was not laced with a mixture of stimulants such as pterodactyl venom and condor feathers). The same goes for your muscles; simply learning to better synchronize the activation of your motor units can produce more force.

In fact, one's maximum strength increases during the first few weeks of maximum strength training due to better synchronization of motor units, not increase in cross sectional area.

Just as our motor units learn to become more synergistic, the coordination of our other muscle groups also increases. As the central nervous system adapts to heavier loads it increases its ability to inhibit the activation of antagonistic muscles.7

For example, as the load increases during a workout of barbell curls, the central nervous system becomes better at inhibiting the triceps and activating the biceps. This is crucial when attempting to lift heavy loads. The last thing you want is your triceps stopping you from performing a set of barbell curls.

On To The Program

Now that we understand a little bit about what happens physiologically when the body is trained through maximum strength training, let's get to the nuts and bolts of the routine. What follows is an outline of each day's workouts and the sequence that the workouts should be performed.

Day 1: Monday

  • Squat (to Box): 9 x 6 (5 warm up-sets, 4 working sets)
  • Bench Press: 7-8 x 6 (3-4 warm-sets, 3 working sets)
  • Leg Press: 7-8 x 6 (3-4 warm-sets, 3 working sets)
  • Push Press: 6 x 6 (3 warm-up sets, 3 working sets)

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 3: Wednesday

  • Cheated Barbell Rows: 8 x 6 (4 warm up-sets, 4 working sets)
  • Lying Triceps Extensions: 6 x 6 (3 warm-up sets, 3 working sets)
  • Wide-Grip Weighted Chins: 5-6 x 6 (2-3 warm-up sets, 3 working sets)
  • Barbell Curls:: 5 x 6 (2 warm-up sets, 3 working sets)

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 5: Friday

  • Deadlifts:: 9 x 6 (5 warm-up sets, 4 working sets)
  • Incline Dumbbell Press: 6 x 6 (3 warm-up sets, 3 working sets)
  • Barbell Shrugs:: 5 x 6 (2 warm-up sets, 3 working sets)
  • Standing Calf Raises: 6 x 6 (2 warm-up sets, 4 working sets)

Click here for printable workout log!

Some Explanation?

"Nine sets of six repetitions for squats, Fozz, are you getting a little fuzzy". Although my roommate may disagree, the Fozzmeister does indeed still have all his marbles. What I am talking about here is warming up the central nervous system. Think of it kind of like your dad's 1978 Ford F150 on an early January morning in Calgary, Alberta.

If he tried to just start it up and drive away, the poor Ford would never have made it to the coffee shop. However by pumping the gas a few times, saying a prayer to the truck gods, slowly turning over the engine and then letting her warm up for a good ten minutes she was sure to make it to the coffee shop.

Your body should be treated much the same way. For example, say I was going to do a set of squats for 6 repetitions using 300 pounds. I would probably do a warm-up that looked something like this:

  • Set 1: 4 x 135lbs
  • Set 2:: 3 x 225lbs
  • Set 3: 2 x 275lbs
  • Set 4: 2 x 285lbs
  • Set 5: 2 x 295lbs

As you can see, I have done enough repetitions to warm up the central nervous system without bringing about local muscle fatigue. After the fifth warm up set I would be ready to start my working sets of 6 repetitions with 300 pounds. I suggest using this type of warm up for all of the exercises in the program.

Some Details

Rest interval between sets: 2 min between warm up sets, 3-5 between working sets.

Lifting speed: X-1-2 (X - raise the weight as fast as possible, 1—hold for one second at the top of the contraction, 2—lower the weight in two seconds with no pause at the bottom of the repetition).

Two minutes between warm up sets is plenty of time to recuperate seeing as the warm up sets are not taxing the central nervous system enough to need a full 3-5 minutes for recovery and the repetitions are low enough that fatigue due to ATP/PC depletion never becomes a problem. However, when attempting to do 6 repetitions with as much weight as possible the body does need a full 3-5 minutes to recover.

If one does not take the full 3-5 minutes the ATP/PC stores and central nervous system may not be fully recovered and the next set may not be beneficial. As for lifting speed the whole idea of training for maximum strength is to lift heavy loads, which can only be accomplished through trying to lift them as fast as possible. Although it may take 3 seconds to lift a 1 repetition maximum squat, it is the attempt to lift the weight as fast as possible that is important.

Trying to lift the weight as fast as possible ensures that a good proportion of fast twitch muscle fibers will attempt to fire in synchronization.

Periodizing The Program

The maximum strength program outlined above is to be used for six consecutive weeks. The repetitions to be used for working sets are as follows:

  • Week 1: 6 repetitions
  • Week 2: 4 repetitions
  • Week 3: 2 repetitions
  • Week 4: 5 repetitions
  • Week 5: 3 repetitions
  • Week 6: 1-2 repetitions

Of course, after the first three weeks you will have to rethink your poundages. You will no doubt be stronger. For example, if you were able to squat 305 pounds for 6 repetitions before starting the program you may be able to squat 310-315 pounds for 6 repetitions after 3 weeks.

Without readjusting your weights you would end up doing sets of 1-2 in week 6 with a weight you could probably use for 3-4 repetitions. This would contradict the whole idea of maximum strength training, which is to become as strong as possible.

That's Not All Folks

So, you think that because you now know how to get strong you don't need anything else? Nice try! As important as strength training is to a hockey player one must not forget that there is a critical anaerobic and aerobic part to hockey. This is both good news and bad news. First the good news. By training the anaerobic and aerobic systems in the off season you will no doubt be farther ahead of your teammates and opponents by the time training camp comes around. (not to mention in better shape from a medical/health point of view)

It will help you on the ice, during fitness testing and afterward during recovery. Now the bad news. Some of this kind of training hurts like bleep - bla - bleep - bla - bleeeeep! That's right guys; although it is beneficial it can get a little antsy.

The following is a stationary bike program designed to train the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems:

Day 2: Anaerobic Threshold Training

  • Warm up: 5 min.
  • Cool Down: 5 min.8
  • Ratio 1:1
  • Work Interval: 60 sec.
  • Rest Interval: 60 sec.
  • Total Time: 16-24 min.

Day 4: Lactic Acid Tolerance Training

  • Warm up: 5 min.
  • Cool Down: 5 min
  • Ratio 1:2
  • Work Interval: 30 sec.
  • Rest Interval: 60 sec.
  • Total Time: 9-12 min.

Day 6: Aerobic Threshold Training

  • Warm up: 5 min.
  • Cool Down: 5 min.
  • Ratio 1:1
  • Work Interval: 2 min.
  • Rest Interval: 2 min.
  • Total Time: 30 min.

The Details

Anaerobic Threshold Training

Part of the problem with our bodies while playing hockey is that we get very tired very quickly. For instance it is tough to head onto the ice and go full boar for 45 seconds without getting a terrible aching feeling in the legs. This happens because lactic acid builds up in your legs quicker than it can be removed. When this happens, hydrogen ions dissociate from the lactic acid causing us to stop exercising (or vomit).

Basically, what we hockey players need to do is train anaerobically to raise our anaerobic threshold to a higher level so we can exercise at the same high intensity longer by being able to tolerate higher levels of lactate. Confusing? It is a bit, but all you really need to understand is that by training to increase your anaerobic threshold you will feel better at the 35-second mark of a shift compared to an opponent who has a lower anaerobic threshold.9

The idea behind anaerobic threshold interval training is to increase the lactate level in the blood above the level it can disappear. How do we do that? First, warm up for roughly 5 minutes. Second, increase the tension so that at the 60 second. Make sure you feel a good burn in your legs (some good lactic acid build up) then decrease the tension for the next 60 seconds.

Keep alternating the tension from high to low every 60 seconds. Continue to do so for some 16-24 minutes. How do you know if you are working hard enough? Your heart rate should be some where between 150-170 bpm and your lactic acid concentration in the blood should be roughly 4-6 mmol.10

Lactic Acid Tolerance Training

As discussed above, the hydrogen ion dissociates from the lactate. That eventually leads to fatigue during high intensity anaerobic work. And that little thing called pain. Therefore lactic acid training is used to build up a tolerance to lactate both physiologically and psychologically. We do this by warming up with 5 min of easy pedaling and then increasing the tension high enough that by the end of 30 seconds of pedaling you have an extremely high build up of lactate in the legs.

The tension is then decreased dramatically and easy pedaling takes place for 60 seconds. The sequence is repeated 3-4 times. After 3-4 repetitions 15-25 minutes is then needed to pedal easily and stretch out the legs. The reason for this rest time is to recover enough so that one will be able to work hard enough to accumulate extremely high levels of lactate once again.

If one were to complete 8 repetitions without any rest, repetitions 5 through 8 would not be of high enough intensity to accumulate the necessary levels lactate needed for improvement. This type of training is extremely difficult and should only be completed once per week. Although this type of training can be ridiculously painful it can also be rewarding.11

Aerobic Threshold Training

Although many think of hockey as being fairly anaerobic with its 40-second shifts, that is no reason to neglect the aerobic energy system. Actually, by training the aerobic system one will be able to recover much better between whistles and while resting on the bench (not to mention when the coach skates the crap out of you after an 8-1 loss).

After 5 min of easy pedaling increase the tension high enough so that your heart rate is roughly 140-160 bpm (lactate concentrations in the blood should be 2-3 mmol). After 2 minutes decrease the tension and pedal easily for another 2 minutes. Repeat the sequence for 30 minutes.10

As far as periodizing anaerobic/aerobic training I suggest using the same type of step loading pattern used for the maximum strength cycle. Increase the intensity from weeks 1-3, than retreat slightly and increase the intensity again from weeks 4-6. The pattern should look something like this:

  • Week 1: Lowest intensity
  • Week 2: Lower Intensity
  • Week 3: Medium Intensity
  • Week 4: Lower intensity (same as week 2)
  • Week 5: Medium intensity (same as week 3)
  • Week 6: Highest intensity

Now some strength coaches may say that training aerobically during maximum strength training will only hinder strength gains. This may be true, however we must remember that we are training as hockey players to become stronger hockey players, not strong men to become stronger strong men. It is far better to be in good anaerobic/aerobic shape and strong, than just strong.


To recap, we have discussed a 6-week maximum strength training program and a 6-week anaerobic/aerobic training program. Both the maximum strength training program and the anaerobic/aerobic training program consist of training three days (Mon, Wed, Fri) and (Tues, Thur, Sat) respectively. In both programs the step loading pattern should be used for weeks 1-3 and 4-6.

Now for a few words of wisdom. What ever you do, always use a spotter when training for maximum strength. One can never tell when an unfortunate incident could occur. Second, when training for maximum strength, I (in most circumstances) pick a weight you feel confident with in terms of getting the desired number of repetitions.

This will help keep confidence high, which will only aide in future lifts. Thirdly, get plenty of sleep and follow sound nutritional advice, such as you find on John's website. Well, that's it from the coach's office, and remember, you miss 99.9% of the shots you don't take.


  • Charlie Francis, Speed Trap (Toronto, Ontario: Lester & Orpen Dennys Publishing, 1990), 205
  • Tudor O. Bompa, Periodization: Training for Sports. (Toronto, Ontario: Human Kinetics Publishing, 1999), 139-142.
  • (Bompa 1999, 139-142)
  • (Bompa 1999, 139-142)
  • (Bompa 1999, 139-142)
  • (Bompa 1999, 139-142)
  • (Bompa 1999, 139-140)
  • Tudor Bompa, Theory and Methodology of Training (Toronto, Ontario: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1983), 302.
  • (Bompa 1983, 303-304)
  • (Bompa 1983, 303-304)
  • (Bompa 1983, 301-302)
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