Professional hockey players who will be returning to the ice as part of the NHL's shortened season won't have to worry about getting in shape for the puck drop, but there will probably be a rise in injuries, experts say.
Although they have not been participating in any National Hockey League games, players have been keeping in shape for when the call comes. Many have been playing overseas or in the minor leagues, and others have been maintaining rigorous workout schedules. The uncertainty of the league's labour negotiations, when a call could have come any day green-lighting the season, meant that players had to maintain their physical conditioning.
"They've had to always be ready," says Steve Roest, president and owner of the Fitness Institute, home of the Gary Roberts High Performance Training Centre, created by the former NHL player and Stanley Cup winner.
The centre has worked with several professional players during the strike, including Carolina Hurricanes centre Jeff Skinner and Colorado Avalanche right winger Steve Downie.
"We've been keeping them at a level of fitness where their bodies are maintaining the strength levels that we've gained in the summer and keeping up their cardio and anaerobic capacity," says Chris Korte, a high-performance coach with the centre.
Players have been on the ice up to five times a week and in the gym three to four days each week, Korte says.
Those gym days have focused on strength maintenance. That includes exercises such as box jumps and medicine-ball tosses to develop power, which also prime muscles for strength exercises.
"Leg strength is huge, so we get into something like a front squat or a dead lift," Korte says.
To maintain upper-body strength, the players' training regimens have avoided bench presses, even if they might be the typical gym rat's favourite exercise.
"It's a really good strength exercise, but it can leave a lot to be desired," Korte says. "If we do something like a single-arm dumbbell press or a standing land-mine press, it's something where a lot more of their body is activated but they're still developing a lot of that upper-body strength that they still need to maintain."
Exercises to help hip stability and core strength are also key, Korte says.
Not having to deal with the physical punishment of the regular season has helped players in the gym. "Because they guys aren't wearing themselves down … they're actually probably able to train at a higher level," Korte says.
But with a shortened season that will pack in more games per week than usual, it's likely that we will see a rise in injuries. Depending on when the new collective agreement can be ratified, the NHL will probably play either a 48-game season in 103 days or a 50-game season in 107, both of which will result in an uptick in the average number of games played per week.
As Roest points out, the National Basketball Association saw a rise in injuries when it resolved its recent labour dispute with a season that packed in more games per week. In fact, injuries reportedly rose by 14 per cent.
Exactly how much injuries will rise in the NHL remains an open question, but there will definitely be an increase, Roest says. "There's no doubt there will be more injury," he says.
Ordinary Joes and Janes in shinny leagues can better their chances of avoiding injury with a key strategy that probably will not be available to the hurried pros: get rest.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed information to Chris Korte. This version has been corrected.