The goal of training is to increase your fitness level enough to respond to an effort on the ice with the lowest possible energy expenditure. The more fit you are, the less demanding the effort will be and the longer you will be able to skate under high intensity effort.
To reach a higher fitness level, many athletes have a tendency to almost always train at high intensity levels. This kind of thinking has both a positive and negative side. The positive side is high intensity interval training helps improve your VO2max (maximal aerobic capacity) and your anaerobic reserves. On the negative side, you create a mismatch between the mechanical demand of skating and the ability of the cardiopulmonary system to adapt. In other words, if you skate at your maximum speed, your lungs, heart and leg muscle cells won’t be able to adapt fast enough to bring enough oxygen to your legs and the muscle cells won’t be able to use the oxygen fast enough to adapt to the demand. You’re skating so fast (mechanical demand) that your legs can’t physiologically respond to the effort. You empty your anaerobic reserves quickly, build up blood lactate, lose muscle control and your body tires within a few seconds.
Training this way on a regular basis will inevitably impose stress on your body. When this stress occurs too frequently you will find that your fitness level will actually begin to decrease. At this point, training becomes a waste of time.
Every hockey player should be aware of this relationship between mechanical demand and physiological adaptation. Evaluating a player’s fitness level should focus on identifying the physiological zones that determine his actual fitness level.
The moderate zone is related to your aerobic capacity, a training zone easy enough for you that your muscle cells use lipids to produce energy. At this level, you can skate for a long time before feeling fatigue. The intense zone is between your anaerobic threshold and your critical power. At this level, you produce blood lactate, but your body can reuse it to produce energy and there is no lactate build-up. Fatigue increases more quickly, but you can sustain that level of effort for a reasonable period of time. The severe zone is above your critical power. When you reach the severe zone, your body accumulates blood lactate, which leads to exhaustion (in a few seconds or minutes). The extreme zone is when you produce an effort that is above your VO2max. Since at this level you drain your anaerobic reserves quickly, you can only skate for a few seconds. It is in the severe and extreme zones that you will find this mismatch between mechanical demand and physiological adaptation.
How many of you almost always train in the severe or extreme zones? Too many of you, I’m sure.
The goal of training is to help you improve your aerobic capacity and your anaerobic energy reserves. This way, you can sustain more intense effort for longer periods of time. But remember, exhaustion is inevitable.
My philosophy of training is: “Train less, train strategically and get much better results.” You can never know too much about your own body.
And please, don’t waste any more time on bad training.
Dr. Denis Boucher holds a Ph.D. degree in experimental medicine. He manages an exercise physiology laboratory in Quebec and a human performance consulting company in the United States. He has conducted the pre-season on-ice fitness evaluation program for the Philadelphia Flyers. His clinical expertise is in the fields of exercise physiology, nutrition and sport performance. He currently hosts and produces a weekly radio show on XM172 entitled ‘The Little Scientific World of Doc Boucher’ (in French). He will blog for THN.com throughout the season.