Muscle Fiber Key To Effective HockeySkills

Q:
I have been reading up on the subject of "fast-twitch muscle fibers," and it seems that to be an effective hockey player these muscles are a key ingredient. When I played (25 years ago), weight lifting, running, etc., were the main types of off-ice training activities. Looking back I see that this was not the best form of training. In fact, I can tell you that the guys that didn’t lift had more quickness.  Could you give some information regarding this subject matter

A:
You are right on the money when you say that it seems muscle fibers are the key ingredient to being an effective hockey player. The fact is, all muscles have some slow-twitch fibers and fast-twitch fibers. Depending on the muscle and the person, you may find the ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch to be different. The question is, can you add more fast-twitch muscle fibers to your muscles, or are the ratios of each fiber genetically predetermined? And what is a good ratio?

Most research today tells us that genetics do play a huge part in the ratio. However, more and more evidence is showing that you can change the ratio to a certain degree. Before dealing with what you can do to help increase the number of fast-twitch muscle fibers, why would you want more?

From a genetic standpoint, the prototypical fast-twitch muscle fiber athlete is an Olympic short-distance sprinter. This person will carry 75-90 percent fast-twitch muscle fibers in each muscle.

Fast-twitch muscle fibers don’t have a lot of long-term energy; they will run out of energy 10-15 second into a sprint. This type of muscle fiber is used for explosive power. This is beneficial in hockey when you have to race to a puck that is 4-5 steps away.

It is important to understand that these muscle fibers last only 10-15 seconds and can take, depending on the athlete, about 4-5 times as long to recover. Once these fibers have used their energy your slow-twitch muscle fibers take over, which means your sprints won’t be as explosive.

Watch any hockey game and you will see that near the end of a shift even the fastest skaters have a hard time keeping up with a slower player who has just stepped onto the ice.

The prototypical slow-twitch athlete is a marathon runner. This athlete is not explosively fast but can run and run and run. Slow-twitch muscle fibers draw more from your aerobic energy system, so they will last much longer than fast-twitch fibers.

I am often asked which type of muscle fiber must hockey players have to reach their full potential in the sport. Other experts and I believe the best combination is 60-70 percent fast-twitch and 30-40 percent slow-twitch.

Most people would consider hockey to be an explosive sport. But remember that shifts usually last from 40 seconds to 70-80 seconds and fast-twitch muscle fibers usually last only 10-15 seconds. So although hockey is an explosive sport, there is an aerobic component. Therefore, an athlete with almost 100 percent fast-twitch muscle fibers or all slow-twitch muscle fibers will not do as well as an athlete with a good combination of the two.
With all this said, if the ratio of fast-twitch fibers to slow-twitch is genetically predetermined, then why am I working out to and building more fast-twitch fibers to become a better hockey player?

The answer: Because research has demonstrated that players can become faster with the proper training, even though you said that 25 years ago running and lifting weights didn’t seem to make a hockey player faster.

The fact is, today some of the best off-ice training programs for hockey players still consist of weight training and running but the philosophy behind their use is different.

Today’s hockey player needs to understand when to run a mile and when to run sprints. He or she needs to understand when to weight train with high reps and build muscle and when to train with low reps for power.

The days of bodybuilding workouts are over. For hockey players to build their chest, biceps and triceps in many cases may do more harm than good. Yet today, I see junior coaches telling their players do more bench presses and bicep curls.

When you say that the guys in the weight room years ago were slower than those who did not train with weights, it tells me they were training improperly. If you train correctly off the ice you can make huge gains and see very good results when it comes to speed and power on the ice.

Dr. Steele is president and founder of Better Hockey (www.betterhockey.com) and TOP DOG Athlete (www.topdogathlee.com). He has trained hundreds of players world-wide, youth players to the NHL and other professional teams. His Web site contains the most comprehensive database of articles, video clips, audio interviews, drills, practice plans, training program and exercises with pictures and text to help any hockey player and or coach reach their full potential on the Internet today. In addition, he has written a training manual, "Off-Ice Training for On Ice Speed," to help athletes increase their speed. It is available on his site or at this link https://sobkowsecure.com/bhockey/ItemDetails.aspx?item_id=388

 







 
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