An Alternative to Running, Because I Hate Running.
Look, I’m not a land athlete. I’m a hockey player. Athletically, I’m in my element on the frictionless ice, not the unforgiving courts, tracks, and roads.
While I can run, and I do for offseason conditioning, I hate it.
Running is the absolute worst and I never prescribe someone to run more than a 300-yard shuttle, partly, I realize, due to my bias in how much I just hate running (most of my clients are also hockey players who also hate running, so it usually works out).
Obviously, if you aren’t in shape, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are. What’s unique about team sports, to an extent, is it requires ALL of the energy systems engines, from aerobic to lactic anaerobic to alactic anaerobic. This is a fancy way to say you need to be conditioned for short bursts (<7 seconds), and longer sprints (7-~45), and have the ability to repeat those sprints over the course of a long game.
During the season, players almost exclusively condition on the ice during practice, but in the summer, that reverses.
Skating fucks up our posture. So, getting off the ice gives our bodies time to reset. How much time this should be is debatable at the higher levels. For a professional hockey player, for example, to maintain their skill they need to be on the ice a significant portion of the year. But, an adolescent should take the summer off and play a different sport. Regardless, on-ice conditioning in the summer is also..
So, land conditioning options become the only choice. I’m a big fan of stationary bikes, especially air bikes. They suck and I hate them but I also love them. You know what I mean.
And I do shuttle runs too (I’m sticking to 160 yards and under for now though). But, I hate them.
Recently, I’ve also been mixing in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite ways to do conditioning: repeating a dynamic warm-up over and over. Here are a few reasons, aside from not hating it, why I think this is an underused method for conditioning and cardio.
Shuffling, or bounding, or skipping ten yards is a short, alactic sprint. Those alactic sprints are varied and repeated over the course of about two minutes, going through a set of dynamic exercises. Then, after a few minutes rest, it’s repeated again. So, there’s also a big aerobic component. So, dynamic conditioning is a repeat sprint activity, which is exactly what most sports require, and is a high predictor of on-ice success (1).
Movements like bounds and shuffles break down movements important for sports performance. Bounds, for example, are an advanced plyometric. Performing these on a regular basis inevitably improves your plyometric abilities, and therefore your power and speed (2).
All right, shuffles make me feel like my groins are going to rip. And that’s exactly why I need to do them—because they’ll improve my mobility through a range to optimize my skating stride. Moving through these different movements takes us out of the postures like skating (tight hip flexors, weak hip extensors, poor dorsiflexion, among much more) that can impede stride length and therefore speed, and also lead to injury. A well-designed dynamic warm-up will also include exercises specifically designed to activate and stretch certain muscle groups. For example, I love marches (sometimes with a band also) because they activate deep hip flexor muscles, like the psoas, that are vital to proper hip function. In this case study, a weak and tight psoas led to hip pain in a hockey player (3).
I can also endlessly change it up. I can add in more lateral drills, take out ones I’m sick of and keep it different every day. It allows me to work on certain movements I feel weak in, experiment, and keep it bearable while getting my conditioning work in.
Here’s the video of my showing off my elite athleticism (just kidding I’m super mediocre).
Linear Dynamic Conditioning
Lateral Dynamic Conditioning
If you’re athletically inept, this will be hard. Quitting just because you’re bad at it is a good way to stay bad at it forever and get laughed at by your friends when they ask you do to a carioca (hey man, you never know). It will improve your athleticism and help keep you healthy. So just embrace the suck.
Depending on the sport, we’ll do conditioning up to certain heart rates and then recover back down to certain heart rates. That’s important if you’re trying to dial in your on-ice performance, but not so much if you’re just trying to not get fat.
So, use the dynamic conditioning to mimic your current cardio approach, or throw it in the mix however you see fit.
You can manipulate these variables:
Depending on your goals and progression, you can manipulate these variables.
So here’s your protocol. Replace one of your cardio days with this:
Week 1: Basic Dynamic Conditioning at a length of 10 yards. Rest 60 seconds and repeat 2 more rounds.
Week 2: Do four rounds instead of three
Week 3: Do five rounds
Week 4: Now, go back down to three, but lower your rest to 45 seconds or lengthen the distance to 15 yards.
You can manipulate the number of rounds, how many exercises, how far you go for each exercise, and how far to rest. And there’s no one right way to do this. Do what works for you and adjust based on your goals.
If you’re looking for more of a HIIT effect, go for a shorter distance and go fast. If you want a more steady pace, lengthen it out and go at a more leisurely pace. Just like biking or running, you can manipulate all of these variables.
That’s it. Just have fun with it, embrace it as a change of pace from the mundanity of walking on a treadmill or the hell of doing HIIT on an air bike.