In this article I am going to provide an overview of how to approach strength training as a masters hockey player. In this context, ‘masters’ hockey player refers to players over the age of 35. I will be looking at the underlying problem associated with age related declines in strength and muscle mass, how you can offset this, and what a strength training programme should look like for masters hockey players.
Impact of Age on Muscle Strength and Bone Density
The aging process is a natural one, but does bring with it factors such as sarcopenia which is the age-related decline in strength and muscle mass (Bauer et al., 2019). Some observational studies have demonstrated that after the age of 40-50, around 1% of muscle mass is lost per year (Baumgartner et al., 1998). This brings with it some challenges for the masters hockey player, as muscle mass is key to withstanding the physical demands placed on your body during training and competition.
Benefits of Strength Training
One of the most impactful methods for offsetting age related declines in muscle mass and strength is strength training. Strength training has profound effects on the musculoskeletal system and provides unique adaptations that impact athletic performance and health (Maestroni et al., 2020). Regular strength training (2-3 times per week) has been found to build strength whilst reducing the loss of bone density and muscle mass (Seguin and Nelson, 2003).
This is great news for the masters hockey player, as it demonstrates that through safe and appropriate loading of the body, you can reduce the impacts of sarcopenia and offset injury risk. Not only does this have significant health implications, but it also ensures that you are able to tolerate the demands of hockey.
Hockey Injury Profile
Hockey is a unique sport in the sense that it requires extreme positions, ranges of motion and is repetitive in nature. Not only this, but players are also required to perform a high volume of running and changes of direction, all of which place demands on the body.
Some of the most common injuries experienced by hockey players are the ankle, lower back and hamstring (Murtaugh, 2009; Barboza et al., 2018; Manaf et al., 2021). These are related to the low shapes, unplanned changes of direction and repetitive movements demanded of hockey players during training and competition.
Studies have shown that up to 53% of hockey players report some degree of lower back pain (Reilly and Seaton, 1990). Other research has found equivalent rates of lower back pain when compared with other sports, but even still, over half of respondents reported this problem (Haydt et al., 2012).
Knowing these risk means that we can begin to piece together exercise and interventions that aim to load the relevant tissues and joints. This means that injury can be mitigated, and you can tolerate more training volume. This is ultimately the aim of all strength and conditioning programmes, with availability being the first and foremost concern. This is in line with the ‘hierarchy of need’ model that I believe in - prioritising downside risk mitigation before upside performance enhancement.
Why Injuries Happen
In its most reductionist form, injuries occur when a demand is placed on a tissue which is greater than its capability to tolerate it. As has already been highlighted, age related declines in muscle mass mean that tissues have a lower capacity to tolerate high forces and training volumes, which places them at risk. Through effective strength training, you can increase the capacity of tissues and enable them to tolerate the stresses of hockey training and competition.
Putting It All Together
When taken together, this paints a clear picture of the needs of masters hockey players. Not only is strength training vital for the promotion of improved health markers, but it can also ensure that you perform at your best whilst reducing the risk of injury.
Guidelines for strength training for masters hockey players are as follows:
- Frequency: 2 to 3 times per week as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM, 1998)
- Volume: 8 to 15 repetitions per set
- Intensity: 70-80% 1RM
An example training session putting this into context may look like the following. Please note that this is very general and is not specific training advice. You should seek out medical clearance before completing any exercise programme.
- Movement prep - mobility around the hip and thoracic spine for 5-10 minutes
- Split squats - 3 x 8 repetitions @ 75% 1RM
- Romanian deadlifts - 3 x 12 repetitions @ 70% 1RM
- Single leg calf raises - 3 x 15 repetitions @ bodyweight + 5-10%
- Lateral lunges - 3 x 12 repetitions @ 70% 1RM
- Trunk circuit - 10-15 minutes using a variety of exercises
Strength training in isolation is helpful, but we need other factors in unison to truly reduce injury risk and promote health. Some of these include:
- Mobility and flexibility - prioritise regular stretching, whether that is yoga, pilates, flexibility classes or just good stretching routines.
- Sleep - ensure high quality sleep to promote recovery and general health. 7-8 hours is a good target, although you may find that you need less sleep as you get older.
- Nutrition - consult with a sports nutritionist or dietitian to ensure that you are fuelling yourself appropriately to get the most out of your body whilst helping to offset sarcopenia.
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