For a long time, I had my athletes perform the same standard jump exercises every hockey player has been doing since age 15:
These are not bad exercises, per se. Quite to the contrary. And we still use them today.
However, what opened my eyes to the limited nature of training the conventional way was when I worked with a bunch of pro players who had considerable trouble sticking their landings when I threw some simple single-leg movements into the mix.
(Sticking the landing means stabilizing and holding the landing position for a one- or two-second count after jumping, as seen in the video below)
The players' lack of movement skill was further amplified when I had them perform single-leg jumps not only straight ahead, but sideways as well - with exercises like lateral bounds and lateral/medial hops.
Many of these guys had considerable difficulty nailing the landing without falling all over themselves.
Why is this so important?
Two big reasons:
1. If you can't handle your own body weight in a static dryland setting, how can you expect to do so in a dynamic, constantly changing environment on the ice?
2. Agility and change-of-direction speed play a huge role in today's fast-paced game.
Insufficient eccentric strength - as implied by an athlete's inability to land properly on one or both legs on jumps - leads to longer transition times when performing a sharp cut or turn on the ice.
(or any type of fast direction change)
In plain words:
A lack of strength and body control KILLS your speed.
And you don't need to be Einstein to figure out that a slow hockey player gets DESTROYED when competing against FAST hockey players.
Three things I realized about those common bilateral exercises (box, hurdle, vertical, etc. jumps) we had been basing our jump training on:
1. They're one-directional - but sports is multidirectional.
2. They occur vertically and horizontally - but hockey is all about horizontal and lateral force production.
3. Bilateral (two-leg) jumping has limited transference to single-leg jumping.
These realizations led me to further questions:
It has been widely accepted that single-leg strength is crucial for maintaining a deep skating stance, improving balance on skates and getting faster...
Why do we give equal attention to single- and double-leg exercises in the weight room but not when jumping?
When seeking gains in skating speed, how important is the ability to express power vertically versus horizontally?
Does vertical power production even matter?
LATERAL push-off power is very important for an explosive skating stride...
How can we develop this quality if all our jumping takes place either upward or forward?
Hockey is a MULTIDIRECTIONAL sport with fast stops, cuts, tight turns and powerful starts at blinding speeds...
Why does our jump training not reflect these demands of the game?
Around the same time, I also started thinking more about individualizing the training stimulus for each athlete depending on their current skill and training age.
You can take a bunch of beginners, throw some jump drills at them without much consideration for exercise selection or set/rep prescriptions, and they'll get better from it because of their low training age.
ANYTHING will make these guys better at that point. But that doesn't mean it's the right approach to take with them.
What if I'm working with a stud college guy on the brink of breaking into the NHL? How can I make basic jump exercises CHALLENGING ENOUGH for him so he'll keep getting even better?
And what about the player coming back from a lower body injury? How do we introduce jumping back into his workouts safely and effectively, so he can return to play as soon as possible and PREVENT future injury?
It occurred to me favoring bilateral vertical exercises was FAR FROM OPTIMAL if our goal was to create faster, injury-resistant hockey players with excellent movement skills in all directions.
There was a good chance we were leaving performance gains on the table.
All these thoughts and questions circling around in my head eventually led to one BIG conclusion:
"What if the way we had always done jump training was wrong?"
Maybe, just maybe, our current program WASN'T as effective as I thought...
Perhaps it could be made better? But how? That was the question.
To discover the answer, I dove into published scientific research on speed and power development like a fat kid into a Big Mac meal.
So I want to share what I found with you now. The rest of this article is about how you can avoid common speed and power training mistakes and thrive as a result.
What I learned over the past few years has completely shifted how I approach jump training for athletic performance today.
It changed everything. And maybe it can help you, too.
#1. BILATERAL VERTICAL jumping is at the center of every jump training program designed to improve sports performance.
Yet hockey is a unilateral horizontal sport.
There's a clear disconnect between the two.
#2. Copying exercises and methods used in many conventional jump programs could keep you from maximizing your on-ice speed.
#3. Continuing to do something because "that's the way we have always done it" leads to mediocre training and performance.