At what age can you start off-ice conditioning?

One of the most common questions that I receive from parents on my website is "How old does my child have to be to start a conditioning program?" The answer will depend upon who you want to ask. There is nothing that is written in stone that decides what age is right for off-ice conditioning. It depends upon several factors. I will attempt to make this decision easier for you for this up-coming off-season.
At Canadian Sports Therapy, we specialize in off-season testing and conditioning minor hockey league players. We have performed these programs from ages 8 to 18. That however does not mean that eight years old is the ideal age to start. In all the years that I have been testing hockey players, I personally, have only ever given one eight year old a conditioning program by the fathers’ consistent persuasion. Needless to say that we made his off-ice exercises as easy and fun as possible. I would certainly not recommend this for everyone.
For children to begin an off-ice program, it must be tailored to them with special reference towards their age and physical maturity level. You obviously would not give a 16 year old the same program as a 12 year old. In another scenario, two 12 year-olds may be completely different in body size and maturity, therefore only one may excel doing the off-ice exercises. Neither age nor body size will dictate when to begin a program however. I have worked with some 12 year-olds who are 5’10" and very thin. They may be tall, but their body size is probably not mature enough yet to put it through a vigorous exercise routine on top of their regular daily activities. An exercise routine puts additional weight restraint upon the body’s bones and muscles. They may not always be mature enough to handle these extra pressures.
The key to any off-season program for children is to make sure the athletes have fun doing it. Adults who frequently go to the gym to stay in shape are hopefully having fun. When the gym program is no longer enjoyable, it becomes work, and when it becomes work, we will find excuses not to do it. This type of attitude starts as a child. Children have a very short attention span, and get bored quite easily. They enjoy playing hockey, which is why they look forward to it every week. An exercise program can be made enjoyable also. Include games as an exercise, make things competitive. If they have to do push-ups as an exercise, see how many they can do in 60 seconds. It also helps kids if they are able to do it with someone else, like a parent or friend. Maybe once a week the parent can do the exercise program with them. Go for a run together, then sit down and go through their off-ice routine. The adult will be quite surprised what their child is doing and also how well they are doing it.
If you think your child is ready for an off-ice program, you have two basic exercise options, weight training or body-assisted exercises. Weight training is self explanatory, it uses barbells to increase muscle size and power. There is however the risk of starting this too early in age. Lifting heavy weights may damage the epiphyseal (epi-phee-c-al) growth plates, which is the area of your bones that are still growing and developing. However, with the help of a trained professional who can monitor the proper technique on a daily basis, weight training can be safe. This however can get quite costly by today’s standards.
The other form of exercises is called ‘body-assisted training’. This is simply using your own body weight as your exercise gym. Push-ups and sit-ups are two simple examples of body-assisted exercises. This technique has been shown to be safer on the young athletes as it is a controlled environment, with very little room for danger. You do not have to worry about a 100 lb barbell falling onto the athletes’ chest while doing a bench press. This form of exercise can however be unsafe if the techniques are not taught properly and the athlete can not comfortably do 15 reps of that particular exercise on their own. In this situation, these techniques may place an undue stress upon the players’ muscles, joints and developing bones. This is why it is crucial to have the player physically tested before an off-season program can begin. If they do not do the fitness tests, the untrained instructor may give the athlete 30 push-ups at 3 times per week, when they actually can only do 10.
When the players get a little bit older (15-16 years old), they will be capable of lifting heavier weights. 16 year olds with no lifting experience can however injure themselves because they will often compete with friends who have trained for several years now. Learn the proper techniques at a younger age, and give the body time to adapt and grow. As Peter Twist of the Vancouver Canucks (conditioning coach) states "kids will improve muscle strength, athletic performance and, most importantly, self esteem and self confidence" with an off-ice exercise routine.
Our conditioning page. A successful off-season conditioning program will focus on several factors. The first that was already mentioned was to make it enjoyable. The second factor is making sure the program is sport specific. It is obvious that a hockey player will not do the same training program as say a baseball player. A hockey specific program will focus on increasing groin strength and flexibility, while also focusing on agility, lateral movement, balance and cardiovascular training. The third factor is making sure the program is individualized for that particular player. As was already mentioned, you must separate and differentiate between all the players on team. This again states why it is crucial that the players perform a proper physical fitness test prior to the summer program beginning. "The one aspect of the game you have control over is your fitness level", Chris Broadhurst, Toronto Maple Leafs. You can not always control the game on the ice, so take advantage of the summer and control your fitness level off the ice.

Next Article


You probably have questions regarding our programs and activities - please read the FAQ section of this website first!