Coach Nielsen's Ice Hockey Drills

Dynamic Pre-Game Warm-Up

Courtesy of Peter Twist

Many players aim to be game ready where they feel athletic and skillful, fast and strong but also fluid and mobile. A player needs to enter the first shift ready to move with explosive power and rapid agility right from the puck drop. The pre-ice (and pre-workout) routine plays an important role in readying the player’s mind and body to exert best efforts skillfully. Historically, players would do a few brief on-ice stretches, however, the result is little more than a pre-skate ritual. Stretches are held in a static position like a statue. How can stretching like a statue prepare the mind and body to move explosively? It can’t. Research shows that in workouts following static stretching, strength and speed are actually lower.

To be game ready, static stretching is no longer the way to go. The goal of pre-ice exercise is to wake up the mind, warm the muscles, and link the mind and muscles to have a responsive body that is prepared to react quickly. A dynamic warm up is recommended pre-game, leaving static stretching for post-ice, when the muscles are tired and need recovery, the mind is also fatigued, and is ready to shut down and relax.

The more than 600 muscles in our body are the ‘hard drive’ with the brain and all of the nerves that connect the mind to the muscles acting like the body’s ‘software’. To prepare to move explosively and skillfully, both the software and the hard drive need to be turned on and warmed up. This is best achieved through balance, movement and strength exercises in a planned dynamic warm up that follows a number of progressive steps.

Use the dressing room, lobby, hallway, Zamboni bay, or any other location you can secure that provides space for movement. Players can warm up half dressed to minimize the time delay between warming up and stepping on the ice. A useful dynamic warm up should last at least 12 minutes and could be as long as 30 minutes. The end goal is for the player to be warm, a little sweaty, mind pumped up and ready to go. The whole body should feel awake and athletic but not fatigued.

The program starts with balance drills for a low impact method to activate many muscles and turn on the mind. These drills safely challenge the small stabilizer muscles key to reaction and physical confrontations. Balance brings focus. Players must think and concentrate to coordinate their bodies through each drill.

Next players go through specific movement skills where they move large muscle groups through slow, linear movements and progress toward faster, more dynamic multidirectional movements that require more thought. My athletes begin by walking up on their toes to wake up the calf muscles and ankles. Exercises move up the body until each muscle group has been worked. Add straight line movements, and then progress through angled patterns, lateral movement, and crossovers before advancing to multidirectional agility drills. This adds quick feet, stop and starts and reactive demands.

Finish with whole body strength exercises to help link the body together, activate muscles from toes to fingertips, and sequence the muscles in the order they will need to fire for shooting and body checking. It is valuable to step on the ice feeling strong and durable. Exercises could include wide body weight squats, standing partner stick pushes, standing stick pulls and standing partner ward offs. Initiate each rep from the legs and follow through with the upper body, engaging the trunk so the core is ready to be strong.

Coaches and athletes are encouraged to develop a dynamic warm up and use it before a practice to determine its effectiveness. A dynamic warm up routine gives players the confidence to jump into a game with a winning attitude.

Peter Twist, 11-year NHL Conditioning Coach, is now President of Twist Conditioning Inc., a company that provides franchised Sport Conditioning Centres, hockey training products and home study coach education. Check out

Filed under: coaching, Conditioning, General, , , ,

Game Day Nutrition Part II


I was always told to "Carb" up the night before and during pre-game meal. Seemed good to me. I could crush all the French Fry’s, Coke, and chocolate bars I wanted in the name of creating an energy burst out on the ice. Not good. Lead me straight to the fat bike for 45 minutes after every practice in Juniors. Carbs can be complicated to figure out with the glycemic index, fiber, and cooking choices available. So what carbs do you want to eat and when? Here’s a little excerpt from the book 7 Pre-Game Habits of Pro Hockey Players.

Behind hydration, complex carbohydrates are next in critical importance for athletic performance. These are found only in products made from plants. If you’ve ever been on a hockey bus throughout Canada or the Midwestern US, then you’ve seen the fields of wheat, barley, beans, and others that go into producing complex carbs. Bread, pasta, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables contain complex carbohydrates rich in important micronutrients of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. In terms of athletic performance, carbs provide glucose for energy before and during performance. They also provide glucose for glycogen synthesis or energy storage for any future activity.


  • Athletes should strive to get 55-65% of their calories from carbs (20-25 cal per pound).
  • The best foods to choose are the ones least processed. In other words the fewest steps foods are removed from nature the better. Organic is a far better choice when available and the budget allows. 
  • Remember: Refining and processing grains reduces nutrient values and raises their glycemic index.
  • Look for 3g of fiber per serving or more on the label. If it DOESN’T have it, put it back and find something that does.

Digestion of Foods

Liquids as well as some foods get absorbed right away. Other foods are worked over by your intestinal track for hours before getting digested. If you want to feel light on your feet then eat the foods on the left side of the timeline below. If you want to feel sluggish and lethargic like you do after a Thanksgiving meal then eat the foods on the right side of the below timeline. Study this timeline and begin to develop pre-game meals and snack plans for game day.

Digestion time line:

Shortest                                                          Longest       


Liquid fruits vegetables starches fats


  • The closer you get to game time means you eat items on the timeline’s left side. These foods and liquids require the shortest amount of time needed for absorption through the digestive system and excretion of excess waste.
  • It takes 1-4 hours for peristalsis to push food out of the stomach and into the first part of the small intestine. The foods on the right side of the timeline should be eaten 3-5 hours before the puck drops so enough time can elapse.

Game Day Hot Tip: Get back to grains, vegetables, and some fruit as your main source of energy versus the traditional steak and mounds of chicken pre-game meal. There’s more protein in some of the grains, fruits, and vegetables than you realize.

courtesy of Brett Henning

Filed under: Nutrition, , ,



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