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Keys to recovery and maximizing strength gains

03/30/2017, 3:30pm MDT
By Michael Caples

Jason Hodges spends the better part of each year helping the top 16- and 17-year-old hockey players get the most out of their on- and off-ice training.

As head athletic trainer of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, Hodges helps some of the best young players in the world deal with the wear and tear that comes with intense training and competition.

For players who are approaching that age group, it’s time to begin thinking about maximizing gains during offseason workouts.

However, the most important thing, according to Hodges, is to make sure your body is ready to start working out.

“It’s very important after the long grind of a season to let your body heal,” Hodges said. “Rehab any injuries or things that are bugging you during the season. Give them time to heal, or seek help, physical therapy or whatever else you made need, before you take that next step in your training in the offseason.”

Once that’s taken care of, it’s time to hit the gym.

The right way

At the 14U/16U age level, athletes should be familiarizing themselves with the weight room and learning how to do things the right way. You’re wasting your time, and hurting your body, if you don’t.

“It’s flexibility and strength – not super heavy lifts, but getting yourself into the weight room and getting yourself familiar with lifting,” Hodges said. “If this is your first time lifting, it’s about starting the process and making sure you’re doing things correctly. Make sure you’re under the guidance of somebody who knows what they’re doing, so that they can teach you the right way of doing things. You don’t need a lot of machines and heavy weights and stuff. You can do a lot of simple body-weight things and other things that you can do on your own, not with a $1 million gym.”

Get loose

Take time to prepare your body before you start training.

“Good habits; warming up and stretching before you start your workout – same thing as a practice – they carry over to a workout where you want to make sure your body is loose and ready before you do your training or your conditioning. Foam-rolling, some static stretching, a dynamic warm-up – they’re all good to get the blood flowing and the muscles ready before you start. You want to do those same things once you start playing again, too. You want to continue that dynamic warm-up and that good solid foundation when you start playing. You want to get your body ready for a game just like a training session.”


As far as making sure your workout effort was well worth it, Hodges talks about the “golden rule” of getting protein into your body within 20 minutes. The NTDP goes with the ever-popular chocolate milk approach.

“Chocolate milk within 20 minutes; 20 minutes is the golden rule,” Hodges said. “That’s the time when the muscles will soak it up the best.”

After that, get some food in your system when you get home from the rink or the gym.

“Go home, an hour later or whatever, have a good meal – a well-balanced meal. For kids that are trying to gain weight during the offseason, we also recommend something like a shake before you go to bed. Depending on your body composition, try to get something in your body before you go to bed – there are a ton of different recipes for shakes in the blender with some yogurt, low-fat ice cream, low-fat milk, blueberries, strawberries, things like that.”

Recovery is key

Hodges wants all young athletes to make sure they’re taking care of their body before, during and especially after they exercise.

“Recovery is important,” Hodges said. “Eating well, at some point. Here, we do the simple thing of chocolate milk. Low-fat chocolate milk has a good balance of proteins and a little bit of fats and carbohydrates to help rebuild those muscles after they break down. You don’t need to buy a bunch of supplements, especially at that age. It’s just eating food – real food – that goes a long way in recovery. You also want to make sure you stay hydrated. Lots of fluids help replenish the muscles for anything that’s lost during a warm-up. At that age, sports drinks can help a little bit, but just a little caveat; Gatorade and Powerade have a lot of calories. Sometimes that can be good, sometimes it can be bad. Just keep an eye on how much you drink.”

How much is too much?

Don’t overdo it. Hodges says that at the 14U age level, three times a week is enough, while also suggesting that players try some other sports.

“Usually three times a week is kind of the standard. A good rule of thumb is three to four times a week,” Hodges said. “You don’t want to overdo it, and you want to mix it up so it doesn’t get monotonous or get boring. It doesn’t have to be necessarily lifting all the time – you can do off-ice stuff. Go play a different sport. Go play tennis, go play golf. It’s amazing how much those other sports work different muscles – different but the same – and kind of break it up a little bit.”

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