A few years ago I was working with a junior hockey player during the off-season and he mentioned that his team would be doing some fitness testing in the middle of the off-season. He mentioned they would be doing some VO2 max tests. And I quickly thought back to a presentation I had attended at the NSCA conference that winter.

The presentation at the NSCA conference covered a few different sports but there was some research related to hockey. One of the points that stuck with me was that there is an optimal level for VO2 max in hockey. Exceeding this threshold results in detriments in power production. He made this point during the presentation because he spoke of an NHL team with a coach that was notorious for bag skating his team the day after a loss. The presenter argued that this would do more harm than good and would result in a slower, less explosive team.

So as the player I was working told me that he was about to perform a VO2 max test, I secretly hoped that he would be in the appropriate range. Meaning I didn’t want to see his score soar up too much from previous years as this may lead to a slower, less explosive athlete.

After the test this player was somewhat dejected as his score was not as ‘high’ as previous years and actually fell off slightly. I smiled to myself and later filled this hockey player in on why this wasn’t necessarily as bad thing. And then he went on to have his best year ever and make the move to the professional ranks.

At this point I’d better set the record straight that I’m not against VO2 max tests. It’s just that we have to recognize what it is we are testing for and the value that the test plays in the game of hockey.

Besides VO2 max testing another useful test for hockey would be the anaerobic threshold test. When you are able to access oxygen for energy you can stay aerobic. However when the intensity rises and oxygen is no longer available your body utilizes anaerobic metabolism. The anaerobic energy pathways include ATP-PC and anaerobic glycolysis.

With anaerobic glycolysis the waste product is lactate. Lactate levels in the blood will depend on the rate of lactate production as well as how quickly it can be removed from the blood.

A recent study during an NCAA div I game attempted to correlate shift length to blood lactate levels. While they weren’t able to do this due to the small sample size and the variability of the data they were able to provide some interesting data related to blood lactate levels.

Blood lactate levels during the game ranged between 4.4 and 13.7 mmol/L. To put this in perspective our blood lactate at rest would be about 1 mmol/L. The highest blood lactate levels were recorded during a 5 on 4 penalty kill when the lactates maxed out at 12.4 and 13.7 mmol/L. A previous study showed a range of 1.2 – 8.9 mmol/L when blood samples were collected within 3.8 minutes of the end of a hockey game.

So what does all this data tell us? It tells us that hockey is an intense game with a large degree of variability in anaerobic metabolism. While not demonstrated in the above paper there is strong reason to suggest that increased shift length corresponds to increased blood lactate.


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