The Double Edged Sword of Hockey Training And The Benefits Of Functional Density For Hockey Goalies Over The Age of 27.

By Maria L. Mountain, MSc Hockey Strength & Conditioning Specialist

If you are reading this, I know why. It is because you are not satisfied with being average (even if you think you are currently ‘below average’), you know that you can be a much, much better goalie than you are right now, but you also know that going to the ‘big box’ gym down the road and using those machines that only build big, dumb muscles is not going to get you there. So here’s your problem – You know you need to do something that will help you specifically as a goaltender, but you aren’t sure what that is. I know because I have personally worked with literally hundreds of hockey goalies who are in the exact same predicament. Here’s some bad news for you – – the process is extremely complicated.

  • You need to build strength, but not make your connective tissue weak and vulnerable to injury.
  • You need to build speed, but not elevate your cortisol levels which leaves your body stealing protein from muscle mass to help you recover.
  • You need to lose 4-8lbs of body fat, but add some muscle so you can still hold your ground on the ice.
  • You need more stability and flexibility, but you don’t have 7-12 hours per week to train.

You are not alone, there are a lot of you out there who have never managed to play to your potential because, unlike pro players, you don’t get paid to play the game. You do it just for the love of the sport, the sound of your skates as they carve through fresh ice, the sound of the puck hitting your glove or watching a forward skate back to his bench slamming his stick on the ice after you rob him of a sure breakaway goal.

Now for the good news…

You are going to get a taste of what it is like to be a pro (without the sports cars, embarrassing naked photos on Twitter and irritating media scrums) by giving you an inside look at one of the secret training tactics that I have been using with pro-players for the past 4-years…yeah and I am just telling you about it now, sorry about that 🙂

When you are young you can do almost anything and get better.

When I started out as a strength and conditioning coach, I worked mostly with young players. We worked hard in the gym – 5 sets of this, 5 sets of that, 6 different leg exercises, 90-minute workouts in the weight room…we worked HARD. And it worked! The players got stronger, faster, scored more goals, made more saves, it worked! Then as the players aged a little bit – I am talking by the mid-20s – I started to notice that we were not making the same gains in the off-season. The players were not gaining the size, speed and strength that was expected. It was puzzling and I didn’t like it. The funny thing was, the player was not even aware of the fact that things weren’t progressing. They were working hard – it must be good right? WRONG!

Then it hit me…the double edged sword… CORTISOL.


I will confess that I was not the best student during my undergrad years (it wasn’t until my Master’s studies that I buckled down and accepted nothing but straight ‘A’s’) so my recollection of Physiology 130 is a little fuzzy, but I do remember this…

    • Cortisol levels increase after prolonged low intensity exercise or after high intensity exercise in excess of 80% VO2max
    • Cortisol is a hormone released in response to stress – that can be physical stress or emotional stress.

  • It increases energy availability in the blood – GOOD. It does it by breaking down muscle protein and converting it to glucose – NOT SO GOOD
  • It decreases insulin sensitivity – can be good short term, but not long-term.
  • It can suppress immunity
  • It triggers an inflammatory response
  • Short term it can mobilize fat, but long-term it can increase fat storage

Do you see what I mean when I say cortisol is a double-edged sword? Short term it can be just fine – it provides fuel to your working muscles, triggers an inflammatory response which helps direct the rebuilding and repair (hypertrophy) of the muscles after training. But long-term it can create quite a few problems and leave a hockey player who has the best of intentions feeling weak, exhausted and even depressed. Not the return on investment any player is looking for when they spend their time training.