Physiology of ice hockey

Sports Med. 1988 Feb;5(2):99-126. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198805020-00003.


Ice hockey is characterized by high intensity intermittent skating, rapid changes in velocity and duration, and frequent body contact. The typical player performs for 15 to 20 minutes of a 60-minute game. Each shift lasts from 30 to 80 seconds with 4 to 5 minutes of recovery between shifts. The intensity and duration of a particular shift determines the extent of the contribution from aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. The high intensity bursts require the hockey player to develop muscle strength, power, and anaerobic endurance. The length of the game and the need to recover quickly from each shift demands a good aerobic system. Physical characteristics of elite players show that defensemen are taller and heavier than forwards probably due to positional demands. Hockey players are mesomorphic in structure. They are relatively lean since excess mass is detrimental to their skating performance. There is a large interindividual variability in VO2 during skating. Both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems are important during a hockey game. Peak heart rates during a shift on the ice exceed 90% of HRmax with average on-ice values of about 85% of HRmax. Blood lactate is elevated above resting values confirming the anaerobic nature of the game. Glycogen depletion studies show a preferential utilisation of glycogen from the slow twitch fibres but also significant depletion from the fast twitch fibres. Elite hockey players display a muscle fibre composition similar to untrained individuals. Physiological profiles of elite hockey teams reveal the importance of aerobic endurance, anaerobic power and endurance, muscular strength and skating speed. Training studies have attempted to improve specific components of hockey fitness. Using traditional laboratory tests, a season of hockey play shows gains in anaerobic endurance but no change in aerobic endurance. On-ice tests of hockey fitness have been recommended as an essential part of the hockey player's physiological profile. Existing training procedures may develop chronic muscular fatigue in hockey players. Lactic acidosis is associated with the onset and persistence of muscle fatigue. Muscle force output remains impaired throughout the hockey player's typical cycle of practices and games. A supplementary programme of low-intensity cycling during the competitive phase of training was unsuccessful in altering VO2max. Strength decrements during the hockey season are attributed to a lack of a specifically designed strength maintenance programmes. On-ice and off-ice training programmes should focus on the elevation of aerobic endurance, anaerobic power and endurance, muscular strength and skating speed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Composition
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Hockey*
  • Humans
  • Muscles / anatomy & histology
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Physical Endurance
  • Sports*