None of it should be slow
Two U.S. Olympic Teams trained for more than six months prior to their respective Olympics: the 1980 men and the 2018 women. They did no slow conditioning – none – and both won gold medals. Both teams finished the game executing skills at the same fast pace as at the beginning. Many other factors enter into a win like this, but conditioning is one that can be planned and executed. This is unlike the debilitating grind of an NHL season where games, travel, injuries and loss of sleep trump all plans for conditioning and recovery.
Stated simply: The purpose of endurance conditioning is to maintain, for an entire game, the fastest pace possible while executing all defensive and offensive skills. So why do so many coaches (in most sports) advocate slow conditioning?
The most important neurological fact that must be considered first when you train: Repetitions result in anatomical changes to the specific nerve pathways used often in your workouts. Read that sentence a couple more times, because speed and mechanics of movement are memorized in your central nervous system whether you intend for that to happen or not. Micro-anatomical changes to nerves and supporting (glial) cells can be “seen” after just a few workouts using modern scanning technologies.
If you repeat slow movement (such as jogging), it is memorized and repeated at the wrong time – in a sprint workout where it is counterproductive. Or if you skate while fatigued, the inefficient mechanics will become part of your stride, and show up when you least want it – in games.
You become what you repeat most often. That is an unbreakable law of neuro-science.
To develop speed-endurance for long games and tournaments, the two gold-medal teams first researched this question: Knowing that we want to practice skills at a super-fast pace, can we simultaneously improve aerobic-cardiovascular fitness without long, slow aerobic training? Short answer: YES. High-Intensity Interval Training has been proven (over and over again) to improve aerobic-cardiovascular fitness as well as the anaerobic qualities required to even think about a gold medal: speed-skill, explosive strength and speed-endurance.
Third period and overtime speed-skill-endurance by the 2018 U.S. Women’s Olympic Team was the specific goal of every workout on and off the ice for more than a year. Coaches Robb Stauber, Brett Strot and Paul Mara kept the pedal to the floor, knowing the Canadian women were big, fast, strong and skillful – a combination that wasn’t defeated until late in the game.
And the 1980 Miracle on Ice was really no miracle at all. It was the result of intelligent, but excruciating preparation. Team skills were rehearsed for two-hour practices at an uncomfortably fast pace for six months – nothing slow or the wrath of Coach Herb Brooks was unleashed.
Did the young amateur U.S. team dominate? Of course not. But the speed-skill attack by the Soviets was never allowed to take over the game as it did relentlessly for 40 years. Overspeed preparation put the U.S. team in position to challenge the Red Machine the entire game.
A word to the wise regarding hockey endurance? Train fast.