Authors: Jordan Bent, Mark DeBeliso
Southern Utah University Department of Kinesiology and Outdoor Recreation
351 West University Blvd.
Cedar City, UT 84720
10 Harry Street
Petawawa, ON, CA. K8H 2A4
Jordan Bent is a graduate student at Southern Utah University in Sports Conditioning and Performance.
Normative Fitness Values: An Analysis of Strength Based Characteristics in Teenage Male Competitive Hockey Players
Muscular strength, endurance and power are important attributes in many sports. Fitness testing norms are published for a variety of sports across a range of age groups and playing levels, however they do not currently exist for competitive high school aged hockey players. Purpose: This study reported lower body power (standing long jump-SLJ), upper body muscular endurance (bench press-BP and pull ups-PU), and lower body strength (3RM back squat-3RM-BSQ) data collected over three years at the beginning of each hockey season for the purpose establishing an initial set of fitness norms for competitive high school aged hockey players. Methods: Ninety-eight Canadian (U17AAA = 55; U18AAA = 43) high school male participants competing in midget AAA hockey were tested prior to the beginning of each season in September during the 2015-2017 hockey seasons with a host of fitness tests. Means, standard deviations and percentile ranks were calculated for the SLJ, maximum BP repetitions at 75% of body weight (BP-75%), PU, and 3-RM BSQ for both U17AAA and U18AAA hockey players. Results: Means, standard deviations for each player grouping were as follows. U17AAA (SLJ=234.7±15.7, BP-75%= 9.2±5.4, PU= 9.5±4.5, 3-RM-BSQ=108.0±15.4) and U18AAA (SLJ=235.7±16.6, BP-75%=13.0±6.7, PU=10.0±5.2, 3-RM-BSQ=120.4±21.0). Conclusion: The data presented provides a preliminary set of physical performance benchmarks for coaches and players to utilize in order to develop an athletic profile for athletes aspiring to compete in hockey at the AAA level and beyond.
Key words: squat, standing long jump, bench press, pull ups, physical performance, Ice hockey
Ice hockey, at a competitive level, is a game that involves explosive bursts of power while requiring strength to stabilize, absorb, and exert force with each skating stride or maneuver and while taking contact from opposing players, teammates, the boards, and while shooting or passing (10,12,17). These physical skills must be expressed repeatedly for durations of 30-85 seconds with interspersed rest periods, within and between three divided 20-minute periods, totaling between 15 to 25-minutes of playing time for forwards and defense, and 60 minutes for goaltenders (15, 42). At the amateur competitive level, games consist of two 15-minute periods and one 20-minute period for a total of 50-minutes of playing time with players averaging between 13 to 20 minutes of playing time equal to the ratios of playing time to available game time at the professional level.
Anthropometric profiling of professional hockey players has shown an increase in height, weight and BMI in the NHL (33). This increase in size has been associated with an increase in muscle size and strength among hockey players (33). Relative peak 5-s anaerobic power and grip strength, predictive of total body strength (48), have been shown to increase in professional hockey players over a 26-year period (40). Upper body strength, power, and endurance appears to be a crucial factor for forward and defensive players. The ability to produce and absorb force while giving or receiving a body check or shooting the puck is imperative to the forward and defensive players. Body checking the goaltender is penalized and puck handling skills are more related to setting up a puck or making a direct or indirect pass rather than shooting with maximum intent to score. As such, goaltenders spend little time away from the net but must be able to accumulate several minutes of offensive attacks over the course of a game requiring high levels of anaerobic endurance (46). Additionally, lower body power output and resistance to fatigue is an important factor across all positions (46).
Current normative values for physical performance characteristics exist for a variety of sports and playing levels but lack for competitive teenage male hockey players (26). Normative physical performance characteristics may provide direction for teenage hockey players towards understanding the physical standards, which their peers express. Such information may inform players, parents, and strength and conditioning professionals on the individual areas of physical development upon which should be focused.
The current study attempts to initiate a current normative data set of physical performance characteristics for teenage hockey players. Specific physical performance assessments were examined based on professional hockey sport coach’s and strength and conditioning coach’s identification of physiological performance characteristics with consideration for ease of test re-test repeatability, equipment availability, and efficiency of assessment. Likewise, consideration was given to assessments that were previously deemed as valid and reliable.
The data presented in the current study was collected over a three-year period and include assessments of lower body strength and power as well upper body strength/endurance. The 3RM-BSQ (3 repetition maximum bilateral back squat), which places less stress on the adductor muscle group than the front squat (12) and was assessed and considered indicative of lower body strength requirements for hockey players (25). Additionally, multiple studies have found that lower body strength is predictive of sprint and skating performance (7, 8, 15, 21, 31, 39, 42, 49). The SLJ (standing long jump) was collected to assess horizontal lower body power output and has proved to be predictive of skating performance measured in sprint speed and cornering or turning maneuvers (17, 22, 31).
The BP (bench press) to failure at 75% of the athlete’s body weight was collected in order to assess to upper body pushing strength/endurance; upper body strength is significantly correlated to on-ice shot performance measured in shot speed (10, 25). It was decided to use submaximal strength testing, rather than maximal strength, for upper body due to a lack of familiarity and time available to perform safely maximal or near maximal efforts (30). Earlier research has supported the belief that stronger individuals will be able to perform more repetitions at a prescribed workload and cadence, and multiple repetition to failure tests can predict maximal strength (22, 27, 44). Furthermore, cadence is a way to standardize testing procedures for maximal repetition upper body exercises (29). Failing to set a cadence could reduce the reliability of muscular endurance tests (32).
The PU (pull-up) until failure at a cadence of 50bpm allowing for a maximum of 25 repetitions in 1 minute was collected in order to assess upper body pulling strength/endurance. Others have suggested that the PU assesses muscular strength and endurance of both the upper extremities and torso (43, 51). Strengthening the supporting musculature of the shoulder girdle may enhance an individuals’ ability to transfer power between the upper and lower extremities during total body movements (24, 47).
Given the aforementioned, the purpose of this research effort was to develop a normative data set of physical performance characteristics for teenage hockey players. To do so, teenage hockey player age, height, weight, 3RM-BSQ, SLJ, BP and PU assessments that were recorded over a three-year period were examined. Specifically, the data presented in this manuscript was collected as part of annual hockey fitness testing conducted in September of each season and is considered as indicative of the physical preparedness of the athletes who will be competing on a U17AAA or U18AAA hockey team for the upcoming season (26). Developing such a data set is not to identify sole measures for sport coaches to select their players by, as physiological testing does not assess a participant’s game intelligence, mental performance skills, or the personality traits, which are desired for the given team. However, it can help access the level of physical preparedness of players competing for a position.
The participants were 15- to 17-year old male midget AAA hockey players (n=98) from the Ontario Hockey Academy playing on either the U17AAA or U18AAA hockey team. A University IRB approval (SUU IRB approval #09-012020a) was granted to utilize previously collected data not intended for the purpose of research, but rather collected as a job requirement to provide training progress reports to coaches and players. Participants included were free from injury and able complete the full testing battery.
This data was collected at the Ontario Hockey Academy (Cornwall, Ontario, Canada) in strength and conditioning/physical education classes during the September, in the second week of the first educational semester and beginning of the hockey training camp. Prior to the initiation of the study all individuals were shown the testing battery and practiced each movement on three days during their regular strength training sessions. This process completed in order to determine the participant’s ability to perform the movement safely, to a proper range of motion, and to familiarize the athletes with each movement. Presence of injury eliminated the athletes’ entire data set from use in this study. All tests were performed in ascending alphabetical order of participant’s last name, in the given class period, to ensure equal rest periods between all testing protocols of all fitness tests. Participants were asked not to partake in any extra physical training outside of the testing sessions for three days prior to the testing sessions and during the two-day testing period.
Height and Weight Measurements
Participants heights were measured using two Westcott meter sticks (Westcott 10431, Fairfield, CT, USA), stacked vertically end to end securely fastened to the wall and beginning at the ground for a total measurable distance available from 0-200cm. Athletes removed their shoes and had a flat clipboard placed on top of their head. Height was measured to the nearest 0.5cm. Weight was measured immediately afterwards, without shoes, and in shorts and a t-shirt using a Rubbermaid digital utility scale (Rubbermaid® Digital Utility Scale – 400 lbs x .5 lb, Huntsville, NC, USA). Weight was measured and recorded to the nearest 0.1kg.
Standing Long Jump
Participants began with a 5-minute general warm up, followed by a 10-minute dynamic mobility and plyometric preparation routine before. The athletes were then allowed 5 minutes to practice 3-5 SLJs and instructed to wait at least 60-seconds between SLJs and progress from about 60-70% on practice attempt 1 to a maximum effort on their last practice attempt. The testing protocol utilized gave the participants two attempts to achieve their best score. Recent research suggests three attempts may be best for allowing the athletes to achieve a reliable maximum score, which usually is achieved in jump two or three (41). Given that the participants performed warm up SLJs with the instruction to produce a maximum effort in their final practice attempt, it should be noted that the participants would have performed maximum effort attempts for all three SLJs assessment attempts. The greater SLJ score trial two and three was recorded as their performance score. The test followed the NSCA SLJ protocol (2), set up on a turf surface using white tape at the start line and a Lufkin measuring tape (LUFKIN PVH1430, Lufkin, TX, USA) securely taped to the turf and a Westcott (Westcott 10431, Fairfield, CT, USA) meter stick to measure the back heel of the participant upon landing. Then athletes began with their toes at the edge of the 0-cm/white tape marker and performed a countermovement horizontal long jump as far as possible. The landing mark was established with both feet landing on the ground and no contact with the ground with any other part of their body. Any failed attempts could be repeated once; a second failure to execute a sound attempt and landing resulted in a score of 0 for the respective attempt. The athletes were each given two attempts, one jump then a 3- to 5-minute rest and then their second jump. Two stations were set up to ensure athletes did not exceed a resting time of 5 minutes. The testing stations utilize the same measuring tape but allowed athletes to jump on either side of the tape only requiring the official marker to change position. Athletes performed the SLJs in alphabetical order, one SLJ then the rest of the participants jumped, then the second jump (etc.). Both testing stations had the head strength and conditioning coach measuring the distance jumped with an additional coach at each start line to ensure the athletes began the test behind the start line. The athlete’s maximum SLJ was recorded.
3RM Bilateral Back Squat
The athletes were permitted to begin warming up for the 3RM-BSQ upon successful completion of their second SLJ attempt. The participants followed the NSCA (2), 1RM protocol adjusted to a 3RM, identified by Byrne and colleagues as reliable protocol for the BSQ (14). The protocol was adjusted to a 3RM to reduce the load placed on the athletes and allow the strength and conditioning professional to consider athlete safety by determining the difficulty and form adherence of the lift. To begin, the athlete’s acceptable squat depth was measured at thighs parallel to the lifting platform with a bench (AmStaff TS015L, Toronto, ON, CA) and weight plates (York 2″ Cast Iron Olympic Weight Plate 7420-7425, York, PA, USA) used marked the depth to provide the strength and conditioning coach and participants with feedback to determine a successful repetition. The test used a squat rack with safety arms, j-hooks, (AmStaff TP017, Toronto, ON, CA), a bench (AmStaff TS015L, Toronto, ON, CA), a barbell with collars (AmStaff OLY700+COLLARS, Toronto, ON, CA), and weighted plates (York 2″ Cast Iron Olympic Weight Plate 7420-7425, York, PA, USA). Participants then began warming up using a light weight allowing for 5-10 repetitions, followed by a 1-minute rest and then adding 10-20% of the load to their initial warm up set for a set of 3-5 repetitions followed by a 2-minute rest. The subjects then performed a third warm up set by again increasing their load by 10-20% and performing 2-3 repetitions followed by a 2- to 4-minute rest. The subjects were then instructed to increase the load by 10-20% or a smaller amount if desired to perform their first 3RM attempt. The participant repeated the 3RM attempts increasing their load by 5-10% followed by a 2- to 4-minute rest until the true 3RM with proper technique was completed. All participants were instructed that they must hit their 3RM within 3-5 sets of their first attempt. Participants were instructed not to sit on the bench marker at the bottom of the squat, rather to touch the marker, and to fully extend their hips at the top of the squat. Additionally, one spotter was on either side of the bar, one strength coach as the spotter behind the participant and safety bars were placed just below the depth of the full squat.
Bench Press to Failure at 75% Body Weight (BP-75%)
The protocol used for this test was adopted from combining the previously used BP test at the NHL combine (50), and the protocol used by Vescovi and colleagues, which identified differentiation between player positions (46). The BP resistance was set at 75% of the athlete’s body weight. This resistance was selected in order to standardize the protocol based on the NHL combine, which used 70-80% body weight for the BP test for 17-and 18-year old players. It has been identified that it is appropriate to use a percentage of an athlete’s body weight to select submaximal loads for reliable assessment of muscular endurance tests (5). In addition to being similar to the NHL combine load, 75% of body weight was used as resistance because prior testing using push-ups protocols, which equates to about 64% body weight with respect to resistance (18) resulted in significantly higher repetitions until failure making it challenging to predict maximal strength. Additionally, previous upper body tests using an absolute resistive load of 60kg (132lbs) to failure were found to be reliable (4). Seventy-five % of the participants mean body weight for the U17AAA and U18AAA were 56kg (124.5lbs) and 58.1kg (129.4lbs), respectively. The cadence was set to 50bpm to match the NHL BP protocol from 2015-2017. The cadence of 50bpm allowed for a maximum of 25 repetitions per minute using the Tempo app version 4.2.2 (Frozen Ape©) on an iPad. While a self-paced cadence has been shown to produce the most repetitions in upper body, pushing movement, muscular endurance tests compared to a longer tempos ≤ 30bpm (29), a tempo of 50bpm was selected to promote a steady and controlled pace. As such, the strength and conditioning coach was able to identify clearly, if the athlete bounced the bar off the chest or failed to maintain 5-point contact for the duration of the test as identified as the standardized protocol for the bench press exercise by the NSCA (2). Furthermore, a cadence of 50bpm, has shown to differentiate player position in the push-up to failure test (46), and recognized to be in the range of a comfortable pace for the participant in another push-up to failure test, identified as allowing for 20-30 repetitions per minute (5).
The test used a squat rack with safety arms, j-hooks (AmStaff TP017, Toronto, ON, CA), a bench (AmStaff TS015L, Toronto, ON, CA), a barbell with collars (AmStaff OLY700+COLLARS, Toronto, ON, CA), and weighted plates (York 2″ Cast Iron Olympic Weight Plate 7420-7425, York, PA, USA). The athletes were instructed to perform 1 set of 10-15 push-ups followed by a 1 minute rest, 1 set of 10-15 band pull a parts followed by a 1 minute rest, 1 set of 8-10 repetitions of banded external shoulder rotations followed by a 1-2 minute rest, and then begin warm up sets using the bar only (45lbs) and then a set of 6-10 repetitions using a weight of 50-60% of their targeted testing weight.
Participants were instructed to maintain 5-point contact with head, upper back, and glutes on the bench and both feet on the floor. Participants were instructed to lift off, with the help of a spotter, to begin with the arms fully extended. On the first beat, the participant lowered the bar until it touched the chest around the nipple line and on the second beat pressed to a full elbow extension. The participants were instructed to not rest the bar on the chest of bounce the bar off the chest at the bottom of the movement. A successful rep was only counted if a participant lowered the bar to the chest and returned to the starting position while following the respective beats of the metronome. The test was completed when the athlete could no longer match the cadence or needed the assistance of the strength and conditioning coach to return the bar to the starting position to rerack the weight. Participants were given one trial to achieve their recorded maximum score.
Pull Ups to Failure at Body Weight
Participants were tested in the same order on the PU test as they were for the BP test to ensure all athletes were given a controlled resting period and adequate time to recover between the two upper body testing protocols. The rest time was approximately 20 minutes from completion of the BP test to the beginning of the PU test. A metronome set to 50bpm was used to standardize the protocol allowing for a maximum number of 25 repetitions per minute to be performed using the Tempo app version 4.2.2 (Frozen Ape©). While a self-paced cadence has been shown to produce the most repetitions compared to longer tempos of 30bpm and slower (29) a tempo of 50bpm was selected to promote a steady and controlled pace while allowing the strength and conditioning coach to clearly identify swinging of the lower body and increase intra-rater reliability (29).
The participants followed the PU protocol outline from the Norms for Fitness, Performance, and Health textbook (26), acknowledged as reliable (13) beginning by hanging from the pull up bar on the squat rack (AmStaff TP017, Toronto, ON, CA) with the arms straight and an overhand grip with the hands just outside shoulder width and the knees bent at approximately 90º to eliminate swinging and the possibility for feet to come in contact with the ground during the test. On the first beat, the participants pulled their body upwards until the chin was over the bar, on the second beat they returned to the starting position. Any swinging movement resulted in an unsuccessful repetition and cessation of the test. The number of repetitions until failure or inability to maintain the cadence was recorded. The strength and conditioning coach was positioned standing on a platform with eyes at height of bar to determine if the chin crossed the bar. Participants were given one trial to achieve their recorded maximum score.
Percentile ranks were created from the test data of the group of individuals from 2015 to 2017 for U17AAA and U18AAA male hockey players for creating standards on which individuals of the same population might be compared (6). Additionally, the mean was calculated as the measure of central tendency, and standard deviation was calculated to show variability amongst participants within each respective group. Statistical analysis was conducted in a MS Excel spreadsheet that was peer reviewed as recommended (1).
Ninety-eight teenage, male hockey players competing on a U17AAA (n=55) or U18AAA (n=43) hockey team completed the full fitness testing battery of which the data was used for this study. All athletes were enrolled at the Ontario Hockey Academy, a private high school competing in the Hockey Eastern Ontario Midget AAA league based around Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Subject demographics can be found in Table 1. Statistical information describing the data results for each respective age group are provided in Table 2 and 3. The results suggest on average that the U18AAA players have higher mean scores and high percentile rank scores in all assessments when compared to the U17AAA players.
Table 1. Participant Descriptive Information
|Group||N||Age (years)||Height (cm)||Mass (kg)||BMI (kg/m2)|
|U17AAA||55||15.5 ± 0.5||176.0 ± 9.0||74.6 ± 9.6||24.1±3.4|
|U18AAA||43||16.8 ± 0.4||175.9 ± 11.0||77.5 ± 8.9||25.2±3.0|
Table 2. Percentile Ranks U17AAA Male Hockey Player
|% rank||3RM Squat (kg)||SLJ (cm)||Bench @ 75% BW||Pull Ups|
Table 3. Percentile Ranks U18AAA Male Hockey Players
|% rank||3RM Squat (kg)||SLJ (cm)||Bench @ 75% BW||Pull Ups|
The purpose of this study was to analyze previously collected fitness testing data of teenage hockey players to create normative values for physical performance characteristics that were considered indicative of on ice performance measures including skating and shooting ability. An additional goal was to provide a framework to understand the strength and conditioning requirements of teenage male AAA hockey players concerning off-ice physical assessment and resistance training exercise prescription.
A comparison of the BP, PU, SLJ tests with similar protocols used in the NHL combine and this study showing the top 10 finishes for the respective tests would put the U17AAA or U18AAA athletes in the top ten finished if they fell within the given percentile rank during the collection of the data: BP: 90% (U17), 60% (U18); PU: 70% (U17), 50% (U18); SLJ: no participant in this study produced a SLJ that would score in the top ten at the NHL combine (35). As such, one possible area for focused training and development is lower body power output for competitive teenage male hockey players. With that said, the average U17AAA and U18AAA SLJ scores reported in the current study would fall in the excellent category for 15-16-year-old male athletes (26). The top 10 scores for the BP, PU and SLJ of NHL players from 2015-2017 combine can be viewed in Table 4.
Table 4. NHL Combine Top 10 Results from 2015-2017 for BP, PU & SLJ
|Rank top 10||SLJ (cm)||BP at 70-80%bw||PU|
Several studies have shown that 1RM can be predicted from multiple repetition submaximal load exercises such as the 3RM-BSQ and BP to failure (3). The 3RM can be estimated as 93% of a 1RM. As such Table 5 was assembled to compare the estimated 1RM BSQ reported in this study for U17AAA and U18AAA for comparison with 1RM percentile ranks for 14 & 15-year-old year-old and 16 & 17-year-old year-old American football players as reported in Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (2). It would be appropriate to compare the U17AAA hockey participants to the 14 & 15-year-old football players and the U18AAA hockey participants to the 16 & 17-year-old year-old football players. The findings show high school hockey players who found themselves in the 90th% rank for their respective age group would be in the 50% of football players of their respective age group. This is likely due to a combination of factors such as the demands of football players in a purely strength-power sport vs. hockey being a strength-power and endurance event, and the body mass differential of the players in the two sports. It is also likely due to the younger age at which football players are likely to begin strength training, the fewer games played in season and longer off-season for football players allowing a higher frequency of training. Nonetheless, it is insightful for strength and conditioning coaches and physical educators to recognize that the demands of hockey and football differ from one another and as such, if they train together different strength outputs can be expected.
Table 5. Comparison between High School Hockey and Football Player in 1RM-BSQ
|1RM Back Squat (kgs)|
|High-School AAA Hockey||High School Football|
|% rank||U17 PRED-1RM||U18 PRED-1RM||14-15YO 1RM||16-17YO 1RM|
The average BP scores reported in the current study were 9.2 and 13 repetitions maximum (RM) at 75% of body mass for the U17AAA and U18AAA hockey players respectively. A 9RM is approximately 77% of a 1RM and a 13RM is approximately 66% of a 1RM (2). The body mass for the U17AAA and U18AAA hockey players was 74.6 kgs and 77.5 kgs respectively. Given the aforementioned, an approximate 1RM BP for the U17AAA and U18AAA hockey players would be 72.7 kgs and 88.1 kgs respectively. The average 1RM BP scores reported in the current study compare favourably with the average BP 1RM scores for North American football players (16-18 years) of 97.0±20.0 kgs (2).
It is worth noting that both of these teams played in the same league and against one another during the competitive season. The observed higher performance in the U18AAA group is likely a result of higher training age (2). Competing in Midget AAA hockey in Canada is an endeavor that takes multiple years of development to achieve. While a survey was not completed to assess the beginning ages, training hours, or levels at which the participants previously experienced it would be likely that the U18AAA participants have been exposed to 1 to 2 years greater exposure to playing, practicing, and physical training than the younger U17AAA participants.
Since both height and weight were recorded, BMI was analyzed which places the U17AAA participants (24.1±3.4) as normal and U18AAA participants (25.2±3.0) as overweight categories on the BMI scale (23). Evidence suggests that BMI is not proven to define obesity within athletic populations (37). Athletes typically have a greater muscle to fat ratio than their sedentary counterparts do. Many athletes, and specifically strength and speed-trained athletes have lower percentage BF than sedentary individuals who are matched for BMI standards (34). This suggests that BMI is inaccurate as a predictor of percentage BF for an athlete and as such, future research should seek to determine body fatness, muscle mass, bone density and health risk by body composition analysis.
To our knowledge, the results of the current investigation are the first to have initiated normative values for physical performance characteristics among U17AAA and U18AAA teenage hockey players. Future research in this regard should expand the number of participant’s data to the current normative data set. Likewise, to enhance the value of normative data for this population research including normative values for aerobic capacity and repeat sprint ability would provide information on the status of the conditioning components of physical preparedness required by teenage male hockey players (36, 38, 45). Finally, this paper did not focus on analyzing the data to interpret the physical performance characteristics of the different playing position. As such, future research should attempt to create positional performance profiles for competitive level teenage hockey players as Vescovi and colleagues (46) did with elite hockey players. Such future research could refine the understanding of physical performance profiles between forwards, defenders, and to greater extent goaltenders. Noting that, goaltenders at the elite level have exhibited significantly lower levels of upper body strength, lower body anaerobic capacity, and higher levels of flexibility then defenders and forwards (39).
This study has produced an initial set of normative values for U17AAA and U18AAA male hockey players to assess lower body strength using the 3RM-BSQ, lower body power using the SLJ, and upper body strength endurance using maximum repetitions for the BP exercise at 75% body weight and the PU both to a cadence of 50bpm.
APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
This research supports the use of the four fitness tests utilized in this study as a way for coaches, athletes, parents, and strength and conditioning professionals to assess the physical preparedness of teenage male hockey players. It can be used as a guideline to help these athletes utilize their off-season to prepare physically for the upcoming season and create conversations with qualified professionals to deliver appropriate training programs. It can also be used to assess the impacts a competitive season has on these performance metrics.
We would like to thank Hockey Director Patrick Turcotte, the student-athletes, coaches, and school owners from the Ontario Hockey Academy for their dedication to enhancing the development of teenage hockey players in pursuit of their athletic and academic goals.
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