Developing Fast- Twitch Muscle Fibers for Hockey-
Are you a better sprinter or distance runner? Many people believe that having more fast and slow twitch muscle fibers may determine what sports athletes excel at and how they respond to training.
Skeletal muscle is made up of bundles of individual muscle fibers called myocytes. Each myocyte contains many myofibrils, which are strands of proteins (actin and myosin) that can grab on to each other and pull. This shortens the muscle and causes muscle contraction. It is generally accepted that muscle fiber types can be broken down into two main types: slow twitch (Type I) muscle fibers and fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibers.
These distinctions influence how muscles respond to physical activity, and each fiber type is unique in its ability to contract and reflex in a certain way. On average, we have about 50 percent slow twitch and 50 percent fast twitch fibers in most of the muscles used for movement.
Slow Twitch (Type I)
The slow muscles are more efficient at using oxygen to generate more fuel (known as ATP) for continuous, extended muscle contractions over a long time. They fire more slowly than fast twitch fibers and can go for a long time before they fatigue. Therefore, slow twitch fibers are great at helping athletes run marathons and bicycle for hours.
Fast Twitch (Type II)
Because fast twitch fibers use anaerobic metabolism to create fuel, they are much better at generating short bursts of strength or speed than slow muscles. However, they fatigue more quickly. Fast twitch fibers generally produce the same amount of force per contraction as slow muscles, but they get their name because they are able to fire more rapidly. Having more fast twitch fibers can be an asset to a sprinter since she needs to quickly generate a lot of force.
Both types of muscle fibers are extremely important for hockey players to develop in several critical areas of their bodies, particularly in their legs. Weightlifting, stairclimbers, eliptical machines, bicycling, and long distance running, can build the slow twitch muscle fibers needed for game-long hockey endurance. A dedicated conditioning program focusing on sprints, plyometrics and box exercises can develop fast-twitch muscle fibers off the ice. With consistent endurance training, muscle fibers can develop more and improve their ability to cope with and adapt to the stress of exercise. Yet, how can we develop these fast-twitch fibers on the ice?
Activities that create a Sense of Urgency-
Players will build up and develop these fast-twitch muscle fibers when they are forced to "activate" rapidly. Casually skating, in any direction, will never develop a player into an elite skater. Top players (NHL, Div. 1 NCAA, CHL) can get to top speed after their 3rd step. Quick starts. Only racing, battling, or out of comfort zone training will develop the fast-twitch muscle fibers that can make an elite powerskater. Try these activities when working with players who need to improve their quicks starts and reaction time. All these activities will take them out of their comfort zone, create a sense of urgency, build fast-twitch muscle fibers, and accelerate their ability.
1) Ladder Training With a Tennis Ball-
Space sticks on the ice, 12-16 inches apart, to create a 3 or 4 level ladder. Each space should represent a quick start stride. Oftentimes, novice players will worry about falling down when performing this activity, and in the process defeat the purpose of the activity and stay within their comfort zone. To beat this mindset, place a coach at the end of the ladder, about 5 feet away from the final stick, and instruct the player that when the begin their first step, the coach will release a tennis ball into the air and they will need to catch it. The drill will create an immediate sense of urgency.
2) Ladder Training with stick swings-
Using a ladder once again and drilling down into the quick start once more, have players use high-knee crossovers up the front of the ladder and back down the ladder for one full repetition of the drill. Then they will need to turn into a V-position quick start and race through the ladder for completion. Yet, at the end of the each high-knee rep, after the last stick in the ladder, have a coach swing his stick underneath the players legs (as they leap over it). This drill will create an immediacy, and force players to learn additional balance and recovery skills that they wouldn't use with a traditional ladder drill.
3) Resistance Bands or Resistance Pulls-
Have players perform drills (forward/ backward skating, high-knee crossovers left & right, powerskating and edge control drills) at top speed while pulling another player. You can use their sticks for this or, what I prefer, resistance bands or bike inner tubes.
4) Golf Ball & Weighted Puck Stickhandling-
Use a golf ball, on or off-ice, to stickhandle. With your head up, gloves on, and covering the entire surface area (to your left, right and directly in front of you), rapidly dribble the golf ball. This will greatly improve your reaction time to pucks, hand speed, eye-hand coordination, and enhance fast-twitch fibers in your forearms. Using a weighted puck on the ice to do similar drills will greatly improve your ability to puck handle in both controlled stickhandling situations, and rapid, dribbling situations.
As with any drill, be creative, have fun, and encourage high-tempo. Make sure, as a coach, you reinforce the importance of form and technique so that players do not develop improper muscle memory.