How Top Strength Coaches Train Olympian Hockey Players

When it comes to hockey and strength & conditioning, few coaches compare to Mike Boyle and his experience working with elite level players. He’s coached and trained some of the nation’s best athletes (many of them hockey players) over his tenure.

Over 20 years ago, Boyle co-founded Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning, and has since worked with thousands of athletes. He was the head strength & conditioning coach at Boston University for 15 years, and worked with their hockey team for 25 years. He also was the head strength and conditioning coach for the NHL’s Boston Bruins from 1991-1999.

In terms of Olympic hockey, Boyle served as the strength and conditioning coach for the gold medal winning 1998 Nagano US Women’s Olympic ice hockey team. Then in 2010, Boyle was officially named the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the US Women’s National Team, which included serving as the Head S&C Coach for the 2014 silver medal team. Since, Boyle has resigned as the Head S&C Coach for the US Women’s National Team a little over a year ago.

With the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics quickly approaching, I was curious to obtain some of Boyle’s strength training insights from the times when he worked directly with the Women’s Olympic level hockey players.

The Key Movements to Boyle’s Hockey Players

Hockey is a sport driven by explosive bouts and change in direction, so I was curious how much Boyle had athletes barbell squat to develop their legs when working with the team. “We do no conventional squats in any of our programs. Our knee dominant work is exclusively unilateral,” Boyle says.

[How often do the US speed skaters squat in lead up to the Winter Olympics?]

Boyle said there are many exercises he used to get athletes ready for tournaments like the Olympics, but when I asked about his absolute top three he said, “I guess if we can only choose three, hang clean, rear foot elevated split squat, and one leg straight leg deadlift.”

The US Women’s National Hockey Team started a central residency that began in September. This is a time when athletes receive their final bout of conditioning before heading off to the Games. When I asked about off-ice frequency during the period Boyle worked with the team he said, “Once residency started in 2010 [Sept for winter games] we tended to train 2-3 hours per week off–ice.”

The Olympic Games traditionally start around the second week of February (they run from February 9th-25th this year), so I was curious how Boyle would taper training intensity in relation to the start of the Olympic tournament, and he said, “In 2010, we lifted heavy up until December. By heavy we are talking 90% in the hang clean and 85-88% in strength exercises.”

The Most Important Variables for Olympic Hockey Athletes

There’s no denying that Olympians go through an immense amount of pressure every four years, and I’m always intrigued by the mental preparation it takes to get athletes ready to represent their country. I asked what the most important variable is for longevity at this level of competition, and Boyle stated, “Work ethic. It’s a long process that is really a try-out every year. Work needs to be consistent.”

Work ethic as a whole creates longevity at this level, but what about in the weight room? Boyle said, “Technique. Lousy technique gets you injured. Injured players don’t make teams.” 

With so much experience working with elite hockey players, especially at the Olympic level my final question involved Boyle’s coaching methodologies. Do they change for this level athlete, or take a different form, “Not really, it’s still pre-season, in-season, compete, off-season. For women’s hockey you have some constraints with college players and now, pro players. You have to be respectful of game schedules etc. However, the games are just another short tournament and, we deal with those year round.”

Feature image from @usahockey Instagram page.