Most of us have at one point in time either used a weight vest or have seen someone use a weight vest. Whether it’s on or off the ice, using a weight vest properly can really take your skating to the next level. The big question is how do you use it? What drills can you do? How long should each drill be and how much recovery time is needed? These are all answers that a coach should have before trying to use a weight vest and I will try to answer some of these common questions.
First of all, a typical weight vest that we use is somewhere around 25 pounds. One of great things about the ones that we use is that weights are removable. That means if you need a 10-pound vest, all you have to do is remove some of the weights throughout the pockets in the vest.
We usually don’t start using weight vests until the skater is 135 pounds or more. The skater should definitely be strong enough to keep good form as well as keeping his/her chest up the entire time. If the weight is too heavy, the skater will end up having their chest drop, putting a lot of unwanted stress on their back. Some of my NHL players may actually use 2-3 weight vests at a time, but that is very uncommon for your average skater. The key is to be able to control the weight, not let the weight control the skater.
The most important aspect about using a weight vest is to remember that it is all about technique and knee bend. The whole idea is to slow the skating down to about half speed. The knee bend should be in a position that is uncomfortable for the skater. Trying to get down to around 90 degrees will give the skater the “burn” that we are looking for. Once the skater feels the lactic acid in his/her legs, he/she knows they are on the right track.
The other big piece is to refine technique. Making sure the skater finishes each push is critical in developing muscle memory. Weight vests should not be done at full speed or during “hockey drills.” The skater’s technique and knee bend is the true purpose behind using a weight vest.
I like to do longer skating drills when using weight vests. Drills should usually be around 20-30 seconds long. Again, this needs to be done at half speed, but at the end of the drill is when the skater will make the most gains. We typically like a ratio of about 30 seconds on with a 60-second rest. I usually reserve about 15 minutes at the end of practice to accomplish this.
Weight vests are a great tool, especially in the summer as that is the time when technique can be developed. Pairing weight vests with overspeed is great because it gives you the quickness work along with the technique all in one practice. It is like the best of both worlds.
Also remember that you can do these “overload” drills without using a weight vest at all. The purpose behind the drills still remain the same.
Jack Blatherwick has some great drills in his book, “Over-speed: Skill training for hockey” if you get a chance to check it out. Longer drills like a big figure 8, a large peanut or a corkscrew work on both the stride and forward crossovers. These are staple weight vest drills but there are many more in Jack’s book. Good luck.
Andy Ness is the head skating and skill coach for the Minnesota Wild. He has also been an assistant skating instructor for the New Jersey Devils, the University of Minnesota men’s and women’s hockey teams and the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team.