Getting Back in Shape

by barbaragarn

Many of the skaters new to JMS aren’t new to hockey, but are returning to it after many years–sometimes decades–off the ice. This wasn’t my experience, so I can only speak to what I’ve observed, and what I’ve learned from my own brief hiatus times. What’s clear is that bodies need tune-ups in two different ways.

The skills “re-learning” curve is very steep–I’ve watched many guys, off the ice for YEARS, play markedly different between the beginning of a 90-minute session than at the end. Muscle memory, or proprioception, goes deep. “It’s like riding a bike,” they say–hard to forget.

And so while the feet may be slower than the mind, while the puck angle calculations are off a bit at first, it’s astonishing how quickly the body remembers what to do.

But a return to hockey also necessitates another acclimation: getting your “wind” back. For many people returning to hockey, the last time they played was as a spry 20-something, fresh legs and tireless. And 10, or 20, years later, it’s a different story. The muscles remember WHAT to do, but are older, and not conditioned yet, and the body tires.

It’s even tougher for returning skaters who have had NO physical activity. It’s not just hockey conditioning they need, but ANY cardiovascular improvement.

I had a three-month break in 2004 when I pulled my groin, and coming back after that was TOUGH. Hockey is so intensely physical that coming back even after such a short break is a bit of a shock. The best thing I did was to start running three miles a day. Running! Boring! I hated it. But, it helped my hockey game more than any other thing I’ve tried; if you can’t get to the puck first, it doesn’t matter if you know what to do with it.

The other problem with resuming hockey after a hiatus is nutrition and weight. Since we burn so many calories while playing regularly, ceasing that activity without changing intake means packing on the pounds–which of course makes it even more difficult to step back on the ice where we were. Running helps with that too, of course. And, hard as it is, getting those three vegetables a day makes a incredible difference as your body is craving the vitamins and minerals they contain. I know I feel BEST, most physically prepared and eager to play, when I’m running regularly and eating my veggies.

But I’ve never had to come back after years and years off. I know what I’ve been told by guys who have returned to hockey and physical activity. Anybody have personal experiences to share? How did you get back in shape to play hockey? What worked, what didn’t?