The offseason can look a little different for every NHL player. Some spend quality time with family that they otherwise can’t during the season, some go fishing, golfing, or wakeboarding, while others prefer to travel the world in their all-too-brief time off.
No matter how they spend their time in the offseason, every NHL player has one thing in common: they have to get back into shape.
The grind of the NHL season puts a lot of wear and tear on the body but it’s not just injuries. While players do need time off to recuperate from injuries both major and minor, the most vital aspect of offseason training is regaining all of the strength lost during the season.
Players tend to lose a significant amount of muscle mass over the course of the season as they’re essentially doing high-intensity cardio every game, burning through calories at a staggering rate. NHL players typically do less weightlifting than they do in the offseason as well, as their time is devoted to practice, travel, and games.
“They’re what I call ‘skinny fat,’ weak, toxic, and injured – that’s pretty much what you’re getting,” said one trainer who worked with multiple NHL players. With limited time to build muscle, players are just trying to hold onto the strength they gained in the offseason, and often lose muscle mass without dropping weight, with that muscle converting into fat.
With that in mind, a major focus for NHL players is building up muscle mass in the offseason because they know how much they’ll lose during the season.
One of the newer members of the Vancouver Canucks, Filip Hronek, provided a stark demonstration of this via photos posted by his trainer, Lukas Brozek, on Instagram. The two worked together at Strong Life Gym in Hronek’s native Czechia.
It’s a pretty stark transformation, which evidently took 12 weeks of training. As Brozek explained in the caption, the primary goal of the training was to first increase muscle mass and strength and then transition to more dynamic and explosive speed exercises in the final weeks.
The “before” picture is the most interesting element, as it aptly demonstrates what happens over the course of the season. Hronek still looks physically fit and strong but not quite what one might expect from a professional athlete playing in a sport like hockey that demands so much strength.
Hronek went through the same transformation last offseason as well, showing how this is a yearly cycle for professional hockey players.
It’s particularly interesting to think that the body type in the “before” picture is typical of players when they enter the playoffs. The most important time of year for NHLers is played when players are at the nadir of their physical ability, having lost so much muscle mass and strength by the end of the regular season.
Players are well aware of this loss of muscle during the season, with some players coming up with unique ways to compensate.
Danny Briere, for instance, would start his season with a stiffer stick — a 90 flex, which is still on the more flexible side of things — then gradually make his way towards a more flexible stick as he lost strength over the course of the season, ending the season with a 75 flex. That allowed him to maintain the whip on his shot even as he lost strength.
It’s no wonder that players enter training camp spouting the cliche that they’re in the best shape of their lives: they’re naturally comparing how they feel at the end of the offseason with how they felt at the beginning of the offseason.
Hronek’s physical fitness is a great sign for the Canucks as it’s a strong indicator that he’s fully recovered from the shoulder injury that cut last season short. The Canucks paid a significant price to acquire Hronek and he’s a key component of the team’s revamped blue line. They’re counting on Hronek to continue to progress and play like a top-pairing defenceman.