Movin' on Up: Stair Conditioning for Hockey Players

Hey! It’s the offseason again, the perfect time to get away from the rink and recharge your proverbial batteries.
For aspiring hockey players, it’s also a time to build up their physical capacities, or hardware, as we like to call it.

Stair Training

Stair training is offseason hockey training that is highly transferrable and effective.

Running the stands is a classic old-school athletic activity, but current Edmonton Oilers strength and conditioning coach Joel Jackson has done some great research around stair conditioning to look into its worth.

We recently hosted Joel on our very own Hockey IQ Podcast. You can dive into Joel’s complete stair conditioning dive here.

  • Apple Podcasts

  • Spotify

  • On our website

Side note… one of the players under Joel’s responsibilities, Connor McDavid, seems to have pretty good S&C!


“A solid set of stairs may be one of the best tools a coach can use for conditioning hockey players”.

While a city like Pittsburgh may have more stairs than most, there are plenty of places around your local town that you can find with elevation changes. This could be a sandhill, a local high school stadium, etc.

They are versatile, allowing for a wide variety of aerobic and anaerobic focused conditioning. Even better, Joel found that there may be biomechanical similarities to skating.

Ground Contact Times

Joel actually first learned about the unique ground contact times (GCT) seen in skating from Columbus, OH, resident and former Hockey IQ podcast guest Anthony Donskov.

Skating GCT is unique because they follow the opposite pattern of what you see when sprinting on land.

  • An athlete sprinting on land will display longer GCT when starting. As they accelerate and reach maximum speed those GCTs get progressively shorter.

  • The opposite is true with skating where the athlete displays shorter GCT in the acceleration phase and spends progressively more time with their skate blade in contact with the ice as they gather speed.

# of Steps Taken & Average Ground Contact Time:

  • 1 Stair = 0.145 ± 0.02

  • 2 Stairs = 0.173 ± 0.02

  • 3 Stairs = 0.253 ± 0.02

  • 4 Stairs = 0.394 ± 0.04

The average GCT increases exponentially from three to four stairs; which also corresponded with a noticeable breakdown in form and rhythm.

Compare this to skating

  • Stride #2 = 0.281 ± 0.03

  • Stride #6 = 0.348 ± 0.02

Joint Angles and Range of Motion

When sprinting on ice, a skater will display a greater range of motion in the hip and knee at maximum speed compared to the acceleration phase. A skater will display an increasingly more aggressive trunk angle as they reach max speed.
Using the stairs for Hockey Conditioning is a greeat hockey leg workout. Conditioning on the stairs should be added to your hockey off season training program.
Using the stairs is one of the best hockey off ice training equipment.

Amplitude & Direction of Movement

The similarities in lower body and trunk angles seen in between the stairs and skating above are a testament to how stair running mimics skating range of motion, but there are two aspects of this to call out:

(1) The knee reaches a greater degree of extension in the stair sprint, compared to the skating sprint. There is evidence of higher caliber skaters reaching a greater knee extension than their lower caliber counterparts.

(2) Exercises like the Hang Power Clean, Front Squat and Sprinting have many similarities to skating in terms of their amplitude and direction of movement.

But one aspect they do not achieve is the movement seen in the frontal plane with skating, specifically with external rotation and abduction at the hip. This is something that can be accomplished in stair sprinting simply by widening the athlete's stance and having them focus more on a lateral push-off (see below video).


Stair training can be a nice addition to an offseason aerobic training regime for many reasons, including:
  • Ground contact times

  • Range of motion

  • Amplitude of movement

Scheduling days outside of a windowless gym on a beautiful sunny day has to be good for the mental health of all involved, and that value shouldn't be underestimated, too.

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