For more information on Jason Carter's research:
Better Testing = Better Performance
Getting another shift or another goal out of a hockey player entails how to measure—and ultimately improve—performance.
Jason Carter, chair of exercise science, health and physical education, and John Durocher, a biological sciences graduate student, have been researching performance in a new way. Carter and Durocher have analyzed male and female hockey players’ oxygen consumption levels, lactate thresholds, and heart rates using on-ice training for two days in a row, simulating a weekend series. The duo has been aided by the local medical center: Portage Health’s Dr. Darin Leetun, Steve Ellison, and the Portage Sports Medicine Institute.
The workout is intense.
"You can see he’s pretty beat," Carter says, referring to photos of hockey player Ryan Bunger, who has finished his series of trials. "He has skated from the goal line to a cone thirty-two meters away and back, four times. We increase the interval by three meters per stage until the player fatigues. Each stage takes eighty seconds—a typical shift on the ice—followed by thirty seconds rest until the next stage."
"We modified a protocol that was used by the Philadelphia Flyers, improving it with this on-ice, ramp-up procedure," Carter says. This allows the Tech team to accurately measure a player’s lactate threshold (LT)—when lactic acid begins to accumulate in the blood stream—and maximum capacity oxygen used during exercise (VO2max).
The acid properties of lactate can inhibit cross-bridges in muscles, and athletes "go anaerobic"—they must use sugars for their fuel source after exceeding their ability to burn fats with oxygen—and they’ll tire sooner. In effect, too much lactate causes muscles to shut down.
And, as for the oxygen factor: "Hockey players with a higher VO2max will experience less fatigue during the game and recover more rapidly between shifts," says Durocher. "Players need anaerobic power to have bursts of speed but also must pay attention to aerobic fitness, so they can sustain a high level of performance throughout a game."
The tortuous Tech testing, Carter believes, is more accurate, has yielded some interesting results, and has garnered national attention from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. One item of interest: female and male skaters are different, but not always.
"Women have a lower VO2max compared to men," he says. "Men have a higher aerobic ceiling, but they may not be as efficient in delaying the onset of blood-lactate accumulation. The men and women do have similar LT, when expressed as a percentage of VO2max or heart rate. Bottom line—we may need to not only train sport specific, we may need to train gender specific."
"Research with hockey players is different because of the intense shifts," Carter says. "We want to move the inflection point—the boundary if you will—further out in their performance to get that extra shift."
Or get that game-winner at the final horn.