The Link Between Physical Fitness and Performance



What does research have to say about physical fitness and on-ice performance in hockey?


Author’s Note: Last time I wrote an article it was to help solidify a social psychological concept that was interesting me. Today, I’m writing an article to help my solidify some ideas I have for an open book midterm I’ve got coming up regarding physical fitness and on-ice hockey performance.

The study that I have at the top follows an NCAA team for three seasons and compares physical fitness variables to a player’s on-ice success. They found that players with better ability to buffer acidity (known incorrectly as lactic acidosis), and with lower percentages of body fat had more ice time than other players.

They also found that players with a higher VO2max (or aerobic power…think of a high score on a beep test) were more likely to have a higher net rating of scoring chances for. This means that players with high aerobic power were on the ice for more chances for than against. This would suggest that these players make a positive impact for their team.

It’s important to note that correlation DOES NOT equal causation. That means that just because physical fitness and success on-ice are linked…it doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other.

Another important note is that there are a few limitations to this study:

  • A small pool of players
  • One season of performance
  • Only assessing three fitness variables

So this study does not necessarily predict long-term success in hockey…just success during the season.


Nevertheless, there are still strong implications that since physical fitness (aerobic power, ability to tolerate metabolic acidosis, and body percentage) has been linked to on-ice performance, you want to focus on training these variables to ensure on-ice success. I have a few suggestions as to why these three factors could be linked to increased on-ice performance:

  • Aerobic Power: The ability to use oxygen for fuel is important in endurance sports, but also in power sports such as hockey that require repeated bouts of high intensity exercise. The aerobic energy system is responsible for approximately half of the energy demands of the body at 75sec of full exertion. The aerobic system is also required to refuel your muscles as your recover in between shifts. The better your capacity to use oxygen, the more energy you can expend without subjecting your body to acidosis….AND the more efficient your recovery will be. This equals one common thing: LESS FATIGUE. Less fatigue will help both your mental and physical performance.
  • Acidity Buffering Ability: (More commonly, and erroneously, known as the ability to withstand lactic acid…more on this in a subsequent article) Your body has a resting pH (acidity vs alkalinity) level. Your cells require a certain pH for them to function properly. When your body’s blood and muscle pH drop (become more acidic), you lost the ability to contract your muscles as effectively. This is known as metabolic acidity. Metabolic acidity occurs when your body must use anaerobic (without oxygen) sources of fuel for energy. So players with a better ability to buffer acidity were thought to have better aerobic power. This marker was correlated with time on the ice.
  • Body Fat: Having lower body fat percentage makes you a more efficient athlete since muscle mass is considered “functional mass”. More of your mass can contribute to force production if you have higher muscle muscle mass and lower body fat percentage.






Published by

Jason at Train 2.0

2.0 was born from the belief that 1.0 isn't good enough. The way we're approaching coaching, training, and development for hockey needs to be rethought. My own lessons have led me to rethink the way it's being done and I can't help but write about it. I'm writing for my 12, 13, 14, 15 year old self who didn't have this resource. I'm writing for parents who are putting their dollars and trust in coaches who are wasting all of it. I'm writing because I hope it can make a difference.

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