Grad Student Zack Goodman Researches Heart Rates in Ice Hockey

Paul Steinbach Headshot

You've read reports of impact-sensing technology affixed to the interiors of football helmets, but you likely haven't heard of heart rate monitoring equipment tucked inside hockey pants ...

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You've read in Athletic Business reports of impact-sensing technology affixed to the interiors of football helmets, but you likely haven't heard of heart rate monitoring equipment tucked inside hockey pants. Zack Goodman, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Toronto, is going where no researchers have gone before in an attempt to gather heart rate and blood pressure data from a dozen or so men ages 40 to 60 as they compete in pickup hockey games. Goodman then compares that data to the results of maximum heart rate baseline tests performed on stationary bikes in a lab. He contends that hockey is an atypical sport in that its players regularly sit on the bench for minutes at a time between brief but intensely cardiovascular turns on the ice. Paul Steinbach asked Goodman, the son of a UT faculty member who steered him toward this master's in exercise science thesis, to take the pulse of his efforts so far.

Q: You've only begun to wire players with heart rate leads and blood pressure cuffs, but what do you hope to accomplish in the coming months?
A: We want to find out why someone would drop dead after a shift of hockey. You might assume that when they're on the ice, that's where the danger is. They're exercising at extremely high intensities. Their heart rates are very, very high. And there's risk with that. But what I'm actually expecting to see is that when they sit down, it's the combination of a drop in blood pressure from falling exercise and a heart rate that remains elevated that leads to less time for the heart itself to get oxygen.

Q: Aren't there recovery periods associated with most exercise?
A: If you were to think of high-intensity interval training, it's a brief period of extremely intense exercise followed by recovery. And in most cases, it's an active recovery, so you're dropping from something like 100 percent of your max exercise capacity to 40 percent, let's say. But with hockey, you're actually just sitting down and doing nothing, which is dangerous.

Q: Are middle-aged men who play pickup hockey pushing themselves to the max?
A: Compared to their maximal exercise test, they're pretty much at their max heart rate while they're on the ice for that short period of time, which is interesting. It's demonstrating the high-intensity nature of hockey, that this is a sport where you're going to physically exhaust yourself. You're going pretty much as hard as you can when you're on the ice.

Q: Is there anything players can do between shifts to mitigate the dangers?
A: I guess the best suggestion to players on the bench would be to keep their legs moving - just keep the blood flowing, as opposed to completely stopping. They could even remain standing for 30 seconds following their shift and actively move their legs.

Q: Why is your research important?
A: There's not much field-testing that's been done on particular sports. Researchers should look at everything, not just hockey, because this is what people do. People are playing these sports. Not everyone is getting on a bike and exercising in the gym.

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