Players prep at the OHL draft combine (photo courtesy of Under Armour)
A staple of hockey draft combines, the Wingate bike test forces an athlete to push their limits non-stop for 30 seconds – which sounds short, but seems like an eternity. Thanks to the OHL, I now know just how hard that test is.
For years, I have covered the NHL draft combine and with my very unscientific eye, tried to read just how hard the players were pushing themselves on the two notorious bike tests – the Wingate and the V02 Max. The Wingate is the shorter of the tests, taking just 30 seconds. But players fear it nonetheless. In the past, I would mentally tsk-tsk those who noticeably slowed down as the test wore on, but I will never do that again.
See, I did the Wingate bike test last week – and it is Hell.
Thanks to the good folks at Under Armour, I was part of a small media contingent that got to run through the Ontario League draft combine in Oshawa. All kitted up, we looked vaguely like the other participants, except we were twice as old, our shirts were forest green instead of red – and we were not elite athletes.
Just to give you a sense of the uneven playing field we're talking about here: I had the best score in the Wingate among the journalists, with a Peak Power score of 928.1. The best score among the kids? Defenseman Willem Larsen, who put up a 1652. Fellow blueliner Emmett Gordon was second at 1522.5. These kids aren't even half my age, mind you – they're not even that much bigger than I am in terms of height and weight. But how their muscles and anaerobic capacities work are way different already, it is clear. This truly gave me an appreciation of just how big the gulf is between elite athletes and average folks who, admittedly, exercise rather sparingly and enjoy a semi-frequent sojourn to Popeye's Chicken and Biscuit.
So what was it actually like? I shall tell you.
The Wingate was the final stage of the combine, obviously the toughest saved for last. We started off with the grip test (boring) and moved on to the Vertec high jump – aka that tall thing with all the spines that you smack. That wasn't as fun as I thought, particularly because it was the first time I realized that I have no fundamentals when it comes to attempting these tests. From there, we had a broad jump (aced it) and some sprints, but the Wingate was the main attraction.
Your shoes are literally duct-taped on to the pedals for the event, adding to the intimidation factor. The trainer in charge with prepping me asked how much I cycle. "Not at all," I responded. "I haven't even jogged in like, a year." (at this point, OHL director of communications Paul Krotz is laughing at me. I do not fault him for this)
It's go time. I start pedalling to get warmed up and the trainer counts me down. I feel like I'm about to get to the scary part of Space Mountain as the realness approaches in 3…2…1…zang. Weights drop, increasing the resistance. The first 10 seconds are good. Then I hit an incredible wall. I want to go faster and the competitive instincts in my brain urge my body to push on, but my legs are not listening. I am looking down to see them pumping in what seems like slow-motion and no amount of willpower will help. The brain is responsible for sending messages throughout the body, but this one went straight to voicemail.
The time drags on. It seems like an eternity before my trainers/hype men get to "Ten seconds!" And despite my desire to finish strong, my legs are still on autopilot, trudging along as if they were encased in wet clay. I breathe in and out as deeply as I can in a vain attempt to wring a little more power out of my body. And finally, time elapses.
The trainers untape me from the bike and I am free to wander. I experience no light-headedness (good sign), but I am ravenously hungry. I down a Gatorade protein shake and protein bar in no time as my body recovers from the flash of gruelling work I put it through. My legs aren't wobbly, but they don't feel normal, either: I'm walking like a cowboy as I go to get changed back into my work clothes. From that point on, everywhere I need to go seems to involve stairs…which angers me.
But I never threw up.
That's the one thing about the Wingate and V02 Max bike (a longer test not done at the OHL level), is that the prospects always talk about puking or not puking afterwards. GMs and scouts actually don't mind the puking – it shows effort. Part of me thought it would be like a bile-covered badge of courage if I had, but I know my effort was there nonetheless.
And yes, there's video: