No 'off' in off-season for Jillian Saulnier

(Hockey Canada Images)

Team Canada hockey player pushes her limits

— By Rachel Sovka

“It’s amazing what your body can do,” says Jillian Saulnier, standing in the middle of a specialized gym at Canada Games Centre in Halifax.

This may be a bit of an understatement coming from the hockey player who has been a team captain multiple times, helped Canada win gold at the world under-18 championship and is aiming to play at the upcoming Olympics.

Saulnier has been known to be up at 4 a.m. to get on a plane, play hockey in another city (or country!) and be home within 48 hours. That’s the kind of exhaustion that requires superhuman capacity, or at the very least a strong and forgiving body.


It goes without saying that what Saulnier’s body can do is amazing, and it’s here in her hometown of Halifax that she trains hard during the off-season to keep it that way.

Jillian Saulnier (Hockey Canada Images)

Jillian Saulnier (Hockey Canada Images)

But Saulnier is not ‘off’ during the ‘off-season.’

Saulnier, 25, took a total of one week off before she was back in the gym, making the biggest gains of the whole year. She describes off-season training as even more demanding, requiring even more discipline than the regular season.

“I think something challenging with hockey players is that it is a full body sport, so we need to concentrate on upper, lower and core areas throughout our training all the time,” she says.

“As hard as we work during the season on the ice, we’re working just as hard if not harder in the off-season preparing to be at our best for when it’s time to touch the ice again.”

So she breaks it down for us.

Off-season training looks like this:

  • Monday — lower body
  • Tuesday — upper body
  • Wednesday — lower body
  • Thursday — upper body
  • Friday — lower body

“Training for this type of sport is all about speed and quickness,” Saulnier says. “It’s lots of jumping, working with the squat rack and chin-up bars."

VIDEO: Olympic hopefuls Jillian Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull pushing the limits.


Saulnier’s favourite workout lately is trap bar jumps which help her greatly in her position as a forward on the ice.

“As a forward, I need to be able to win the battle for the puck in the corner and also be first to get there,” she explains.

This combination of fast cardio and strength can be tough to balance — especially in hockey, which Saulnier describes as a “short, explosive sport.”

Saulnier says the secret is to do the same exercises but slower in order to perfect strength versus explosivity.

Working to achieve that balance is made easier with access to all the Hockey Canada facilities and training resources.

“Hockey Canada is very professional and accommodating of individual needs,” Saulnier says. “They have everything; a trainer, nutritionist, masseuse, mental strength trainer, etcetera.”

Strength and speed are both important in Jillian Saulnier's role as a forward with Team Canada. (HOCKEY CANADA IMAGES)

Strength and speed are both important in Jillian Saulnier's role as a forward with Team Canada. (HOCKEY CANADA IMAGES)


Saulnier recently finished up a boot camp in Fredericton where she made good use of all the provisions as well as the team atmosphere.

“The best motivation is always ‘do it for the team,’ ” Saulnier says. “When I’m motivated to not let someone else down, that’s when I really get things done. That’s the benefit of team sport, you’re never alone. We go through hardship together.”

Saulnier says that everyone who will ever stand in her wedding will be from this team. That’s a sign of the powerful bond that teammates form through enduring challenges together over time.

“No one is an individual success. There are always people behind the scenes supporting you.”

— Jillian Saulnier

(Hockey Canada Images)

It’s her value of team spirit, hard work and humble beginnings that inspired Saulnier to put on her own hockey camp every year on Cape Breton Island in eastern Nova Scotia.

“I’m a live example of ‘you can do it, even if you’re from a little town,’ ” Saulnier says. “My advice is always be thankful of the people that help you achieve your dream; no one is an individual success. There are always people behind the scenes supporting you.”

From the guys at the rink letting a few players inside after hours to practice free of charge, all the coaches and trainers’ time, and community encouragement, Saulnier says she feels well supported.

SEE ALSO: Holistic fitness advice from an Olympian

She has had a lot of family support over the years, especially since Saulnier’s whole family plays hockey themselves.

But at the end of the day no one can do jump squats for you, and that bench press isn’t going to lift itself.

“It all comes down to pushing your own limits and finding out what your body is capable of accomplishing.”

And it’s amazing what your body can do.