Anyone can train athletes and make them tired but it takes a coach to teach them, to motivate them, to get them to buy-in to the process and to make them better.
Peak for Progress NOT Maintenance
The in-season training mindset for hockey is often focused too much on maintenance and not enough on performance.
It was not that long ago that players did not even START training until they arrived at Training Camp; hence the name. In the last 10 years, off-season strength & conditioning has evolved and progressed to focus on maximizing the size, strength, speed and skill of athletes during the summer to be more fully prepared to start the season, but there is still another missing link that must be be developed.
Players want to be at their best when the competitive season hits, not in September. No matter how hard, or how smart or how effectively the athlete works in the off-season, players who do not participate in a proper in-season conditioning program are often detrained by playoff time and, at the highest risk for injury when they need to be the most prepared.
The current in-season programming mentality still focuses too much on maintenance and not enough on progression. It sells short the potential of the players along with the knowledge of a skilled strength and conditioning coach and it’s becomes a roll of the dice to the athlete to expect that they can avoid injury and perform at their best when the playoffs arrive. The goal should be to increase strength, maximize mobility and shift specific conditioning, encourage proper nutrition, sleep, rest and recovery, and to inspire them to stay focused on getting better. Most importantly, we must ensure that off-ice training and development has purpose and does not just waste their time and energy.
Move Better – Play Better!
Quality movement is the key to athletic excellence. It is also the key to optimal health, fitness and performance. Developing hockey players is a long term process that takes planning, patience and purposeful programming (on and off the ice) to initiate and enhance motor learning (skills and movement patterns), physical adaptations (strength, power, conditioning), and tactical knowledge (knowing where to be in space, team tactics, hockey IQ, etc.).
Hockey players in Canada have the best opportunity for seasonal development. The off-season arrives as spring merges with summer just as school ends creating the perfect combination of time and opportunity for physical and mental preparation for the start of the season. Strength and conditioning coaches are blessed with the perfect laboratory of training as we have a chance to create programs and put together drills that take full advantage. Athletes generally have 10-12+ weeks to commit fully on setting and accomplishing the goals they have for the season and put the time and energy they need into achieving them. Unfortunately, many players and teams do not carry the momentum and development of the summer into the season. When this happens much of the hard earned summer gains can quickly begin to disappear.
Hockey demands a high level of mental and physical focus for optimal performance. The season is long, practice time is often devoted to technical development, tactical execution and positional/strategic rehearsal with the odd “bag-skate” mixed in, often to the detriment of conditioning & skating technique rather than improving it. How can players keep getting better, stay strong and continue to maximize their in-game performance as the season progresses?
The game of hockey, while intense and physical, does not create adequate opportunity for strength and conditioning development. The opposite usually results. A well designed training schedule can stop the potential decline and should continue to allow the athlete to improve. It should develop athletic foundations, increase performance, improve mobility/stability, and help maximize recovery & regeneration. As the season starts the timing is perfect to re-set the body, re-focus on new goals and re-boot the training program within the in-season schedule. This means working around practices and competitions, scheduling on and off-ice development and considering recovery and adaptation needs such as nutrition, hydration, rest and sleep. From a programming perspective, the program should build intensity and complexity back up through the fall, then re-set again in December in order to peak for the post-season and playoffs in Feb/March.
Learn it. Earn it. Own it.
When it comes to skill development we learn in a relatively specific process. The level of learning, depth of learning and ultimate potential of skill development comes down to how good the coach/teacher is, how much deliberate/purposeful practice the athlete can put in along the way and how successful they are at making a new skill their own. This is the same for sports skills as it is for learning new drills, movement patterns and exercises in the gym. Quality learning opportunities, commitment and effort can go a long way in setting athletes up for success, while genetics and innate ability play a significant role in how fast this can happen and how high the ceiling may be for development, so choose your parents wisely!
To build competence in a new skill, there are 3 main stages for learning new skills and motor patterns:
LEARN IT! This is known as the Cognitive Stage. Everything during this stage takes more time and focus and ideally, a good coach/teacher to guide you through as efficiently as possible. We fail often and begin to build patterns of success and/or bad habits along the way. It can be slow, frustrating and even embarrassing but it is also often the most rewarding. The good news is kids learn fast (sorry parents) especially at younger ages so when it comes to developing skills, languages, music etc. the sooner the better.
EARN IT! This is the Associative Stage. Now we have the basic skill and need to practice, practice, practice. This practice however needs to be purposeful and ideally with good feedback and positive reinforcement in order for it to become a more repeatable motor pattern. Practice does not always make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. This is where the most improvement and development takes place and where we see limits and potential in certain skills. Some people are not built to be gymnasts.
OWN IT! This is the Autonomous (or Automatic) Stage. You got this! The skill is yours. You don’t need to think about it, you just feel it. Now it is time to make it better which means pushing your skill to a new level and moving back into the cognitive or associative stage in order to progress to new levels of success. Once you get to this level of skill acquisition, that skill is yours.
Overload. Adapt. Perform. Repeat.
Off-ice training that focuses on overloading the entire athlete will help enhance balance, athletic movement skills (speed-agility-quickness and reaction skills), strength and power production, mobility, stability and resilience to injury. The right exercises with the right coaching can take off-ice gains and see them expressed as improved on-ice performance.
Movement efficiency, reactivity, nervous system firing and skill execution under fatigue are often what separate the top players from the rest. Injuries often occur during high speed braking and when exploding out of a stop-and-start. Deceleration drills, agility, change of direction skills and plyometrics, with ongoing coaching and feedback for improved mechanics, can help prepare players for in-game demands and turn an injury risk into a strength. As players learn these athletic movement skills they will become more evasive, more confident and more durable.
Upper body strength is the biggest loser over the course of a season. Since skating is leg dominant, weight room time can shift more of a focus to upper body lifts and core strength and conditioning. Athletic, multi-joint lifts are stabilized by the core and initiated and fed by the legs so they are the most efficient for continual in-season development. Two to three short lifts per week with moderate to heavy weights are needed to maintain and improve upper body strength and mass.
Hip and shoulder mobility, core stability and overall mobility and flexibility are key in-season elements to injury prevention and performance. Uncovering weak links with each athlete and knowing which areas require the most attention, can help keep the focus of in-season programming as personal and efficient for each individual athlete in order to minimize wasted time and energy.
A properly designed seasonal program (post-season, off-season, in-season…) will carry the momentum of each training cycle into the next and allow the athlete to keep climbing higher, moving faster and performing better. Integrating stability, mobility, athletic movement, strength, power and conditioning into each training session can ensure that each player stays mentally sharp, physically prepared and physiologically capable of performing their best, when their best is needed.
By Jeff Roux B.P.E; CSCS
As we reach another new year it is the perfect time to re-boot, re-charge and re-focus on many areas of our lives. It is the perfect time to hit the re-set on all lifestyle habits that can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health and performance. Nutrition, sleep, exercise, and work/school-life balance all must be managed effectively in order to keep getting better every day. It the perfect time to establish a new routine and FOCUS on you!
Those who understand the importance of health and fitness understand that being more active and healthy when we are young allows us to handle more, physically and mentally, as we age than was previously thought. As more people understand the importance of holistic nutrition and purposeful, functional, athletic exercise we will continue to improve the outcomes of our health and performance as we age.
“If you have a body, you are an athlete.” – Bill Bowerman (coach, innovator, Nike co-founder) –
We believe everyone is an athlete, everyone can move more athletically, and everyone can benefit from taking a more athletic approach to their health, fitness and performance. This philosophy and purpose guides everything we do and allows us to help encourage our clients and athletes of all ages and skill levels to think, live and train like an athlete as well. This means setting goals, creating a program with purpose and practical application to each person’s sport or activities of choice and, most importantly to each person’s life. We must consider individual strengths and weaknesses, injuries and dysfunctions that may restrict certain movements, schedules and other limitations that may inhibit success.
Whether it is an athlete re-setting their off-season training program as a new season begins or an active adult starting (or re-starting) a new fitness program, the most important step is the first one. Find something that motivates you to get moving, stay moving and keep moving better.
Find Your Why!
The question that everyone must consider when performing any exercise or drill is simple, why? Why am I training? Am I preparing for a specific sport, am I trying to improve specific skills or improve physical limitations? Am I trying to be healthier and more active to be a better role model for my kids or am I just trying to be healthier and happier for me?
What is your why?
Once you know the big picture you can ask the same question when it comes to programming and the details of each specific training sessions and each specific exercise and movement pattern. Why am I choosing this particular exercise? Why am I doing a specific number of sets and repetitions? What is the purpose of each movement? Will it make me better, or just make me tired?
Anyone can train hard and push to or beyond their limits in a given training session. A true training program should always have a plan and a progression. High Intensity training programs are all the rage as they offer quick, efficient, challenging workouts and can be an excellent part of a training program if prescribed and progressed properly. They have a lot of sex appeal but often the intensity and effort of the workout supersedes the purpose, progression and performance efficiency? Not to mention the injury potential that exists when good technical execution is by-passed for those last few seconds or reps. Following a purposeful, progressive program that has a specific objective, a planned progression and ongoing correction and evaluation will always result in more long-term success than random acts of exercise.
The Secret Recipe for Athletic Performance
Quality movement is the root of athletic excellence. It is also the key to optimal health, fitness and performance. No matter how fast, how strong or how fit you are, if there are flaws in your movement patterns, inefficiencies or dysfunction anywhere on the movement spectrum, it can lead to poor performance in your sport or your life, or to potential injury. We want to build better movers, better athletes and better performers. We are here to teach and refine movement, to inspire people to move, to coach them to move better, and motivate them to move every day.
There is a lot more to efficient, effective athletic performance than simply pushing physical limits before the proper technical skill is learned. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Training the muscles is easy. Training hard is easy. Training often is easy. Training Smart; learning HOW to move properly and creating quality movement patterns is the hard part. This includes everything from establishing an efficient running gait, learning to stickhandle and shoot on the ice, and perfecting your tennis serve, to learning how to decelerate and change direction on the soccer pitch, and how to properly squat in the weight room.
The brain learns movement patterns quickly and it learns bad ones just as fast, and sometimes even faster, than good ones because dysfunctional movement patterns offer shortcuts and allow the brain to simply hide other dysfunctions that have occurred from injury, mobility restrictions or other inefficient patterns that have already been learned poorly.
Move, every day
As individuals get older, move less, sit more and spend more time ensuring the kids make it to their practices and games than making time for their own strength and conditioning, the ability to move well is inhibited. Injuries and movement dysfunctions begin to settle in and many people put off finding ways to get moving well again. Typical gym programs promote stepping on a specific machine (Treadmill, Elliptical, bike etc.) and heading down the road to nowhere on machines that do most of the work. People need to actually move in order to move better. Improving athletic mobility, maximizing joint stability and enhancing the ability to run, jump, skate, ski, hike, garden, and just play with your kids comes from moving more and moving better.
Whether you are an elite athlete or a stay at home mom, everyone can benefit from moving better. Movement is simply about taking muscles through a full, functional range of motion and expanding that range of motion. It is about stabilizing the joints to handle deceleration and direction changes without injury. It is about developing explosive muscle firing patterns to accelerate quickly and change gears efficiently. It is about developing a variety of energy systems from short burst anaerobic to long duration endurance. Movement challenges your body to stop and go and challenges your heart and lungs to adapt to a variety of conditioning intervals and intensities. Improving you movement will help you perform better in sport and in life.
It is exciting to see strength training growing in popularity over the past few years and to see adults getting excited about getting stronger. One thing that people must realize when it comes to training strength is that moving load is in itself a movement skill and there are many elements that must come together to execute strength training technique besides moving weight up and down. If you cannot perform a movement properly in the first place and you load it and try to move it when it is heavier, injury is inevitable. Athletes must be able to execute proper movement patterns and muscle firing patterns in order to get stronger. People often love training the beach muscles (arms & chest) but don’t spend enough time training the stabilizer muscles (Core, Shoulder girdle, hamstrings, Upper back) that support and leverage athletic movement and protect the body from injury. First, learn to move the load properly, only then you can load, lift and challenge the movement in different ways.
No matter how hard you work, recovery is when the magic happens. Getting enough rest, getting enough sleep and fueling your cells with proper nutrition and hydration help maximize digestion and allow enzymes, hormones and all of the organs in your body run efficiently. This is what allows us to adapt to exercise, deal with stress and continue to improve our health and fitness as we age. You can’t outwork poor nutrition or poor sleep patterns. This is when the body adapts, re-charges and gets better.
No diet, lifestyle changes, or training program will work for the long term if it is done is short doses. Our bodies and our brains crave routine and function best when we have consistency in our patterns of exercise, sleep and nutrition. Developing a purposeful and consistent routine that works for you, allows our systems to stabilize and focus on performing at the highest level possible every day. When this happens health and performance will take care of themselves and we can focus more on being in the moment, having fun and enjoying the journey along the way.
This year as we kick off 2020, focus on finding the routine and lifestyle habits that fit your needs, help you reach your goals, energize and inspire you to move, every day. This year, focus on you!
Happy New Year!