A couple days ago, I wrote about a few things to keep in mind when designing an in-season training program. If you missed it, you can check it out here: In-Season Hockey Training

In that post, I alluded to the fact that one of the primary goals of an in-season training program is to maintain the capacity of the individual physical qualities (e.g. speed, power, strength, conditioning, etc.) developed over the off-season. To approach this the right way, it’s instructive to have an idea of:

  1. What qualities are inherently trained as a part of hockey practice and competition
  2. The rate at which individual qualities degrade
  3. What qualities can be trained together without compromising progress

The first of these was discussed in the last post, so today we’ll focus on the latter two. Much of my knowledge in this area comes from Dr. Vladimir Issurin, a scientific advisor to the Soviet and Israeli Olympic programs and author of the book Block Periodization. Mike Potenza introduced me to his work last Summer when I was in San Jose, and I’ve done quite a bit of reading in this area since. For advanced athletes that have already gone through the rapid progress phase typical of newbies, I think Block Periodization is the best way to go. Joe Dowdell did a brilliant job of outlining this work in the seminar he co-ran with Mike Roussell at Peak Performance NYC several weeks ago as well. The basic idea is to use information on physical quality degradation and training interference to optimize progress for any given physical attribute.

This periodization model is based on the length of physical quality residuals, which is the time at which qualities experience a significant detraining effect (Block Periodization, 2008; pg. 25):

  1. Aerobic Endurance: 30 +/- 5 days
  2. Maximum Strength: 30 +/- 5 days
  3. Anaerobic Glycolytic Endurance: 18 +/-4 days
  4. Strength Endurance: 15 +/- 5 days
  5. Maximum Speed (Alactic): 5 +/-3 days

These numbers imply that qualities such as aerobic endurance and maximum strength can be left alone for periods as long as 25-35 days before there is a significant detraining effect. Another notable takehome from this is that EVERY quality degrades within ~30 days, with some much faster than others. For the qualities that don’t receive a significant training stimulus as a result of playing the sport (e.g. maximum strength), ceasing training at the beginning of the season will result in a substantial decline in ability before Halloween. That doesn’t bode well for Playoffs/Nationals in February and March.

This is in addition to the fact that soft-tissue stress accumulation and overall fatigue tends to cause a degradation in movement pattern quality (a more abstract thing to quantify). Again, all of these factors will lead to impaired performance and an increased risk of injury, and could be easily reversed (or at least minimized) with an in-season training program.

Dr. Issurin’s work also highlights the importance of training complimentary physical abilities simultaneously (Dr. Issurin, Block Periodization. 2008, pg 65):

  1. Aerobic Endurance: Alactic (Sprint) abilities, strength endurance-aerobic, maximum strength-hypertrophy (after)
  2. Anaerobic (Glycolytic) Endurance: Strength endurance-anaerobic, aerobic restorative exercises, aerobic-anaerobic (mixed) endurance
  3. Alactic (Sprint) Abilities: Aerobic endurance, explosive strength, maximum strength-hypertrophy (after), aerobic restoration exercises
  4. Maximum Strength-Hypertrophy: Maximum strength-innervation, flexibility, aerobic restoration
  5. Learning New Technical Elements: Any kind of training modality, but after the dominant tasks

In a training setting, this means that each training session (and block of training sessions) should have a primary and secondary focus, and should minimize any emphasis on competing qualities. Nutrition periodization can be tied in to these training initiatives as periods of intense endurance or hypertrophy training may warrant an increase in caloric intake. Similarly, supplements can facilitate improvements in certain athletic qualities. Creatine and beta-alanine are two that many of our athletes will use during phases where strength/hypertrophy and anaerobic endurance, respectively, are primary training focuses. On the ice, these principles still apply. It’s counter-productive to heavily condition athletes and then teach them new skills or tactics. Teaching elements should precede exhaustive ones.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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Most of our off-season hockey players wrapped up their training last week. Most youth programs are getting started with camps in the next couple weeks. At this time of year, I get a ton of questions from players and parents about what they can do in-season to help maintain or continue progressing their physical development.

For starters, I think it’s important to establish how crucial in-season training is. In-season training has certainly gained favor over the last decade or so, but there are still thought-leaders/organization heads with an old-school mentality that don’t emphasize it nearly enough. This, in part, might be explained by a lack of understanding of the goals of in-season training:

  1. Maintain physical qualities (continue to increase in lesser trained players)
  2. Reverse negative changes in soft-tissue length and quality
  3. Facilitate recovery

This stuff is VERY important in-season!

All of these goals are inter-related. When done right, in-season training will help players feel, perform, and recover faster. As an example, take a look at a few interesting statistics from my friend Stieg Theander’s work with the Phoenix Coyotes:

Man Games Lost to Injury

  • 1996: 450
  • 1997: 473
  • 1998: 250 (Stieg’s first year!)
  • 1999: 149
  • 2000: 142

The first year resulted in a ~45% reduction in man games lost to injury. After 3 years, that number decreased another 25%. That’s a 70% reduction in man games lost to injury in three years! It would be short-sighted to attribute all of this to in-season training, but it highlights the magnitude of change a quality training program can have on a team’s health. Think your team would do better with a 70% reduction in games lost to injury?

In-Season Training Composition
Some of the hesitancy with implementing in-season training programs boils down to not understanding how to design and implement the program. If a player take their off-season program and follows it through the year, they’ll be completely buried before Thanksgiving. The off-season is about developing capacity; the in-season is about doing the bare minimum to maintain capacity. These are much different goals and require drastically different approaches.

Three In-Season Program Changes
I’m in the process of developing the new in-season programs for the entire Team Comcast Tier I youth organization for this season, so I’ll probably post some of the programs to HockeySC.com over the next couple weeks. Until then, here are three in-season program changes to think about:

1) Speed and conditioning work is on the ice
In the off-season, we sprint twice per week and condition between 2-3 times depending on the phase. In-season, the players’ speed and conditioning work should be done on the ice. If players perform drills at a high tempo, they’re getting the most hockey-specific form of speed training possible, and most practices are of sufficient tempo to prepare players to compete in a game (despite what physiologists may tell you). Hammering sprint and conditioning work off the ice will put excessive wear and tear across the muscles of the hips and lower body. In-season, sprint work should be limited to very low volume (e.g. 4-6 sprints of 10-15 yards), and be done sporadically. Conditioning should be low impact (e.g. on bikes or using circuits), and be used to compliment on-ice conditioning. Most youth players skating 4+ times per week will be fine in this department. Pro players that may not get much ice during games are a different story and will benefit from supplementary conditioning work.

2) Avoid rotation
This is anti-sport-specific training at it’s finest. Hockey players rotate several hundred times per week during practices and games to turn, give and accept passes and hits, shoot, and orient their eyes in a more optimal position to read the play. All of this is stress in a rotation pattern. Like speed work, rotation-based core work should be limited in volume and frequency.

During this time, however, it is extremely important to maintain rotation-pattern mobility. Amongst others, hips and thoracic spines tend to stiffen up as the season prolongs. Maintaining this mobility is a top priority and should be done on as close to a daily basis as possible. In our setting, we built our warm-up to encompass these qualities so we know they’re hitting them every time we see them, and encourage teams to do the same warm-up when they’re not under our supervision. We’ll also build some extra mobility work into the off-ice training sessions (lying knee to knee mobilizations, diagonal hip rocks, wide stance quadruped rock, seated thoracic rotations, diagonal arm arcs, etc.).

Lying Knee to Knee Stretch. This can also be done for reps with 2s holds, and with a sleeved shirt.

3) Strength and Power are Key
In general, the physical qualities stressed on the ice during the season are multi-directional speed, low load power, and work capacity/conditioning. To design a program that compliments on-ice work, it’s important to consider what qualities ARE NOT being stressed on the ice. Strength and high load power are visibly absent from the list above. ALL in-season work should be low volume, but there should be a greater proportion of the total training program allocated to these qualities than the others that receive more on-ice attention. To be overly simplistic, if all players did was follow this template:

A1) Olympic Lift
A2) Hip Mobility
B1) LB Push
B2) UB Pull
C1) LB Pull
C2) UB Push

they’d be much better off than what most players do.

Great display of power. Colby Cohen hang cleans 235 x 3

The key is to get a low volume of high intensity high quality reps in, and then call it a day. Don’t overdo it. 2-3 sets of 4-8 reps is all it takes for most in-season lifts. As a general rule, player’s shouldn’t be smoked at the end of an in-season training session; they should feel warmed up and energized. There is a time for tough sessions in the interest of team building or developing mental toughness, but this is the exception, not the rule.

Hopefully this provides a reasonable insight into the composition of an in-season training program. In a couple days, I’ll post some important information on how to alter the stimulus of a training program to minimize the risk of detraining throughout the year. Check back soon!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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A few days back, I mentioned that I was working my way through a new collaborative resource called Muscle Imbalances Revealed: Upper Body (or MIRU for short) from Tony Gentilcore, Jeff Cubos, Dean Somerset and Rick Kaselj.


I was going to wait to write up a review on this as I still have a presentation to watch, but Rick sent me an email yesterday saying that today is the final day of their introductory price. In other words, tomorrow the price jumps $70.

Many of you may recognize the name; MIRU is a follow-up to a lower body system released last year. The lower body system was very well received by the full fitness industry continuum, from fitness enthusiasts to pro sports physical therapists. I’ve gone through both systems now and can say that if you liked the lower body system, you will LOVE the upper body system.

If you train hard yourself and/or work with clients in any performance or rehabilitation setting, muscle imbalances play a role in your success or lack thereof. In other words, muscle imbalances can be a significant contributor to pain and dysfunction, but can also be a less obvious barrier to training progress. I think most people can readily understand how only performing movements in one direction (e.g. only bench pressing in contrast to a more balanced program of pressing and pulling) could lead to imbalances over time. Probably less intuitive is the idea that how we carry ourselves throughout the day also significant contribute to muscle imbalances. Everything is important; not just how you move, but also how you don’t move. How you sleep, how you sit at a desk, how you drive, how you stand, how you walk, and how you long you spend doing each of these will all have a profound impact on your performance. MIRU did a great job of identifying common imbalances that general and more sport-specific populations suffer. More importantly, they outlined an exhaustive list of preventative and corrective strategies to help show you how to train/live your way back into a more balanced state. Below are three (of the many) of the things I really liked about the new Muscle Imbalances Revealed: Upper Body system.

Three Take Homes from Muscle Imbalances Revealed:

1) Connective Tissue Dictates Function
Dean Somerset’s presentation on ‘fascia’ was outstanding. He outlined a lot of the current research and thinking on the role fascia plays in performance, including how it communicates with the nervous system and how it adapts. Dean’s presentation was reminiscent of the two that I saw Thomas Myers give a few months back. Fascia is a living structure that constantly adapts to the stress (or lack thereof) placed across it and is an underlying factor in much of the movement dysfunction and eventual injury that we see on a daily basis. Because of it’s nervous system innervation, it can actually contract. Myers said that the 2010-2019 decade would be the “Fascial Fitness” era. I think the information Dean outlined in his presentation and the movement for most top performance experts and rehabilitation specialists to include soft-tissue work in their programs supports this. If you want a crash course on the current state of scientific knowledge on fascia, Dean’s presentation is your best bet. Of course, the science is interesting, but of no use if it lacks practicality. Dean followed up the scientific rationale with a number of easily implemented soft-tissue techniques (and how to perform them the CORRECT way) that people can incorporate into their pre-training warm-up routine.

2) Knowing What NOT To Do Is Half The Battle
Regardless of where you reside philosophically on the importance of assessments and corrective exercise, it’s relatively unarguable that people aren’t all built the same and that many will require some adjustment to their program to ensure they aren’t training their way into dysfunction or aggravating lurking injuries. It’s the old “don’t squeeze square pegs into round holes” analogy. Tony Gentilcore provided an in-depth look at upper body assessments, and then followed it up with a great battery of “if this, then don’t do this” scenarios and training strategies to help restore balance and optimal function across the thoracic spine and shoulders. Tony is a really bright guy and has been a great resource for me since I interned at Cressey Performance several years ago. Because the overwhelming majority of the clientele at CP are baseball players (and most of the rest are people that want to get really really ridiculously strong), Tony has years of daily experience working with high-risk populations to draw from, and it shows. His presentations were the ultimate display of practicality. They were also hilarious. If you have a good hold on all the assessment stuff and just want a few new punchlines to entertain your clients (or yourself), this would still be a great investment.

3) Proper Positioning Dictates Core Function
If I look back over the last year, I think one of the biggest changes I’ve made in my coaching philosophy has to do with the importance of positioning the spine and rib cage for optimal diaphragm functioning. Over the last 12 months, I’ve been exposed to this concept through multiple Postural Restoration Institute courses, Shirley Sahrmann’s new book “Movement System Impairment Syndromes of the Extremities, Cervical and Thoracic Spines“, Charlie Weingroff’s Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training, conversations I’ve had with other professionals about DNS, and now Dr. Jeff Cubos’ presentations. The general idea is that proper diaphragm function will drive both respiration and core control, which has implications for various aspects of performance, but will also play a role in dictating the body’s autonomic nervous system status. In other words, a poorly functioning diaphragm (unilaterally or bilaterally) can push you into a more sympathetic state during times when this system should be relatively dormant. This can have short- and long-term consequences on performance and recovery. A requisite step in establishing proper diaphragm function is establishing proper diaphragm position, which involves positioning the thoracolumbar junction and rib cage in a neutral alignment. Dr. Cubos goes through this in detail and provides exercise progressions for how to retrain your body to hold this position during movement.  Dr. Cubos and I have come to know each other through our work with hockey players. Because he’s relatively new to the “internet scene”, he’s probably one of the brightest and most skilled guys you’ve never heard of. His MIRU presentations do an excellent job of outlining the whys and hows of one of the most overlooked aspects of training.

I haven’t worked by way through all of Rick’s presentations yet, but they’re off to a great start. If you’re interested in grabbing a copy of MIRU, do not wait! The clock is ticking (they literally have a timer counting down until the special offer leaves…only a few hours left). Click the image/link below to check it out!

Click here >> Muscle Imbalances Revealed: Upper Body

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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In the past, I’ve proposed that speed (both on and off the ice) comes down to force application. In other words, the more force you put into the ice, the faster you skate. This understanding is important because it helps athletes (and parents and coaches) that are ONLY interested in speed understand the importance of strength training. Simply, using the transitive property of mathematics:

More Strength = More Force
More Force = More Speed
More Strength = More Speed

While there’s more to it than this, it really is THIS simple for many of the hockey players I work with. They’re simply not strong enough to skate faster than they are. They need to improve their capacity to develop speed before they can develop speed.

I recently came across a new study on sprinting performance that had some interesting results. Bret Contreras, who is about as well-read in strength and conditioning research as anyone I know, wrote a summary of the article here: Sprinting Performance is Not Solely About Force Put Into the Ground. Legendary ice hockey physiologist Jack Blatherwick wrote a more hockey-specific interpretation of the study here: Acceleration: It’s not just about strength; it’s about efficient application of strength .

You can read the abstract here: Technical Ability of Force Application as a Determinant Factor of Sprint Performance

Basically, the results of this study support the idea that the TOTAL amount of force put into the ground isn’t as important as the direction of the force. At first glance, this strikes me as one of those studies that people will misinterpret and inappropriately cite for years. “Force doesn’t matter!”. Force still matters. In fact, force is still the key; it just needs to be qualified.

In these studies, researchers can use force platforms to dissociate between force applied in vertical and horizontal orientations. Every ground-based athletic movement will involve both, but with certain movements it will be more desirable to shift a greater proportion of the force production in either a vertical or horizontal orientation. For example, a vertical jump would necessitate maximal vertical force production and minimal horizontal force production. Likewise, it is only logical that sprinting, an activity whose performance is quantified by the time it takes to cover a horizontal distance, would necessitate more force put forth in a horizontal direction than vertical.

Optimal acceleration positioning

As Blatherwick pointed out in his article, the primary finding of this study is one that track coaches (and the strength and conditioning coaches that put a premium on sprint technique) have known for years. Training to improve a player’s capacity to produce force (e.g. strength) is a necessary part of development. The important take home from this study is that movement quality cannot be overlooked, and in itself is a worthy training aim. Once QUALITY is established, then QUANTITY should be overlaid to improve capacity.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. You can get a free copy of my hockey speed training manual “Breakaway Hockey Speed”. Just enter your name and email below!

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We’re in the final phase of our off-season hockey training program at Endeavor Sports Performance, which means a lot of our players are starting to trickle back to their teams. It also means we’re at the final stage of exercise progressions for physical qualities like power, speed, and conditioning. From a programming standpoint, this is the most fun phase to write. It’s also the most fun phase to coach. A lot of new exercises that encompass multiple training qualities. In today’s post, I want to show you a video of a dynamic rotational power exercise.

Before we get to that, I wanted to let you know that my friend Rick Kaselj is just releasing his new system: Muscle Imbalances Revealed: Upper Body. Rick’s lower body system was a huge hit, and this features a couple new presenters in Tony Gentilcore and Jeff Cubos. I’m about half way through reviewing it (might write a full review if I can find the time in the near future), and it’s an awesome resource. Tony’s presentations alone are worth the price of admission. I could sit down with a beer and watch these on repeat. It’s like listening to Larry David giving a highly educational and well-researched talk on upper body assessments and exercise programming. Jeff Cubos, Dean Somerset, and Rick cover a host of other important topics, including soft-tissue work, advanced core training, linking breathing to performance and rehab, and neck exercises. For those of you that train people for a living, the system comes with CEU’s too. If you’re interested, check out the link below for more information.

Click here >> Muscle Imbalances Revealed

Med Ball Shotput with Rapid Step Behind with Partner Pass
Our rotational power exercises progress in:

  • Symmetry (more sets in non-shooting direction in early off-season)
  • Volume (more sets toward end of off-season)
  • Load (heaviest load in 2nd off-season phase, then back off in 3rd phase to emphasize velocity)
  • Starting position (progress to dynamic movements toward end of off-season)

Within the 2nd and 3rd off-season phases, we’ll incorporate a partner pass. The video below is of a “Med Ball Shotput with Rapid Step Behind with Partner Pass”, an exercise our hockey players perform in the final two weeks of their last off-season program.

Great power and eye movement

Another med ball for the graveyard

I’m all for creativity, but I won’t include an exercise in our athlete’s programs unless it serves a specific purpose. In this case, we’ve added components to the exercise to integrate other important athletic qualities without sacrificing the core goal: rotational power. Adding a dynamic start teaches the athlete to generate maximal rotational power from a non-stationary position, which is traditionally how this quality is needed on the ice. Adding a partner pass teaches the athlete to make quick adjustments based on the accuracy of the pass to maintain power. We also cue our players to rapid turn their eyes to the wall, pick a spot on the wall, and throw the ball THROUGH that spot. Actually, we tell our players that’s what we’re looking for, and then we just say “eyes” as a reminder. We use the same cue during transitional sprint work: “eyes first”. We want to get our players into the habit of maximizing their occulomotor drivers, and, more simplistically, just looking where they’re going/shooting.

I’ve talked a lot about how the most sport-specific training can be anti-sport-specific training, and that you don’t want to revert back to the moronic chaos of exercises like band-resisted slap shots and things of that nature. In this case, I think the demands of this exercise are about as hockey-specific as it gets, at least without throwing in someone to play defense. Maybe the best terminology is to think of training qualities, but not skills. In this case, we’re incorporating qualities like visual adjustment and tracking, dynamic adjustment, and projectile accuracy without sacrificing the core goal of rotational power.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Don’t forget to check this out to see if it’s right for you! Muscle Imbalances Revealed

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