In the last two segments of this series, I outlined the exact pre-season testing we did with the new USPHL team I’m working with this season, and how I present the testing results to players. If you missed those posts, you can check them out here:

  1. Off-Ice Testing
  2. Hockey Team Testing: Player Reporting

Today, I want to expand on the player reporting post by sharing how I conveyed this information to the coaching staff as well as how I use it to dictate the player’s programs.

Coaches Report
When thinking about how I wanted to convey testing results to the coaching staff, I tried to put myself in their shoes and consider what I would want to know. Naturally, the idea is present the data in a way that answers the questions, “What did you test?” and “How did everyone do?”

What did you test?In typing up the coaching report, I identified and described the body composition test and each of the performance tests we did. The descriptions included the purpose of the test, how to interpret the results, and any notable limitations. These sections were meant to give the coaching staff a basic understanding of the point of each test and a means of interpreting the information. As an example, we used a 3-site skinfold body fat analysis. At our facility, I typically use a 12-site analysis and analyze the information using both Poliquin’s BioSignature Modulation and a simple 7-site equation. With a team’s worth of kids to test and not much time to do it, performing a 12-site analysis on each player wasn’t realistic. I don’t put a lot of stock in the 3-site as far as knowing exactly what the individual’s body fat is, but it still serves as a good screen to identify players that will need to reign in on their nutrition during the year and helps connect some dots regarding any connection between body composition and the other performance test scores we see. This, I feel, is important for the coaches to be aware of; in this case the test is more of a screen for outliers than anything else.

How did everyone do?In each section, after identifying and describing the tests, I broke down the data into three sections:

  1. Team Summary
  2. Whole Team Performance
  3. Performance By Position

The Team Summary included the Best, Worst, and Average scores for the team as a whole, the forwards, the defensemen, and the goalies. This provides a birds eye view of the average and range of performances on each test. The Whole Team section included each players performance ranked from best to worst. This expands on the Team Summary by showing the coaches exactly how each player performed and where they fell relative to the team. The By Position section expanded on this same concept by showing the data by position. In this format, the coaching staff can see how the team did, how each individual did, and how players rank against their teammates, both in terms of the team as a whole and by position. Ranking by position I feel provides more information than ranking the whole team together because it rules out being ranked higher or lower based on position-specific adaptations.

At the end of the Coaches Report, I included all of the individual Player Cards so the coaches could see all of the testing for a given player in one place, see how this information would be conveyed to the players, and see the notes I included for each player. For the players I had prior testing data for (those that trained with us this Summer), I also included their pre- and post- comparisons so they could see how each kid progressed over the off-season. In total the report was 48 pages, but it had all the information I wanted to get across!

Programming Considerations
There are a lot of different ways to utilize the data we collected, but how we’ve moved forward depends a lot of logistics and on other goals of the program. To address this latter point, this team is about two weeks old at this point, so a major goal is to start to establish an identity. In other words, we, as a team, need to develop the culture for how things will be handled off the ice. To a lot of these players, EVERYTHING is new, from training as a team in general, to the exercises (and their names), to the layout of the program. As a result, we’re keeping things fairly basic in the lifts, with the intent of teaching key movement and positional concepts that will create a foundation to build off in the future. As far as applying testing data, testing loads will be used to drive percentage-based training load recommendations for a number of lifts moving forward.

USPHL Flyers Testing

Matt Siniscalchi and Matt Sees spotting the kids during their Bench Press 3-RM Test

The neutrality/mobility assessments were used to create each player’s corrective algorithms, with players having as few as 2 and as many as 4 corrective exercises that they’ll need to do on a regular basis. The correctives are basically a mix of exercises based on PRI and FMS methodology, as I describe in Optimizing Movement. The players are put into buckets based on their specific findings, such that each player has an individual corrective sequence, but there are really only 9 different exercises that we need to teach. In this way, we can deliver exactly what the player needs without being overwhelmed by teaching each player completely different exercises from each other player. Realistically, the first time or two through (in a team setting) is always just a learning process, and the real “magic” won’t take place on a team basis until everyone gains a basic level of mastery over their exercises.

Similarly, players are given extra conditioning work based on their assessment findings. Through our conditioning test, we were able to get:

  1. Fastest Shuttle
  2. Shuttle Average
  3. Sprint Decrement (A statistical measure assessing drop-off from the initial sprint with each successive sprint)
  4. Max Heart Rate
  5. Average Heart Rate
  6. 60s Heart Rate Recovery
  7. Estimated Anaerobic Threshold

Using all of this information, we’re able to gain some insight into what an individual’s conditioning needs may be an add in some extra work to keep them moving in the right direction. Naturally, the majority of the training stimulus for the kids is coming from on-ice work at this time of year, so we don’t want to bury them with off-ice work. The general schedule at this point is:

  1. Day 1: Day 1 Team Lift; Individual Correctives
  2. Day 2: Individual Correctives; Individual Conditioning
  3. Day 3: Day 2 Team Lift; Individual Correctives
  4. Day 4: Open Hours for Manual Work; Extra work dependent upon upcoming game schedule

As I’ve said in the past, in my mind everything is always a work in progress and always in some part of an evolution. The assessments, corrective algorithms/exercises, program design methodology, and scheduling I’ve set up for this program will invariably change as the season goes on and in future years, but hopefully this series gives you an inside look into my philosophy and how I’m approaching things currently. As always, please share this series with your friends and post any comments you have below!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

A couple days ago I outlined the entire testing process we went through recently with the Philadelphia Flyers Junior Team. This included everything from test selection through implementation, and how we coordinated everything to ensure we got the most valid information, without overlooking the main intent of the camp: to prepare the players for the season. If you missed that post, you can check it out here: Off-Ice Testing

Flyers Logo

Today I want to follow up on that post by sharing how I convey this information to the players. One of the great things about this level is that it’s a developmental league. While there is no doubt there is an expectation (and a desire) to win, ultimately the goal is to develop the players to be successful at the next level. This is important because it means the kids are hungry for information that will help them become better players, which feeds into both why we tested the things we did, and how we’re going to use that information.

I’ve been collecting information on our off-season hockey group for years. The majority of the time, the information was purely mobility based and was used to drive our corrective exercise and technique modifications throughout the Summer. I think two big mistakes I made in the past was that I didn’t fully explain to players why this information mattered (e.g. how it would affect their performance or durability), and I didn’t show them how they improved following any of the work they did. Despite most players trusting me, there’s something about seeing the off-ice testing data that is very powerful. For that reason, I have developed “Player Cards” to convey testing data to all of our players. These player cards take two forms:

  1. Single-test presentation
  2. Multiple-test presentation

Single-Test Presentation
This is only something I’ve used with this junior team and not with our off-season kids, as a lot of what I include in this sheet isn’t relevant for a diverse group that will leave to go play on different teams and at different levels. On this sheet, all of the individual’s testing information is presented in an organized, fairly simple manner. Players are also presented with the top performance and how their test ranked, both in terms of their position and for the team as a whole.

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you likely know that I don’t think comparing players based solely on testing data is very efficacious. The best players aren’t always the most remarkable off the ice (especially at this age), and the true ranking of players should be done ON the ice. That said, I think there is value in using a ranking system as a means of communicating areas of improvement to players. If a player is dead last in their average shuttle time and has the team’s worst body fat percentage, that could open the door to a conversation on how improving his nutrition could improve his conditioning. Similarly, if a player has the teams lowest (or near lowest) vertical jump, and the coach tells me the biggest factor holding the player back is his speed/explosiveness on the ice, this allows me to communicate to the player how these things could be related and will help with getting the player to buy-in to the program. A testing score, in isolation, really doesn’t mean a whole lot in most cases. By putting things in context of the rest of the group, it provides a “this is where you are relative to other players at your level” that is easy for players to understand, and in many cases very motivational.

You can check out a sample of this sheet here: Sample Player Testing Sheet

You’ll see that I also include a notes section at the bottom. I use this section to convey the top “red flags” or areas to work one that I pick up from the testing sheet. Given the amount of information on these sheets, it’s easy for a player to become overwhelmed or misinterpret some information. For example, if one of our mobility assessments is identified as being “Limited”, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on the results of the other tests and on the player. Jotting down a few notes at the bottom streamlines the player’s attention to what he should be focusing his efforts on in the immediate future.

Multiple-Test Presentation
As I mentioned before, players want to know they’re making progress. In addition to some periodic monitoring throughout the Summer, we retested everything we did at the beginning of the Summer with all of our players. This information is set-up into a basic excel spreadsheet with all the body comp and mobility information from each testing period (pre- and post-Summer) pooled on one sheet, and all the performance testing pooled on another. As a group, this allows me to sit down and sift through all the numbers to make sure that the group as a whole is moving in the right direction, which can influence future programming considerations. I then take all of this information and divide it up into individual spreadsheets so I can just add future testing sessions as a new row each testing bout.

This allows me to easily track progress for a player and adjust future programs when necessary. It also allows me to put an individual’s testing results within context. For example, we had a player on the junior team whose vertical jump test was toward the bottom of the team. Naturally, it would be easy for the player to look at that information and become discouraged. However, this player put on 10 lbs of lean mass and added 4″ to his vertical in the 3 months he trained with us this off-season. Even though he’s toward the bottom end of the team, he’s made remarkable progress since he started.

This Summer, I emailed all of these sheets out to players and highlighted a few things that they should be proud of, and a few things that they should continue to focus on during the year. With this, players are able to see their progress as well as have an indication of where to focus their efforts moving forward.

In the next post, I’ll discuss how I present the testing information to the coaching staff and how I use this information to drive programming decisions. Check back tomorrow and please post your comments below!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

In addition to my current responsibilities at Endeavor, I recently started as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach and Manual Therapist for the Philadelphia Flyers Junior A team, a Junior A team that formed locally as part of the newly formed United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). This is a really fun and exciting opportunity for me. Those of you that know me well know that, despite loving my job, I miss being in a team setting. There’s something about the long grind of a season, and working together to pursue a common goal that really drives me. Additionally, because the team is brand new and I know the Head Coach so well, I have a lot of freedom that probably isn’t common for S&C Coaches that are new to a team. Having the ability to communicate openly and effectively with a coach can have a profound impact on team performance, as it creates a more cohesive program, syncing off- and on-ice plans, sending consistent messages to players, training/coaching a player based on individual weaknesses as relayed by the coach, etc.

A few weeks ago, the team opened with camp and we dove right into testing. For the reasons I mentioned above, I had the ability to design the entire testing process exactly as I wanted. The three primary considerations here are: 1) Test selection; 2) Scheduling the testing sessions to get the information I wanted; and 3) Organizing the testing logistically to ensure it’s a smooth process. Today’s post outlines exactly how we conducted the testing process. My hope is that this will stimulate some discussion with those of you that work in team settings and either utilize different tests or don’t test at all. Please post your thoughts in the comments section below!

Test Selection
This process will depend heavily on the philosophy of the strength and conditioning coach. I look at it from two perspectives:

  1. What information do I want from an tracking/analysis perspective?
  2. What information do I want from a programming perspective?

In this case, I wanted to get an indication of where each player stood in terms of joint neutrality and mobility. For the players that trained with us all off-season, this is a standard part of the “retest” process that allows us to track how much players improved. In the rare case that they didn’t, it allows us to start asking different questions, place a greater emphasis on manual therapy work, or refer them out to someone with different skill sets. For new players, it gives us a baseline of where they are so we can track their changes over time, and also serves as an identifier of any “red flags” that may require immediate attention.

In terms of performance, my goal was to collect information relevant to our future programming, while simultaneously collecting enough information to physiologically profile the athletes. In simple terms, I want to be able to pick out the players that fall on either extreme end of the continuum from the high power, poor endurance players to the high endurance, poor power players. This gives me information to discuss goals with the player, discuss how these things may be influencing on-ice limitations in the coaches eye, as well as to drive any individualization from a programming or nutrition standpoint.

Our testing battery included:

  1. Neutrality/Mobility
    1. 3-Site Body Fat Analysis
    2. PRI Assessments of Neutrality/Ligamentous Integrity: Extension Drop Test, Adduction Drop Test, Passive Abduction Lift Test, Shoulder Internal Rotation, Shoulder Flexion, and Horizontal Shoulder Abduction
    3. FMS Assessments of Mobility: Active Straight Leg Raise, Shoulder Mobility, Ankle Mobility (not formally part of the FMS-7), and Cervical Spine Screens I took from the SFMA
    4. Quadruped Rock
    5. Seated Hip Internal and External Rotation
  2. Performance
    1. Vertical Jump
    2. Lateral Bound
    3. Reverse Lunge (Back Squat Grip) 5-RM
    4. Bench Press 3-RM
    5. Chin-Up Rep Max
    6. 12 x 50-Yard Shuttles on 30s
      1. Average Heart Rate
      2. Maximum Heart Rate
      3. 60s Heart Rate Recovery

Scheduling the Tests
My major concern with the test scheduling was ensuring that I’d get accurate data. If the information collected isn’t accurate, it’s impossible to interpret. For example, if you want to know a player’s maximum vertical jump height, it’s unlikely you’ll get valid information if you assess this after they skate. Similarly, it wouldn’t be ideal to perform a lower body strength test before a lower body power exercise, as fatigue from lower body strength testing is more likely to interfere with a single-effort power test than vice versa. This is not only important from a within testing day perspective, but also from day to day, as soreness will inevitably effect testing performance as well.

For this reason, we set up the schedule as follows:

  1. Day 1: AM: Body Comp, Neutrality, Mobility Testing; PM: Practice
  2. Day 2: AM: Power, Conditioning Testing; PM: Practice
  3. Day 3: AM: Strength Testing; PM: Practice
  4. Day 4: AM: Practice; PM: Training Session
  5. Day 5: AM: Practice; PM: Training Session
  6. Day 6: AM: Practice; PM: Training Session
  7. Day 7: PM: Scrimmage

This set-up allowed us to get testing numbers from the kids while they were fresh. The practices during the first three days were light so the players had plenty of gas in the tank for off-ice testing. Naturally, it doesn’t matter if the players are off-ice phenoms if their on-ice skills aren’t refined/prepared. The extra skill work early in the week, followed by having skates before training sessions, and training sessions that were more oriented toward teaching fundamental movement patterns we’ll be using a lot this season allowed a smooth transition from a testing to on-ice preparation focus.

Some testing protocols were easier to organize than others, but the general layout looked like this:

Day 1
This was the most difficult one to handle, as there were lots of kids and lots of tests. We split the team into two groups, each blocked for an hour. When the players arrived, they would come to me for body fat, Matt Siniscalchi for a couple of the FMS tests, Matt Sees for a couple of the FMS tests, and then back to me for the remaining tests (after I had finished everyone’s body fat). In hindsight, this ran very smoothly, but we could have easily done it with just two coaches.

Day 2
The entire team came in at once. After we warmed up together, half the team went to do the Vertical Jump, the other half went to Lateral Bound. When everyone was finished testing, we swapped. This took about 15-20 minutes total. We then divided the group into 4’s to do the shuttle test. Each group took about 7 minutes so the last group had a pretty significant wait. We told guys to start rewarming up with some basic locomotion exercises when the group before them hit the half way mark, so no one was cold going into the test. While I wasn’t thrilled with having guys wait so long, I think it was good to have the entire team there to support their teammates, as this is a brutal test. Like the previous (and next) day, we had a 2-hour block scheduled to get through everything, but we ended up finishing pretty early.

Day 3
This was the easiest day to handle logistically. The team was again divided into two groups with an hour block dedicated to teach. Each group would come in, foam roll, go through a group dynamic warm-up, and then do the reverse lunge, bench press, and chin-up tests. The biggest hurdle here is that many of the players that hadn’t trained at our facility had never done a reverse lunge, so there was a bit of a learning curve. With the new guys, we emphasized that it was more about learning the movement and getting an estimation of where they were at so we could use those loads for programming more than setting a world record. There were some ugly reps throughout the morning, but overall everyone did a great job. Most kids are more familiar with bench pressing so that test ran smoothly and the chin-up test is always quick and easy because it’s only one set.

From a performance standpoint, I think this process is probably very familiar to most of the strength and conditioning coaches out there, at least those working in college or professional settings. What may be more novel is all of the neutrality/mobility testing we do, as I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people over the last year about how to integrate this information into a group or team setting, and how it’s used to alter programming. These are the exact topics I covered in my new DVD Optimizing Movement, which has been getting awesome feedback from the people that have checked it out.

“Kevin’s passion and knowledge shine through in this DVD set. He is able to teach so that a strength coach/personal trainer of any level will understand, leaving you with a hunger to learn more and an excitement to move on to the next slide. This industry is filled with information on maximizing movement quality but Kevin’s Optimizing Movement DVD is my go to. He starts from the ground up discussing the importance of setting a sound foundation for a client, using assessments to identify limitations they may have and corrective exercise to build a program fit to the individual’s needs. I refer back to the DVDs often and learn something new each time. All strength coaches and trainers will benefit from this awesome resource!”

Caitlin Vassello BS, CSCS
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Tier 4 Coach at Equinox

If you work in a group/team setting, and want to learn more about how to assess your clients/athletes and make their program and your coaching cues more individualized, Optimizing Movement will be right up your ally!

Optimizing Movement DVD Package

In the next two posts, I’ll discuss how I’m communicating testing results to the players and to the coach, and how I’m using testing results to drive programming decisions. Stay tuned, and as I mentioned before, please post your comments below!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

Over the Summer I had an opportunity to train a junior player for the NHL combine. While I recognize that combine prep can be big business, I’ve steered clear of doing stuff like this in the past because I think training to prepare specifically for a testing battery can often be conflicting with training to prepare for the season. In this case, the player was one that was friends with many of the kids we trained already and had a very narrow window between finishing his junior program and attending the NHL Combine, after which he reported immediately to college to train for the remainder of the off-season. I wish I had the player for the full Summer, but it was fun preparing him for the combine before he left for college.

As with all of our athletes, we started this player off with an assessment and an overall “needs analysis”. We used our mobility screening to implement an individualized corrective program (as I discuss in detail in Optimizing Movement). From a performance standpoint, there were a few things to consider.  The combine is an opportunity for programs to get an understanding of your physiological makeup, as well as your psychological makeup. To address the latter point, it was important for the player to recognize that part of what coaches are looking for is how you respond when things start to suck. There are a few tests in the combine (notably the VO2Max test and the Wingate) that aren’t very pleasant to go through; it’s important for players to dig deep and grind through these tests to leave a positive impression regarding their work ethic and resolve. We talked about this quite a bit, while he was training with us.

In terms of physiological profiles, what is viewed as advantageous (or disadvantageous) may depend a bit on the position of the player. In this case, the player was a goalie, so explosive power is an extremely important quality. I don’t always think it’s appropriate to judge players based on off-ice tests, but if I see a goalie with less than ~24″ vertical jump, I think they’re under powered and they better be EXCEPTIONAL in terms of their positioning and anticipation if they want to compete at higher levels. There are certainly some goalies that fit this criteria, but I’d much rather have an overpowered goalie than an underpowered one. Bottom line is the position requires a significant amount of explosive movement, and it’s important that goalies possess this quality.

In this case, the player came in and jumped 25.5″ with a counter movement, a number that isn’t remarkable in a positive or negative way. Being that the goal of him training with us was to help him stand out in this process in relevant areas, one of our major short-term targets was to improve this number as much as possible. Another major goal was to improve the athlete’s familiarity with the tests. This comes back to the idea I alluded to earlier, that test preparation and season preparation aren’t always the same thing. With our time frame, the more the athlete practiced the tests, the better prepared he’d be for combine.

Another major consideration when designing any training program is how much time the player has to train. In this case, we only had 3 weeks. This is extremely important, because it drives what can be emphasized with a realistic expectation of adaptation. If a player doesn’t possess a lot of strength, and you only have three weeks to make a difference, training methods involving higher rep sets with short rest periods designed to increase muscular size are unlikely to create a significant adaptation within that time window. In contrast, low rep, high intensity sets will have a much more profound influence given that the adaptations are primarily neural. In other words, from a speed/power/strength perspective, the training process in this time frame is much more about maximizing the individual’s current capacity than it is about creating a larger foundation from which to develop higher peak levels of these qualities.

In the end, the program consisted of:

  1. Individualized corrective work
  2. Contrast training to improve maximum strength and maximum power
  3. Integrating each physical test into the program on a weekly basis (sometimes more)
  4. High intensity work at a low volume to minimize fatigue accumulation and keep the quality and frequency of training high.
  5. So-called “assistance work” to help keep the program balanced

The player trained 5 days per week for 3 weeks. The day of the combine, I got a text message that he tied for the combine lead in vertical jump at 28.5″, 3″ up from where we initially tested him 3 weeks prior. We actually tested him at 29.5″ at our facility the last day before he left (a discrepancy that could be explained by a number of factors, including a different warm-up process, nerves, etc.). All of his other numbers improved similarly, and in the end the player was rewarded for all of his hard work with a 3rd round selection (I was told this was ~2 rounds earlier than hew as projected).

Aside from being really proud of the work he put in, and happy that it paid off for him, I think this process helps shed light on the program design process in general. Every training program should be designed in consideration to the answers of these questions:

  1. What is the athlete preparing for?
  2. Who is the athlete (what is their training background and injury history, how do they move and what limits more optimal movement, and what are their current strengths and weaknesses)?
  3. How much time do they have to train, both in terms of the total duration of their program, and how much time they can dedicate each week, day, etc.?

For Ultimate Hockey Training Insiders, I added the NHL Combine Prep program last week so you can see exactly what we did. If you’re not currently an Insider and are interested in joining, check out this link for more information: Ultimate Hockey Training

Ultimate Hockey Training-Membership Card Insider Small
To your success,

Kevin Neeld

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!

Every year I come across parents that are concerned about their kids lifting weights. Typically the kids are 13-14 years old or younger, and the parents (or in some cases the coaches) are under the impression that lifting weights at this age is inappropriate. Because this is such a pervasive feeling, I want to dive into this topic and point out some of the lesser discussed ideas that are pertinent in deciding whether weight training is appropriate for younger kids.

First off, let’s rename “weight training” to what it really is “resistance training.” Weights are simply one form of resistance, of which there are plenty, and any discussion on weight training would be misguided without mentioning that there are other ways to load the body to add resistance. This distinction will be important moving forward.

The biggest concern most parents have about resistance training for young athletes, rightfully so, is whether it is safe or not. You, like me, have probably heard that no one should lift weights until they’re at least 13 years old. This idea has two origins:

  1. A concern about unclosed growth plates being at greater risk for fracture
  2. Pre-pubescent kids have not hit the stage of hormonal development where they’re able to put on substantial amounts of muscle mass from resistance training.

Hockey Development-Physiological Factors

To address the first issue, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) put out a position statement years ago stating that resistance training is safe for kids as young as 6. Even at 6, the concern is mostly social and psychological, not physical. The concern that kids will fracture growth plates and stunt their growth is entirely unfounded (e.g. to my knowledge, less than 2 documented cases in the history of documented evidence). There are more reports of kids being rushed to the hospital from complications related to consuming energy drinks in the last year than there are of fractured growth plates EVER. In other words, fractured growth plates and stunted growth is not a legitimate concern. Simply, it does not happen.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes resistance training can be a way to DELOAD body weight. For example, performing a push-up requires pushing ~75% of an individual’s body weight. For a 100lb kid, this is ~75 lbs. While many parents are fearful of lifting weights, they’re in full support of body weight exercises such as push-ups, chin-ups, lunges, etc. The reality is that most kids aren’t strong enough to do very many QUALITY push-ups with good technique, and performing a dumbbell chest press (a bench press movement with dumbbells) with 2 x 15lb dumbbells can be an effective tool in improving the kid’s upper body strength in this pattern, along with a number of other benefits. External load often gets mistaken for internal load, which leads to underestimating how stressful certain body weight activities really are. As another example, the stress going through the kids’ bodies when they sprint full speed on the ice with ~10+ lbs of equipment on and stop sharply to change direction are higher than those resulting from doing lunges holding light dumbbells. Furthermore, research documenting injury rates from different sports shows that injury rates are DRASTICALLY higher in common youth sports like soccer, hockey, football, etc. than they are in weightlifting. In other words, in addition to growth plate fractures and stunted growth not being a serious concern, resistance training is actually incredibly safe when performed with proper progression and coaching.

If you look at Long Term Athletic Development models, you’ll see that kids around 12 years old are in a “sensitive period” for the development of speed and conditioning. Simply, this means that they can improve in all athletic areas (speed, power, strength, balance/coordination, movement efficiency, conditioning, etc.), but speed and conditioning are the qualities that will experience accelerated rates of improvement. Speed comes down to putting force into the ice (or ground) quickly. High force output and explosive movements rely heavily on “high threshold” motor units or “fast twitch muscle fibers”. One method of training these units/fibers is through resistance training. If you look back up at the graph above, you’ll notice that while hormonal development is still low at this age group, neural development is actually quite high. This means that the nervous system, which governs all qualities of movement ranging from the athlete’s movement patterns in general through the athlete’s ability to active their musculature to the greatest extent possible, is primed for “learning” and development at this age. If you can increase the athlete’s ability to produce force, they get faster. That is one reason why resistance training is appropriate for athletes at this level; it can capitalize on a huge open window of neural development to help teach kids how to move with better alignment/body awareness AND to teach them to active their musculature to a greater extent, resulting in increases in strength, power, and speed.

Long-Term Athletic Development-Sensitivity to Training

Sensitive Periods During Development, taken from USA Hockey’s ADM

From a conditioning perspective, adding load to someone that is proficient in a movement increases the heart rate response to that exercise. This is fairly intuitive. If you walk 50 yards, it’s not very taxing. If you walk 50 yards holding 60 lb dumbbells, your heart rate goes much higher. In other words, while people view “weight lifting” strictly in terms of improving muscle size (unlikely at 12) and muscle strength (possible to an extent), the reality is that there is much more to it. Resistance training at this age can be used as an effective tool to create a cardiovascular response. This is one reason why we pair lower and upper body exercises; it necessitates blood flow/circulation to the entire body.

With this understood, the question of how much resistance is appropriate comes to mind. For example, is it appropriate for a 12 year old to do an exercise like lunges with 30 lb dumbbells? If an athlete can do body weight lunges perfectly, giving them 10 lb dumbbells increases the load, requires more of a muscular force output, and generates higher heart rates. If he/she does that perfectly and easily, continuing to do reps with 10s won’t generate any adaptation; essentially it’s a waste of time. This is one of the fundamental concepts of training; you need to have a progressive overload to continue to adapt. Continuing to increase loads is appropriate as long as the athlete is able to maintain technical proficiency (e.g. proper form).

There are other methods of developing speed and endurance. I think most people would prefer to see their kids running endless sprints and jogging laps around the rink. While there may be some merit to this approach, the reality is that we’re seeing drastically more cases of overuse injuries in youth sports, largely as a result of year round competition; as a sport society we’ve replaced preparation with more competition. The fact that 10-14 year olds are complaining of groin and hip flexor pain is completely ridiculous. That said, the more repetitive stress you put through this musculature OFF the ice, in addition to what they’re inevitably doing ON the ice, the further you push them toward an overuse state. We use a combination of plyometric exercises, full body training (with external load if appropriate), core exercises, and a variety of other methods to help the kids develop their speed and conditioning, while simultaneously minimizing their risk of these overuse injuries.

Very few training decisions can come down to black and white questions like “Is lifting good for youth athletes?” There are too many factors that play into an educated response. I think a lot of the age-related recommendations for weight training that the general public has internalized can be traced back to safety concerns (as mentioned previously). While I wouldn’t give a 12 year old kid the green light to get a general gym membership and go lift on their own, I don’t think that is even remotely the same situation as training following a structured program written for kids at that age under the supervision of a qualified coach. The number one goal of any training program is always the safety of its participants. Not only can resistance training be safe for youth athletes, it can be SAFER than many of the traditionally recommended and commonly supported training methods for this age, and equally, if not more effective.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Training programs for players at any age comes down to following proper guidelines and training progressions, two topics covered in depth in Ultimate Hockey Training.

Please enter your first name and email below to sign up for my FREE Athletic Development and Hockey Training Newsletter!