If you’ve missed the news, there’s been a lot of talk about how Sam Bennett, the top ranked prospect in the upcoming NHL Draft, failed to do a single pull-up.

Sam Bennett

Photo from Getty Images

While I think it’s easy to point out the negatives of the situation, there are two really quick points that are worth considering:

  1. I didn’t know pull-ups would be included in the NHL Combine testing until about 10 days out from the testing date. Luckily, I had still programmed chin-ups into every phase of the player I was preparing for the combine, as there is merit to the exercise. This is the danger in true “combine prep”. You not only sacrifice long-term development for short-term test prep, but you’re also hosed if there are any changes to the testing protocol.
  2. If a player is THAT good on the ice, and can’t do a single pull-up, I look at that as the player having a HUGE opportunity for off-ice development. In other words, he may an enormous growth potential and therefore may be that much more appealing of a candidate.

This is an impressive resume
This story has also brought out all of the “You can’t score goals from the weight room” idiots. No one will discount that on-ice skill is a valuable and desirable attribute to any player, but there is clearly value in being strong. Most of the top hockey strength and conditioning coaches in the world agree that having adequate “pulling” strength is protective from shoulder injuries, both contact and non-contact in origin. This is in addition to all of the performance related benefits of having a strong upper body.

In fact, a study published in 2011 (see: Physiological characteristics of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I ice hockey players and their relation to game performance) comparing off-ice test performance to on-ice performance (e.g. +/-) found that the two off-ice tests that were most highly correlated to on-ice performance were a 12x110m sprint repeat test, and chin-up rep max test. The team tested in this study won the NCAA Division I national championship that year.

Based on some of our early testing this Summer, here are the results from the chin-up tests across different age groups:

Hockey Training-Chin-Up Averages

This is obviously just a small sample of each age group, but it should paint a picture of what is fairly typical at each level. The U-16 group was the 2nd team at that age; I suspect the first team, many of which have trained with us in the past, would have put up better numbers, likely about halfway between the U-15 and U-18 averages.

Only two players of the 89 players we tested couldn’t do any, both at the U-15 age group, one of which went in for major heart surgery two weeks after we tested him (he gets a pass in my book).

Improving Your Pull-Up Performance

Having worked with several players that have made the ascension from “0”, I can attest that the hardest chin-up or pull-up to get is the first one. In other words, it’s much easier to get from 1-2 than it is to get from 0-1. With this in mind, the two major variations we use to help improve pull-up performance in our players is:

  1. Band-Assisted Chin-Ups
  2. Negatives Only

By strapping “superbands” around the chin-up handles, some of the players’ weight is unloaded, allowing them to perform the sets with the specified sets and reps. As the player gets stronger, thinner bands can be used to provide less assistance, eventually progressing to full body weight chin-ups.

It is a well-documented fact that muscles are stronger in their eccentric or lengthening action than they are in concentric or shortening actions. By having the player start at the top of the exercise and perform the lowering phase only (usually specified as 3 or 5 seconds on the way down), it allows them an opportunity to develop strength in the pattern, while capitalizing on the natural strength advantage this portion of the movement provides. If necessary, we’ll combine the two methods until the player can fully control their own bodyweight without the assistance.

Wrapping Up

These strategies are extremely effective in helping players knock out their first chin-up or pull-up. If you want to not only bang out a bunch of pull-ups, but also improve your first step quickness, speed, strength, and conditioning, check out my new Ultimate Hockey Transformation program, which is guaranteed to deliver game-changing results.

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To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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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

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To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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We’re wrapping up another great week at Endeavor. On a personal note, I’ve restored my eternal sense of optimism that tends to dwindle when I don’t eat, lift, or sleep as much as I’d like. It might also have something to do with the fact that I’ve watched this video at least once every day this week.

Turns out when you surround yourself with inspirational, unconditionally positive messages, you tend to be more positive! Although, I never thought Fresh Prince would be that source of inspiration. I’m also nearing the final stages (within 7 days) of completing a HUGE project, so stay tuned for announcements on that (you won’t want to miss it)!

There has been some exceptional content additions to Hockey Strength and Conditioning over the last couple weeks. In no particular order:

Video: International Hockey Panel with Igor Larionov
This is another USA Hockey American Development Model video that has leaked into our hands. Igor Larionov has about as impressive of a hockey success record as anyone, so it was great to get his perspective on an assortment of hockey development topics. If you’re a true student of the game, you’ll really enjoy this!

Click here to watch >> International Hockey Panel with Igor Larionov

Program: Beginner Phase 2 Off-Season Training Program from Darryl Nelson
Darryl Nelson added Phase 2 of his beginner off-season hockey training program. I recently read an article on this year’s NHL combine (someone posted this in a HockeySC.com forum thread) commending two players from Darryl’s USA NTDP on their performance in the off-ice tests. It’s great to see Darryl’s work being rewarded (indirectly). For the millions of hockey players out there aimlessly following unguided programs that lack organization and progressions (or any semblance of an intelligent thought in general), you’d be much better off just downloading Darryl’s program and following that.

Click here to get the program >> Beginner Phase 2 Off-Season Training Program

Video: Bar Complex from Sean Skahan
Sean added a video of a bar complex that he uses late in the off-season. This is typically the time of year where the off-ice training focus changes from hypertrophy or strength development to more of a work capacity orientation. This is in conjunction with an increase in on-ice work. Barbell complexes are certainly a means of developing this quality, assuming the athletes know how to perform all the involved exercises with perfect technique. This is especially important as fatigue tends to negatively affect exercise execution in general, Mediocre form in the beginning will quickly turn to garbage form. Whether you use the exact exercises Sean does in your barbell circuits or not, exercise proficiency should be foundational.

Click here to watch >> Bar Complex

Article: Hockey Strength and Conditioning Roundtable: Facility Design Edition

Last, and most awesomely, Mike Potenza, Darryl, Sean and I posted a roundtable discussion on facility design. The roundtable is a new feature we’re adding to Hockey Strength and Conditioning, and because well all have different backgrounds and work in relatively different settings, the diverse perspective should be insightful for our readers. Facility design was a great topic to kick off the roundtables because it will ultimately drive the design of your programs and provide guidelines (for better or worse) on what you’re able to do with your players. Facility design will determine maximum athlete volume, exercise selection, how to pair exercises, and the overall flow of the program. If you’re a hockey training professional this is a must-read. We’ve made a lot of mistakes at Endeavor that you can avoid my checking out the article.

Click here to read >> Hockey Strength and Conditioning Roundtable: Facility Design Edition

After you’re done reading the articles and watching the videos, hop on the forums and check out the two posts on the NHL Combine and the BU Psychology Professor and post your comments about those.

If you aren’t a member yet, fork out the $1 to test drive Hockey Strength and Conditioning for a week. If it’s not the best buck you’ve ever spent, I’ll personally refund you!

To your continued success,

Kevin Neeld

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First things first. I want to personally thank you for continuing to come here to read up on various aspects of hockey development and for your help in spreading the word about this site. Last week, the site hit a milestone that a year ago I would have thought was impossible: over 10,000 visits in the previous 30 days.

If you’re involved in some aspects of fitness or business, this number is probably staggeringly low. However, for a hockey-specific training and development site with an array of content ranging from basic exercises to advanced scientific theory, I’m psyched! A year ago it was less than half that and growing extremely slowly. As I’ve said in the past, this site exists because of you. As you continue to help spread the word and communicate with me about what you want to me to write about, the site will continue to evolve into a better resource for you.

Random Thought 1: After my post last week on my Soft-Tissue Stress Overflow Theory, I got an email from a parent with a few kids that we’ve trained at Endeavor that read:

Her coach is so old school and is demanding at 12 years old that they only play soccer.  Otherwise they aren’t committed to the team. Yeah we’ll, we’re on our third kid.  Nice try but we aren’t buying it.  Hopefully your article will help the parents of the first borns not to believe that stuff and feel like their kid is going to be behind other kids or not “make it” because they haven’t given up their life to a travel team.

This example doesn’t pertain to hockey, but I think we all know there are hockey coaches out there like this. With every year that passes I gain an increasing appreciation for the importance of active recovery. Playing sports certainly plays a large part in developing the personality and characteristics of our youth. Things like courage, confidence, leadership, and teamwork are all life-skills that people develop through sports that will benefit them in other aspects of life. That said, sports should be a piece of a kid’s life, not all of it. Coaches, in all sports, need to remember that there’s more to life than playing sports.

Son. It’s time you stopped messing around with those “other sports” and really started focusing on hockey.

Random Thought 2: Last week I had a meeting with the president of a local youth hockey organization about a year-round development plan I had worked on. We had a great meeting. Luckily he and the coaches within that organization recognize and appreciate the importance of training as it pertains to developing elite level hockey players. They also know that it’s not a quick fix solution, but a long-term process. Because Endeavor is a private training facility, we get a lot of the “make my kid faster yesterday” parents. I wish more understood that short-term improvements in performance can be expected, but that shouldn’t be the goal. Especially with younger athletes, performance doesn’t matter nearly as much as instilling proper training habits and reinforcing proper movement patterns.

Random Thought 3: At this meeting, the idea of testing was brought up. I still whole-heartedly believe that doing performance testing with middle school and most high school athletes is completely senseless and it amazes me that so many people disagree. It is UNARGUABLE that athletes at this age are maturing, and at different rates. We’ve all seen PeeWee, Bantam, and Midget teams with players that look like giants AND players that look like they’re too small to be on the same ice. What do you think is going to happen if you compare the test results of someone that develops early and somewhat that develops late? The early maturer wins, every time. What is this system rewarding-rapid maturation? Even if you’re only comparing testing results within an athlete to monitor individual progress, which is a much more valid and desirable approach, it’s still impossible to rule out what proportion of gains are related to training and what is the result of natural maturation. Athletes naturally get stronger and faster as they get older. We need to remove the emphasis on testing and improve the emphasis on training.

“I don’t care how good you say this Crosby kid is. His 40 time was below our team average; I can’t take him.”

Random Thought 4: Over the last year I’ve gotten some hate email about some old posts I had on the NHL combine (NHL Combine Testing Results and NHL Combine Test Results Revisited).  I should probably write an article about this, but I haven’t made the time to do it. It’s not just the NHL combine that doesn’t make sense to me; the NFL one is just as bad. Last week Stephen Paea broke the NFL combine bench press test record by pressing 225 lbs 49 times. This is an amazing feat, but what does this test even tell us? Is it a strength test? Not if he’s doing over 8 reps. Is it an endurance test? Maybe in this case. Do any of these things even matter as it pertains to on-field performance? Not likely. Check out the top performers in NFL combine tests from the last 10 years. How many of those guys are NFL stars right now? A few, but certainly not enough to justify the “if you do well on this test than we’ll pay you lots of money” approach that the NFL has taken, a direction that youth sports is mimicking. The most important test is how players perform on the ice, NOT how strong, fast, or well-conditioned they may look off the ice.

This guy doesn’t look like he’d finish near the top of the pack for waterboys in combine testing. Yet, he’s an inevitable hall of fame quarterback. Maybe there’s more to success than just strength and speed for Mr. Brady?

That’s all for today!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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Several weeks ago I put up a post about some of the NHL Combine Testing Results. If you missed it, you can check it out here:

NHL Combine Testing Results

Sadly, this was BY FAR the most highly read post I’ve ever had. In general, I think the readers could be categorized into one of three groups:

1) Curious about how probable future NHLers are performing on these tests

2) Angry about the comparison of my testing results in college vs their testing results as younger prospects

3) Actually read the post and understand the message

I fully understand that I was further along in my development in college/grad school then these kids are (although my bench press numbers were comparable in high school…gotta love chest day mondays!). That wasn’t the point.

My point was that it is ABSOLUTELY MORONIC to compare player’s based on off-ice testing scores!

I realize it’s a widely utilized practices amongst extremely high level coaches and scouts, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid.

If Daniel Carcillo has a higher vertical jump, bench press, and better 40-time than Sidney Crosby, did the Penguins miss out?

The only thing that matters on the ice is how good you are at hockey. Testing is important, but not to compare players (which is moronic…absolutely…incredibly…moronic). Testing is important to guage progress WITHIN a player. If a player is training and they aren’t getting stronger, faster, leaner, and/or adding muscle (depending on their goals and needs), then the hockey training program should be adapated or a closer look into the players dietary and recovery strategies is warranted.

Especially in youth programs, we need to stop emphasizing testing as a form of player evaluation. Everyone grows up at different rates. Players that grow up (read: develop) faster are probably going to test stronger and faster than their teammates. We’re rewarding development opposed to quality training. Even doing pre- and post-testing with young athletes doesn’t make a ton of sense. Avery Faigenbaum’s research has shown very clearly that adolescence that do NOTHING in the form of structured training will test stronger and faster as times goes by.

Intuitively, we all know that, but as Stephen Covey says, “To know and not do do is to not know at all.” If you’re a coach and you feel the need to test your players for accountability reasons, make sure you emphasize that you are testing to guage progress within each player, not to compare players (and do not compare players…ever). If you’re a parent, stop putting any emphasis on testing at all. The craziness around testing needs to stop. Now.

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!