It’s been a wild ride over the last week. Last Thursday I flew into Boston and spent a few days at a seminar with my friend Devan McConnell, and the guys at Northeastern. Sunday, when the seminar wrapped up, I immediately got a rental car and drove to Lake Placid to join the US Women’s National Team for the tail end of the Pre-World’s Camp, and yesterday we all relocated to Burlington, VT. It’s been a great experience so far, although I had to step up to film a scrimmage against Finland, so I’m a little worried about the quality of that as a resource for breaking down footage (“Why hasn’t the camera moved in the last 5 minutes?”).

Needless to say, I’ve been pretty busy and apologize for not putting up much in the way of new content over the last couple of weeks. I’m hoping to get back on track in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, check out some of the great stuff that we’ve been adding at Hockey Strength and Conditioning recently. Before we get to that, have you listened to these three interviews?

  1. Hockey Training Radio Week: Part 1
  2. Hockey Training Radio Week: Part 1
  3. Hockey Training Radio Week: Part 1

Also, if you’re a member of my “Ultimate Hockey Training Insider Section”, I added three new programs a few days ago: Early Off-Season 2-3 Day/Week Phase 1, Early Off-Season 5-Day/Week Phase 1 & 2 so make sure you check those out! The Insider section is available exclusively for those that have purchased Ultimate Hockey Training so check it out if you haven’t already!

Over the last couple weeks, there have been several great additions to the site. Check out everything via the links below:

Programs

  1. 4-Day Off-Season Conditioning from Mike Potenza
  2. Level 1 Training Program: Phase 1 from me

This is a 12-week 4-day/week conditioning progression from Mike, and what we’ve used at Endeavor as a basic introductory training program for athletes that are joining us for the first time. Our “Level 1” programs are very heavy on the basics. The goal is always to teach and reinforce proper movement and exercise technique, to build a large foundation to build from in the future.

Videos

  1. Ball Squeezes from Sean Skahan
  2. Stagger Stance Lateral Squat from Darryl Nelson

Sean posted two exercises that he uses in players returning from groin injuries and as part of his programs in the interest of minimizing groin injury risk. We’ve used these and several other similar variations for the same purpose. Great stuff. Darryl’s video shows a variation to the lateral squat that I’ve never seen before. This looks like a great option for helping the athlete to find the locked out back leg that we want. I’m definitely going to play with this one over the next few weeks.

Articles

  1. Goaltender Specific Strength and Conditioning from Darryl Nelson
  2. Stiffness Isn’t Always Bad from Eric Renaghan
  3. Training Overhaul: Making the Transition from Old School to Current Principles without Pissing off the Coach! (Part 1) from me

Darryl and Eric’s articles both address common “dogma” areas of hockey training. Darryl outlines the physical qualities that goalies need to be successful and addresses how he incorporates goaltender training into the overall team program. While we do things moderately different at Endeavor, our philosophies are extremely similar. The circus acts that are performed in the interest of making training goaltender-specific is laughable. They still need to be strong, powerful, and well-conditioned. Eric highlights that stiffness isn’t always a bad thing (in fact, it’s often a desirable thing!) and suggests a few exercises to improve stiffness strategically.

Finally, I realize how difficult it can be to bring a lot of new ideas to a coach or training program that may have, well, aged roots. Transitioning an old school program to one with more current concepts isn’t easy, and a lot of your success will depend on both the openness of the program to change AND how you sell it. In my article, I’ve presented a progression for implementing new concepts for specific physical qualities and some of the language I’ve used to explain why a change may be necessary to the coach. Being able to speak the same language as the coaches is important in allowing them to understand the benefits of the program. For example, coaches may not care about thoracic mobility, but they will likely understand harder shots. Is the correlation 100% direct? Obviously not, but framing it in a way that helps them understand why something is important may gain you the green light you need.

Podcast

  1. Hockey Strength Podcast with Dan Boothby

Dan Boothby, who works with Northeastern’s hockey team, hops on the Hockey Strength Podcast to discuss the upcoming Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group Summer Seminar in May. This seminar features a hockey-specific track with a number of incredible speakers, including Sean Skahan. I haven’t missed this one in the 3 years it’s been up and running and it’s the first one I put on my calendar every year. If you train hockey players, I STRONGLY encourage you to go this year. Check out this link for more info: BSMPG

If you haven’t heard already, the membership cost at HockeyStrengthandConditioning.com jumps up to $14.95 on April 9th, but if you sign up for a membership today you can lock in the rate of $9.95/month for life!

That’s a wrap for today. As always, if you aren’t a member yet, I encourage you to try out Hockey Strength and Conditioning for a week. It’ll only cost $1, and if it’s not the best buck you’ve ever spent, I’ll personally refund you!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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This is my favorite time of year. With almost all youth hockey seasons wrapped up here, we’re getting a big influx of hockey players coming into Endeavor to start their off-season training.

This is what I think of as the “early” off-season because the players that are here now will have about a 5-month off-season before they start next year’s pre-season. When designing the early off-season program, it’s important to keep this time-line in mind. Prep players aside, almost all of the youth, junior, and pro players we’ll get this off-season have played 60+ games and practiced 100+ times. College players don’t play quite that many games, but they’re on the ice most days of the week and still have a very long season.

This volume of skating and playing leads to some structural imbalances across the body that need to be addressed. To be overly simplistic, the season results in an exacerbation of Janda’s Upper and Lower Crossed Syndromes.

If you aren’t familiar with these names, you’re probably still familiar with the symptoms. Basically this leads to hockey players being tight through the front of their hips and shoulders, and weak on the opposing side of the body. Hockey players also tend to suffer from tight hip rotators.

These structural adaptations need to be accounted for in early off-season programs in a number of ways.

Early Off-Season Restoration

First, this is the time of year when our static stretching volume is the highest. We need to restore length to shortened structures to restore balance to the relevant joints. We accomplish this by having our players go through two stretching circuits, one before they train and one immediately after. We also encourage certain players to perform the stretches at home if they need the extra work. . With players that train four times per week, we build more mobility and stretching work into their training program in a way that doesn’t interfere/compete with their strength training (e.g. lower body mobility and stretching exercises paired with upper body exercises). We also conclude the training session with 5-minute stretches. Longer-duration stretches have been shown to be effective in adding length to muscles (e.g. adding sarcomeres in series to the muscle). While 5-minutes is lower than the typically recommended stretch duration for this purpose, using it to compliment more frequent short duration stretches has paid dividends with our players.



Our players spend lots of time on these at this time of year.

Early Off-Season Speed Work

Secondly, all of our sprint work is very low volume (6 reps), short distance (10 yards), linear in nature (no lateral starts or transitional movements), and emphasizes deceleration. This comes back to Jim Reeve’s excellent forum posts at HockeyStrengthandConditioning.com a couple weeks back (read them here: Training Programs and Off-Season Conditioning). Because of the players’ shortened hip flexors, longer distance sprinting puts them at a pretty high risk of sustaining a hip flexor strain. Similarly, lateral starting positions emphasize the lateral movement patterns they use on the ice all the time. This is a good thing later in the off-season, but right now we want to DE-emphasize movement patterns similar to skating. Equally as importantly, players don’t need to maximize their speed 5 months out from the season. Again, this is the time for restoration, re-balancing, and reintegration. Sprint complexity and volume will pick up as the off-season progresses.

Where I go for the most current hockey training information

Early Off-Season Conditioning

For this same reasoning, we don’t use slideboards OR shuttle runs for conditioning in the early off-season phase. All of our conditioning is in the form of sled drags. This serves the dual purpose of creating a safe, low speed full hip extension (active hip flexor lengthening) and increases the time under tension for the lower body and hip musculature, which has benefits for muscular hypertrophy, but still also has a considerable metabolic effect as player’s heart rates sky rocket when doing heavy drags.

Early Off-Season Training Volume

Lastly, our overall training volume is quite low. These players just went through an incredibly long and strenuous season, the last thing they need is to jump right into a maximal effort training program. Early off-season programs need to balance active recovery, restoration, and re-integration into more complex training program. With tryouts for youth programs right around the corner, some players are concerned about de-training, which is a somewhat legitimate concern. Given that the players have been on the ice for the last 8 months, it’s unlikely that their skating or on-ice conditioning will suffer to any noticeable amount. In fact, getting out of some of the skating patterns and starting to work on lower body strength again will likely have a positive impact.

The other side of this is the sometimes harsh reality that most coaches have their teams picked before tryouts. Or they at least have an internal ranking of all the potential players that could come to their tryouts with some wiggle room in final roster selections based on who comes to tryouts and who doesn’t. Hockey has changed in this regard over the last 15 years. Having a good tryout is helpful, but most good youth coaches (and especially those at more “elite” levels of youth hockey) take notice of a player’s abilities during the preceding season and make selections that way. In the past, there would be a substantial gap between the end of the season and tryouts so players could re-invent themselves through training and practice and surprise the coach at tryouts. Less than a month between the end of the season and tryouts leaves little time for that now. This isn’t to put a negative spin on the tryout process. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Players should take comfort in knowing that it’s how they play consistently throughout the season that matters most. The situation is a bit different from prep and junior players, but their tryouts are much later so they have a lot more training time to get ready.

Take Home Message

The big take home from this is that off-season training should be a progressive process. Players should not jump immediately into the most intense off-season training possible because their bodies are under-prepared for it. Use the first 4 weeks of the off-season to restore proper posture and balance across the hips and shoulders, and to re-integrate back into a comprehensive, higher volume off-season training program.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Time is running out on your opportunity to save $70 on my Premier Hockey Training Program. Go watch the video and fill out the application today!

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Before I jump into today’s post, I have a couple announcements:

  • You can now download my hockey speed training manual “Breakaway Hockey Speed” for free if you sign up for my newsletter (look left).
  • I removed the membership requirement for checking out the videos at Ice Hockey Training so you can now watch them all for free. I did this because I’m not happy with how long it takes the videos to load on each page and I’ll probably be deleting those pages altogether in the next few weeks as we continue to build our video library over at Hockey Strength and Conditioning
  • Lastly, I have an exciting announcement coming early next week. If you’re a player (or parent) and really want to take your off-season training up a notch, you won’t want to miss it.

On to the good stuff…

It’s been a busy couple weeks at Hockey Strength and Conditioning

To start, congratulations to my friend Jeff Cubos who was recently added to a very prestigious “expert panel” at our site (one that I managed to sneak onto!). I’ve learned a lot from him over the last year and look forward to more great stuff from him in the future.

Sean Skahan, Mike Potenza, and Darryl Nelson have all added really great articles and programs. I especially like Potenza’s contribution to our new “Youth Off-Ice Training Program” section, which caters directly to coaches and parents that are running off-ice training for their kids with little-to-no equipment. You can check them all out at the links below:

Improving Shoulder Mobility from Sean Skahan (Article)

Teaching Circuit Phase 1 from Mike Potenza (Youth Off-Ice Training Program)

Training Around an Injured Arm from Mike Potenza (Training Program for Injured Player)

Beginner Off-Season Strength Training from Darryl Nelson (Training Program)

The reason I’m keeping the article descriptions so short today is because I want to highlight a recent forum “conversation” on off-season conditioning for hockey players. You hear me boast about how good forum conversations can be, but if you never see it for yourself, you may be skeptical. Due to length restrictions, I’ve included the posts from only one member. Fortunately, that member is Jim Reeves, who has an OUTSTANDING reputation for training and developing elite level players.

Jim drops some wisdom on us…

Round 1
I’m not sure I agree with the recommendations given. I look at physical principles as unique qualities to develop in specific ways. Strength coaches are mistaken if they feel they can blend one exercise into the goals of another. Power development is a unique quality, move body weight or weighted implements for speed in finite quantities. Conditioning is workload tolerance. Move your body weight in specific movements within time specific or performance specific guidelines.

The error occurs when your begin to blend power exercises into a conditioning routine. A recipe for disaster. Power is power, conditioning is conditioning. Don’t blend the two, you will get sub-par results in both aspects.

My suggestions would be two fold. On the one hand, you have three weeks to begin a more aggressive off-ice workout workload, but choose basic exercise planes and do not introduce lifts you would not do in-season. ie RFE Split Squats would be out, hip flexors too sensitive to loading in-season. Sounds boring, but it works and no-one gets injured/irritated.

Conditioning is the other element. Target two high intensity sessions per week off-ice in addition to the on-ice sessions they get in the next three weeks. If ice-time is limited, then their on-ice sessions are critical, something you may not have any control over. Bikes are probably best, slide board good in the first two weeks but may not be the best choice in the week before on-ice competition.

JR

Round 2
I always throw up a red flag when someone suggests an Olympic lift as a means of conditioning. The tendency for it to go wrong is too easy and happens too fast to closely monitor as a coach in most situations. These lifts are not meant for conditioning purposes, save them for training an athletes power. Square peg, round hole analogy applies here.

To add to my thoughts, I think that introducing treadmill sprints and hang cleans after a player has just finished their season may be too aggressive for this time of the year.

First, running I find is not very well received in the first couple of weeks of an off-season program, never mind with players who just stepped of the ice the day before. If they were on the ice 6-7 times per week as indicated, then I doubt they have had much in-season running work performed up till this point. Last thing you want to do is run the risk of irritating the hip flexors with only three weeks before the next major on-ice event.

Second, the one area of the body which is almost across the board restricted at the end of a season is a players wrist extension. To catch a clean repetition at high speeds with moderate loads will push this area of their body beyond what it will comfortably be able to handle, again introducing risk where it is not necessary.

Also, if I put a stop watch to any of my athlete’s clean reps, I doubt they will get more than two reps in the interval times suggested. I can think of many other safer “power” exercises which would allow for more repetitions in the given interval time, thus increasing the metabolic demand on the body, which is the intended goal of the session. Or, the athlete will load heavy in order to get some level of fatigue with so few repetitions. Again, introducing risk if they have not been performing hang cleans throughout the season right up till the beginning of this short time off the ice.

I would move toward conditioning modes which achieve the goals of the metabolic and energy demands you are looking for but in safer exercises for this time of the year. In late July after 8 to 10 weeks of an off-season program, substitute weighted jump squats or squat jumps into the suggested protocol and the players will find it is a good conditioning session. 10/10 on the treadmill may be a little slow for only 10 second intervals, maybe closer to 11.5-12mph for most 16+ athletes.

JR

Round 3
As I said above, I would stay away from running right now. Bike or condition on the ice. If twice a week is off-ice for you right now, then add one or two on-ice sessions as well. If you are looking to keep their strength, then strength train. TB Deadlift, Front squat, single leg squats all good options, add in 2-3 hip isolation ex’s and upper body lifts and you have a pretty good day right there. Add power exercises before strength work as you see fit, 2-3 per workout, basic movements like hurdle jumps, Single leg box hops, Med ball rotation and chop throws.

In all honesty I would look hard at mobility and flexibility issues at this point over focusing on power development. You will get more bang for the buck and players will perform better during this short term focus.

JR

Round 4
No, primarily the wrist. Maybe a little bit of pronation/supination loss observed but not much of anything lost at the elbow in my experience. Any loss of elbow range is in guys who focus on the “hunting workout”; all guns and traps!! (editors note: this is hilarious) We don’t get many of those around here.

As for running, I implement a progressive increase in the distances and the length of the shuttles as the initial weeks of our off-season program begins. More stops and starts initially to work on deceleration skills, but I think more importantly the short distances limit the ability to get into a full running stride. The length of the stride increases as the shuttle length increases. We bike a little at the beginning, then progress off the bike and into the slideboard and short shuttles, then lengthen out the shuttles before beginning any acceleration work.

Sled drags are started as a walking/marching speed for the first 8 to 10 weeks, and we do a lot of unloaded acceleration work after the 6th week of the program before looking at implementing resisted sprint work with any resistance.

JR

Round 5
No direct acceleration work for the first six weeks of the off-season. Deceleration is the focus. The distances are increased for both conditioning in the early part of the off-season and for when acceleration work is introduced after the 6 week mark.

JR

Round 6
Yes, we get some players starting at the end of March, I stretch that period out to 8 weeks, versus 6 weeks if they start mid-May. If they start with us at the beginning of July and haven’t been on the ice for quite some time, then they get a fast forward version of 2-3 weeks of deceleration then we start the acceleration work.

But there are always exceptions, for example last year I had one player still playing in the Stanley cup finals, so by the first week of July he was still only three weeks removed from being on the ice. The most important aspect I am trying to respect here is the inability of a player to perform high speed hip extension through a full ROM. I feel the need to eliminate muscular guarding, specific tissue restrictions and re-educate/re-train the muscular recruitment patterns around the hip joint. Shorter shuttles and reduced acceleration work accomplish that goal for me and give the athlete’s body the opportunity to adapt to the workouts before we ask them to move in that manner.

JR

I still strongly belief that the best way to become better at anything is to have good mentors. With this in mind, I look at a Hockey Strength and Conditioning membership (which is only $1!) as an investment in a mentorship with multiple coaches that work with and develop NHL players more so than a traditional “information site.” This situation would not have been possible 10 years ago, and it’s an incredible opportunity for people that train hockey players at any level to learn form the guys that have been doing it the longest, and the best.

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To your continued success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Try HockeyStrengthandConditioning.com for 7 days for only $1! It’ll be the best dollar you’ve ever spent.

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