I’ve written quite a bit about in-season training over the years. In particular, these two posts were extremely popular and spawned a lot of great conversations through email:

  1. 5 In-Season Hockey Training Considerations
  2. In-Season Hockey Training Program

While in-season training is an essential part of a comprehensive hockey player development program, it can often times have negative effects on the player if designed improperly. With that in mind, here are 5 common in-season training mistakes:

1) Not Doing Anything
There are still players and coaches at all levels that don’t think in-season training is necessary because of the stimuli the players get on the ice. It’s important to remember that the true purpose of in-season training is to SUPPORT on-ice development, not replace it. Years ago I read (I forget where) that the overtraining feelings that many players get toward the end of the season may be the result of diminished physical capacities because of a lack of in-season training. As an oversimplified example, if a player’s max skating speed is 20 mph at the beginning of the season, and a given situation requires that they skate 15 mph, they’re skating at 75% of their maximum speed. If, throughout the course of the season, that player’s speed drops 3 mph because of lost strength to 17 mph, that same 15 mph effort is now 88% of their maximum speed. This effort at a greater percentage of maximum capacity has a more fatiguing effect on the body, which will make it less likely the player can repeat that effort throughout the entire game and will likely require longer recovery times between individual efforts, and following practices or games. This is a theoretical example with a fairly profound decrease in speed (15%), but much smaller decreases in more physical capacities will have a cumulative negative effect on a player’s performance.

2) Performing “Hockey-Specific” Training
In designing a training program to support the needs of a specific sport, there is a continuum of training methods that range from general to specific. Often times general methods are used in the early off-season, or in other words, furthest away from the time of competition. Naturally, the most specific form of hockey training is playing hockey. From an off-ice perspective, more hockey-specific training methods may include using a slideboard with specific work:rest ratios that directly train the energy systems used on the ice, or performing rotational med ball throws that improve low load high velocity power, which is influential in transferring force between the lower and upper limbs during skating, and for shooting, among other things. That said, performing too many movements using the same musculature in the same pattern is a recipe for overuse injuries. With this in mind, it’s important to consider the physical demands placed on the players ON the ice and avoid some of these patterns off the ice. Many training methods that are very appropriate and desirable throughout the off-season are not at all appropriate for in-season programs. We do almost zero loaded or plyometric-type lateral movement in-season and exactly zero rotational power work at this time because these are the qualities that the players are training at the highest volumes on the ice. As I’ve said in the past, in-season hockey-specific training is probably better described as anti-hockey specific training.

I love this exercise, but it’s probably not appropriate for in-season programs.

Hockey Training-Hang Clean
Doesn’t get much more hockey-specific than this
3) Confusing Hockey Conditioning
Related to the above discussion, most in-season programs shouldn’t require a high volume of conditioning, as the most hockey-specific conditioning stimuli will come from practices and games. Regardless, there’s a bigger message here. Many players and coaches oversimplify hockey conditioning needs by, quite logically, following the thought process of:

An average shift is ~45s. If we have 3 lines or d-pairs that we’re rotating, then our conditioning should involve working for 45s, then resting for 90s.

Admittedly, this was a mistake I made early in my career. The problem with this thinking is that it’s governed by when the player steps off and back on the bench, but completely ignores what they’re actually doing on the ice. I’m reminded of a quote from Charlie Francis, a world-famous track coach who worked in the Toronto, Canada area, where he said, simply, “Watch the player, not the game.” The reality is that many shifts involve stoppages, which immediately change the work:rest ratios of the shift. Maybe more importantly, most players aren’t skating at maximum effort/speed throughout the entire shift. There are periods of maximum acceleration bursts, mid-range acceleration bursts, lots of transitions, almost no high speed transitions, gliding with a knee bend, gliding more upright, standing still, etc., all of which occur regularly and will change the energy system demands of the shift. Most hockey players would do better to spend the majority of their conditioning time training to repeat very explosive efforts by focusing on short duration, maximum effort intervals (e.g. <12 seconds) and by using various aerobic training methods to help support recovery from these higher intensity efforts AND to minimize the fatigue from more mid-range intensity efforts, opposed to performing intervals in the 30-60s ranges with work to rest ratios of 1:3-1:4, even though that’s what traditional hockey conditioning programs would suggest.

4) Doing Too Much
It takes a lot less training stimuli to maintain a physical capacity than it does to develop it, and athletes with a very young training age (read: almost ALL youth athletes) will adapt positively to a very low volume of work. Both of these realities lead to a similar conclusion: Most phases of in-season programs should be low volume, and more stimulative than fatiguing. In other words, if a player can maintain or improve his/her strength by doing 2 sets of 5 reps, they shouldn’t do 3 sets. More relevantly, they shouldn’t do 20 sets, which is more common in high school training programs. Many youth coaches and parents alike fall back on the “work them hard” idea and miss the primary value of in-season off-ice training, which is to support on-ice skill development. If a team is gassed from off-ice before stepping on the ice to practice, the quality of their on-ice repetitions will not be very high. Low quality reps in practice trains the brain/body to perform low quality reps in a game. There is more to training than just making people tired. My friend Devan McConnell, who has had a very successful two years since taking over as the strength coach at UMass Lowell, said something a while back that stuck with me. To paraphrase, “We do a little less today, so we can go again tomorrow.” There are definitely times to increase the intensity/volume of a training program, even in-season, but the general idea, especially in-season, is to not overload off-ice training volume so much that it interferes with on-ice development.

5) Ignoring Game Schedules
Youth hockey schedules are completely ridiculous. I’m not sure why 12-year olds need to play in “super showcases” throughout the country. The myth of “better competition” is fairly comical, but with the amount of money rinks and programs make with organizing these events, they’re unlikely to go away in the near future. To take a step back, we have in-season programs written out for the entire season for the Team Comcast organization we train. Doing this allows us to map out or progressions, alter the exact training stimuli throughout the year, and ultimately ensure the kids are making the progress we want them to. That said, we also write recovery workouts and our staff knows when to dial things back, even if it wasn’t part of the initial plan. This is especially important the week leading up to and the week following 3+ game tournaments or even just 2 games against a great opponent. Remember that there is a significant amount of stress associated with “big game” competition, and this will increase the recovery demands following the event. This may be especially true if the team loses these games, which is sometimes when coaches use off- or on-ice work to “punish” the team. I don’t want to discount using difficult practices to send a message, but it is important to keep the consequences in mind. You can’t ignore recovery, and continuing to pile on stress is going to, at a minimum, increase the recovery time/resources needed by the players, and could potentially lead to one or more players getting hurt or sick.

That’s a wrap for today. Don’t forget that you can grab a copy of Ultimate Hockey Training and I’ll pay for your shipping until the New Year if you live in the US or Canada! (January 1st, 2014).

Get your copy here >> Ultimate Hockey Training

To your success,

Kevin Neeld
OptimizingMovement.com
UltimateHockeyTraining.com

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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
OptimizingMovement.com
UltimateHockeyTraining.com

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.

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A couple days ago, I posted the step-by-step process I go through at the beginning of every season to design the off-ice training programs for an entire youth organization. If you missed that post, I’d encourage you to check it out here: Developing A Youth In-Season Hockey Training Model

Today I just wanted to follow up with a few sample training sessions for each of the three groups. The purpose here isn’t to necessarily give you a program that you can print and follow on your own (although I do post all of our youth programs for every group every month for Ultimate Hockey Training Insider’s!), but to provide a real-world illustration of the process and concepts discussed in the preceding post.

Group A: 8-11 years old

*AMRAP = As Many Reps As Possible

Group B: 12-14 years old

Group C: 15-18 years old

At this point I think it’s important to emphasize that these can be thought of as training templates more so than training programs. All of our coaches (I’m extremely fortunate to work with an AWESOME staff) know how to regress or alter exercises based on an individual’s specific situation. As a few examples:

  1. Group A: Lighter med balls can be used for players that may not possess the strength to accelerate heavier ones
  2. Group A: A Vertical Jump w/ Stick could be regressed to a Drop Squat w/ Stick or simply a Body Weight Squat to help reinforce proper landing mechanics
  3. Group B: Slideboard Hamstring Curl can be regressed to a Glute Bridge On Foam Roller
  4. Group B: Feet Elevated Front Plank could be regressed to a regular Front Plank or even a Front Plank w/ Forearms Elevated
  5. Group B: Suspended Rows can be regressed by having the individual walk their feet away from the attachment of the handles so their body is more vertical/upright
  6. Group C: DB Reverse Lunge can be regressed to a DB Split Squat
  7. Group C: Landmine Rotations can be regressed to unweighted or bent-elbow variations
  8. Group C: Front Squat can be regressed to Goblet Squat

Those are just a few examples for each group, but just about every exercise can be regressed to accommodate individual variation. This is a key component of “individualizing” team-based programs. Another key piece is learning the personalities of the kids to gain a better understanding of what type of coaching strategies they respond best to. All of this, in my mind, is part of the ART of coaching and can really make or break even the most well thought-out off-ice training program. If you’re looking for more information on age-appropriate training guidelines for hockey players, don’t forget to check out USA Hockey’s ADM. There’s a lot of terrific information there that may be more directly applicable to your situation. As always, please feel free to post your comments/questions below!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If want to ensure you’re choosing the right exercise strategies for your team, check out Ultimate Hockey Training, which outlines the exact exercise progressions and regressions to use for every major movement pattern, including multi-directional core training!


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One of the things that’s really set our programs at Endeavor apart from our competitors is the fact that we develop systematic, progressive training programs, opposed to just throwing together “workouts” for kids to do on any given day. I heard a great quote several years ago (I believe from Mike Boyle, but don’t hold me…or him…to that):

“Any idiot with a whistle can make kids tired.”

The reality is that many folks (players, parents, coaches, most humans in general) equate being tired with effective training. I always say that you have to move well before you move more, faster, or under load. Skipping this step is one of the reasons why so many players breakdown and suffer muscle strains and other soft-tissue injuries during off-ice (As an aside, we haven’t had a single off-ice training related injury in the last two years while training an entire youth organization). Not to mention, continuing to push and push from an effort standpoint, on- and off the ice, is a recipe for overtraining/underrecovery (one reason why players hit a wall in January/mid-season).

I say all that to say this: strategically planning and altering the off-ice stresses throughout the season will help ensure that players continue to progress athletically, while minimizing the risk of injury and overtraining. This is especially important as players get older for a number of reasons:

  1. Older players tend to have more frequent practices and more games, meaning they’re on the ice significantly more than their younger counterparts. More ice time means more stress to the body.
  2. Older players tend to have more muscle mass and a better developed nervous system that translates into having a higher drive. They have more mass to accelerate, are able to reach higher speeds, and therefore have more mass to decelerate during every shift or practice drill. All of this translates into a greater stress to the body with each practice and game, which requires a greater recovery effort.
  3. The game becomes more physical as the level progresses. In addition to the above stresses, superimposing more frequent high and low velocity contact takes it’s toll on the body.

All of these things explain why the strength and conditioning coaches at the highest levels are as much of “stress managers” as S&C practitioners. In other words, the overwhelming majority of in-season training efforts need to be designed with recovery in mind. One major difference between the highest levels (e.g. the NHL) and top youth levels (e.g. U-18 Tier I Elite League) is that, at least in theory, the NHL is a performance league, whereas U-18 is (or at least SHOULD be) a development league. This simply means that you’re able to push a little more in-season in the interest of achieving higher levels of performance.

Sitting down to design the in-season plan for our youth teams is one of the more fun parts of my job. We’re fortunate to work with an AWESOME group of kids, parents, and coaches with Team Comcast. This allows us some freedom to try new ideas from a programming standpoint, and we have enough communication with the coaches to know when we need to alter some of the off-ice stresses based on the coach’s desire to send a message, train harder before a light weekend, or back off a bit before an upcoming tournament.

Before writing a program, I first divided the organization up into three groups based on their age and where they fall in the long-term athletic development scheme that USA Hockey has done such a great job outlining for hockey players.

From here, I was able to superimpose this model onto the teams that Comcast has, and determine what the primary focus of each training group should be. It’s important to keep in mind at this point that “training focus” in this regard INCLUDES on-ice work, which we aren’t able to control. I’ve talked a lot about this in the past, but most relevant to this discussion, despite “speed” being a top priority for Group 2 (see below), we don’t program any off-ice speed work for this group as almost everything they do on the ice is speed oriented. Instead, we program complimentary qualities off the ice that will allow them to express their full speed potential on the ice, without overstressing the hip flexors and adductors, which are two of the more commonly injured muscle groups in hockey players (as you know).

The next step in this process was to lay out the number of weeks in a typical season (factoring in breaks for holidays), and then determine how I want to alter stresses across that time span.

These models simply put a more targeted focus on various time periods throughout the season without losing the focus of the long-term athletic development models presented above. Notably absent is a “Group A” periodization model. As I alluded to above, younger kids have a larger capacity to adapt to new stressors and, in general, don’t accumulate fatigue like older players do. All this means is that most of our progressions are in exercise or activity complexity, not necessarily in physiological specificity. As a result, it wasn’t necessarily to segregate a separate training model for that group, only to determine what a typical workout would look like, and progress accordingly.

Finally, the last step of the planning process before actually writing the programs is to outline the guidelines for each of the phases above.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s really not. You create the model once and you can use it for as long as it’s effective or until you learn something new that you think warrants changing. Following this process at the beginning of each season makes writing the actual programs extremely easy. It’s just a matter of determining how to most effectively teach and progress exercises to a large group and then plugging in the information from the tables above.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If want to ensure you’re choosing the right exercise strategies for your team, check out Ultimate Hockey Training, which outlines the exact exercise progressions and regressions to use for every major movement pattern, including multi-directional core training!


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I hope you’ve been well. The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind…although I think I’ve said that for the last couple of months so I suppose things have been pretty typical for this time of year!

Over the last the two weeks I’ve added a few interesting hockey training posts, including a presentation I gave to ~185 14-year old players in Colorado Springs a couple weeks. If you haven’t already, check them out at the links below:

  1. Hockey Training Stuff You Should Read
  2. GAP Golf Fitness Q&A
  3. Hip Active Isolated Stretching for Hockey Players
  4. Hip and Thoracic Mobility Exercise for Hockey Players
  5. USA Hockey Regional Camp Recap
  6. USA Hockey Camp Q&A

We’ve also added some pretty good stuff over at Hockey Strength and Conditioning over the last couple of weeks, including a few articles from new contributors.

Articles

  1. Defenseman Specific Speed from Sean Skahan
  2. Reconditioning Phase: Step One in Off-Season Programming from Devan McConnell
  3. Youth Hockey Training Presentation from me
  4. Children’s Footwear from Dr. William Rossi
  5. Top 5 Quotes from Perform Better Summit, Chicago from Brian Sipotz

Programs

  1. 3-Day Off-Season Program from Darryl Nelson
  2. Pre-Camp Work Capacity Phase from Mike Potenza
  3. Youth Training Program: Tri-Planar Circuits from Mike Potenza

Videos

  1. Single-Leg Complex Training from Sean Skahan

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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