March 28, 2012

From NEHJ: Make developing durability a priority

By Sean Skahan

The definition of “durable” — according to Dictionary.com — is “The ability to resist wear, decay, etc.; well; lasting; enduring.” 

Sean Skahan (Quincy, Mass.) is the strength and conditioning coach of the Anaheim Ducks.

In team sports, the ability for athletes to be healthy on a game-to-game basis is sometimes what separates the good from the not-so-good. 

In the NHL and NFL, statistics are kept on man games lost to injury (NHL) and starters games missed (NFL). Over the course of the season, it is ideal that those numbers are low to ensure that the team is healthy. In professional sports, the athletes obviously possess enough talent to play their sport, but not so many have the durability to help them remain in the lineup. Having the best players on the team available to play in each game gives a team the best chance for success. 

Unfortunately, injuries do occur. Broken bones, head injuries and other ailments are unfortunately unavoidable. In hockey, the speed of the game combined with physical contact and a hard rubber puck that is shot around the ice and in the air at upwards of 90-plus mph can create plenty of opportunities for injury. It is the soft tissue injuries such as strains/pulls to muscle groups such as the adductors, abdominals and hip flexors that can be avoided.

Can we prevent all of them from happening? Probably not, but we can do our best at implementing strategies to help our athletes avoid them. 

Creating and implementing strategies to help prevent these injuries from occurring needs to be part of the strength and conditioning coach’s responsibility. We can’t continue to wait for these injuries to happen before we take action. We need to be pro-active, not re-active.

I am not suggesting that we should be spending all of our time on “pre-hab” or “corrective” exercises instead of trying to get our players stronger at the basics. Although we do what some would refer to as pre-hab and/or corrective exercises daily in our program. These are done with all of our athletes even if they don’t have any issue to “correct.” 

However, we use our pre-hab or correctives in conjunction with more traditional exercises used to increase strength and power. Some may refer to this as functional training. I am not sure what it should be called, to be honest, but I don’t feel like it needs to be classified as a system of training. It is what works for us and our players. 

In the NFL, the youngest age a rookie may be is 21 years old. Most of these players already are strong, fast and powerful as a result of being involved in a structured collegiate strength and conditioning program.

In the NHL, the physical maturity of a young player is mostly different from the NFL. First, the NHL drafts young men when they are 18 to 19 years old. Also, NHL-drafted players are not exposed to the similar training methods that collegiate football players are. NHL-drafted players are being selected at the same age that football players are when they begin a collegiate strength and conditioning program.

In my opinion, there are only a small number of college hockey programs with good strength-and-conditioning programs in place.

As for the junior players throughout Canada and the United States, the offseason strength-and-conditioning programs provided by private strength-and-conditioning companies probably are the best option because the in-season strength-and-conditioning programs at the junior level are not as structured as the U.S. collegiate programs.  The teams in the major junior leagues play twice the amount of games that college players do, which doesn’t leave an adequate amount of time to train. 

Unlike in the NFL, an 18-year-old may have the talent to play in the NHL right away. With these young players, it is crucial that they embrace the strength-and-conditioning process so that they can develop the durability necessary to play in 82 regular-season hockey games at a pace that they have never played in before.

It may take time for this development to occur, but we must make it a priority. With the veteran NHL players, they are more like the NFL players who already possess the physical tools to play in the NHL. These players need to continue to work on their durability in the offseason and in season so that they can play every game. They may not need the overall hypertrophy that the younger player may need, but they still need to address some physical characteristics so that they can remain healthy. 

How do you create or improve durability? Methods to prevent the breakdown of the body have to be implemented. It may be different for each player. For one player, it might be gaining strength and lean body mass. For another player, it may be continuing to gain strength but also to improve their overall mobility. These are just some examples, but I think the point is made.

Identifying the weakness and trying to improve it so that it is good enough relative to the strengths is a huge component. 

What I think is important in designing a strength-and-conditioning program is developing an all-encompassing program that takes everything into consideration. Even though an athlete may have specific weaknesses versus strengths, we still can work on their strengths at the same time.  I don’t think that other areas need to take a back seat as we work on weaknesses. 

Durability also should be the focus of the training for the average trainee. The ability to resist wear and decay should be why we embark on exercising. You don’t have to be a pro athlete to not want to decay. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Sean Skahan, a native of Quincy, Mass., is the strength and conditioning coach of the Anaheim Ducks. He is also part owner of www.HockeySc.com, the leading online hockey training resource. He can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com