June 11, 2014

Training gurus show how to get ready away from the rink

By Phil Shore

During the hockey season, a player has a team and a coach who schedules practices, which are specific times for that coach to teach and help develop the player to get better.

But when the season ends and there are no more practices, it’s up to the player to do his own work to improve. There are trainers willing to help, but it’s up to the player to choose to do the work and then to fully commit to it.

“One thing we look for is each athlete to have self-drive and accountability,” said Erik Lundquist, a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer with Edge 
Performance Systems.

At Edge Performance Systems, athletes might work on boxing one moment, plyometrics the next. Edge works with a large number of pro and amateur hockey players.

“If you’re not motivated enough to warm up properly or cool down properly, those athletes tend to be more susceptible to groin or hip flexor tissue damage,” added Andrew Lizotte, also of Edge Performance Systems. “It’s one thing for an athlete to give us 100 percent effort in the weight room, but if they’re not willing to do it outside of the weight room, then we’re fighting an uphill battle.”

Training in the offseason isn’t a new idea, but there are differences in how it is done today compared to the past.

“The methods have become more specific in terms of types of exercises and training,” said Jim Michals, director of player and coaching development for T.E.A.M.S. Training. “A lot of running was incorporated then. Now it’s much more about quick sprints and core-based training. Kids at younger ages are now training with a lot of plyometrics.”

While the overall goal of offseason training can be to improve as a hockey player, the work is mostly done off the ice — in the weight room and in the kitchen.

Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning offers Athletic Performance Programs that focus on speed, explosive power, strength, conditioning, flexibility, injury reduction and nutrition education.

A number of trainers and coaches suggest staying off the ice in the offseason.

“Offseason training is ideally done in a weight room and with good quality instruction and done with the intent of getting stronger and faster,” said Mike Boyle, co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning. “We’re running, jumping, sprinting, throwing medicine balls. We’re doing all these things with the intent of developing a bigger, stronger player.”

There are a couple reasons several trainers suggest staying off the ice for the most part during the summer. As Boyle — who has previously worked as the strength and conditioning coach for Boston University, the Boston Bruins and 1998 U.S. Women’s Olympic ice hockey team — said, one reason is to improve a player’s strength and conditioning.

Ben Prentiss, founder of Prentiss Hockey Performance and a man who has worked with NHL players including Jonathan Quick, Martin St. Louis and Chris Pronger, said injury prevention is another reason.

“(Kids) are playing 75 to 80 games a year. I’m seeing high school guys with torn labrums and hernias because of overuse,” he said. “In the offseason, for guys that are only playing hockey, it’s important for them to stay out of skates for four to six weeks to stay away from overuse injuries.”

Based out of Darien, Conn., Prentiss Hockey Performance has helped produce three Stanley Cup winners, NHL All-Stars, a Hart trophy winner and Hobey Baker finalists.

Trainers also say proper nutrition is a vital part of getting bigger, stronger and recovering faster.

“Basically, what we ask our clients to do is a food log that we’ll have our athletes fill out,” Lundquist said. “It’s not just what they put into their body, but when. I need them to have five to six meals a day: four big ones, but also a mid-afternoon snack and mid-morning snack. I want to make sure my guys are getting over 100 ounces of water a day. When they get off the ice, they’re pretty wet. It’s sweat. They need to replenish that.”

Students in the classroom learn in different ways, have different strengths and weaknesses and need help in different areas. A hockey player in training is the same. When a player goes into offseason training, workout programs and plans are made specifically for that athlete.

“What movements can we do in the weight room that can mimic what they do on the ice,” Lizotte said. “It’s specific to position, too. We look at what are the highest injury rates in the sport so we can work those areas and prevent those injuries from happening.”

That being said, there are some general areas and exercises that are focused on and translate well across the board for most hockey players.

“I would say single-leg squats,” Boyle said. “I think it’s probably the most indicative of somebody’s ability to skate. If someone can single-leg squat well, they’re probably going to be able to skate. It’s not the be-all end-all, it’s not the answer, but if I have to pick one, that might be the one.”

The core is another important area to work on.

“In terms of off-ice training, we focus on the core strength of each athlete. From their knees to their rib cage is their core,” said Michals. “A lot of conditioning done, we call it coordination conditioning. You’re doing multiple tasks at the same time. Way back you’d go in the weight room and do bench press and squats. Now we do a lot of different movements.”

One way to not overuse certain muscles or to not get burned out from too much playing is to take a break from hockey and play another sport, especially the younger the player is.

“We’re of the belief that younger athletes shouldn’t specialize,” Lundquist said. “Maybe they’re playing lacrosse or baseball. They’re developing the ability to balance and change direction.”

That’s not to say that there won’t be any work at all on the ice or in skates.

Part of the T.E.A.M.S. Training program is use of the BladeMill Skating Treadmill. It has a synthetic material that you skate on that runs similar to how you would run on a regular treadmill, and is about 8 feet wide and 10 feet long. Michals said players get their skates on and dress in full equipment while using the BladeMill. He said there are multiple reasons why it’s a productive tool.

T.E.A.M.S. Training takes advantage of the BladeMill Skating Treadmill, which has a synthetic material and is about 8 feet wide and 10 feet long. Players get their skates on and dress in full equipment while using the BladeMill. 

“Players get on and they will do different exercises — squats, lunges, knee drops, side-to-side lateral movements. They’ll do various jumping, stickhandling and shooting,” he said. “It’s developing the muscles that are needed to play hockey. Gluts, thigh, stomach, abs. The BladeMill helps teach the mechanics of skating stride.

“We enhance the stride,” he added. “Their feet are right in front of me. I can discuss what they’re doing.”

A question for offseason training: What age should a player start?

Many trainers suggest that young players play other sports, and those movements will help them develop all of their muscle groups and help them become better athletes. And while the younger players won’t be in the weight room necessarily, there are still exercises they can do and work on that will help them get stronger and give them a head start for when they do start specializing in sport and lifting.

“When you have an 11-year-old and you introduce them to the strength training, they’re learning the movements,” Boyle said. “Starting early, that 11 to 12 range, gives them a little bit of a leg up. They have that basic understanding. You have to learn how to do a push-up, a pull-up and a single-leg squat. They’re your basic movements in strength training. If you start late, you still have to learn those movements. It’s more time you’ve wasted.”

It’s obvious that offseason training works out the body, making it bigger and faster and stronger. According to Michals, though, it also is beneficial for your mental strength.

“Being asked to do multiple tasks, that trains your mind and gets you out of your comfort zone,” he said. “We do a lot of out-of-comfort-zone training. You train by yourself and with people you don’t know. Maybe you have to do a jump you’ve never done, but if you fall, you just get up and try again.”

There are a number of different training and nutrition programs a player can do. Whatever it is the player chooses, it is becoming more and more important that the player undergo some kind of offseason training program.

“Historically, hockey in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s was showing up to camp and working your way into shape. Now guys are getting stronger and faster and it’s leaving the guys that don’t train behind,” Prentiss said. “The guys that do are the ones making the money and staying healthy throughout the season.”

This article originally appeared in the June edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.

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