Conditioning the Volleyball Athlete

When I first started working with volleyball I did what I thought was correct and had the team run a couple times a week for conditioning like I would with our teams. Typically we would run two times a week with a sprint based day and a tempo based day, and then perform slideboard intervals on the other day(s) depending on whether we were training three or four days per week. This was a mistake.

The one thing I didn’t account for was the amount of time volleyball athletes spending jumping, more specifically landing, even in the off-season. As a result of this we found we had a handful of athletes that were dealing with some sore and cranky knees.

As a result we have changed our conditioning around a little. As much as I would like to run a couple times a week I had to take a smarter approach. Depending on how many days we are training, we now continue to run once per week, slideboard once or twice a week, and ride the Assault Bike once or twice a week allowing us to have much fewer ground contacts over the course of the week. The result: zero knee soreness.

As a result of this we have also implemented a Max Aerobic Speed (MAS) on the Assault Bike that we stole from Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning/Movement as Medicine. It’s an extremely simple test; 2 Miles as fast as you can then take the average RPM’s over the course of the 2 mile ride. We will then take that average number to program appropriate RPM’s during our various assault bike conditioning protocols throughout the off-season. This allows us to individualize the conditioning on the bikes and allows us to make sure each athlete is working at a pace (RPM’s) during each interval no matter what bike protocol we are using.

Weekend Goodies

Another Sunday which means another handful of sport performance articles from the past week and some sport performance podcasts that I listened to in the last week, some new and some older. Enjoy!


Physical Preparation Podcast with Jorge Carvajal

Just Fly Performance Podcast with Chris Korfist

CVASP Podcast with Jason Dierking

Just Fly Performance Podcast with Joe DeFranco


Importance of Diaphragmatic Breathing

Lower-Crossed Syndrome in Ice Hockey

Weight Room Culture of One by Zach Dechant

Should You ‘Balance’ Your Pushes and Your Pulls? by Eric Cressey

10 Ways to Remain Athletic as You Age by Eric Cressey


In-Season Ice Hockey Training Thoughts

Nothing earth shattering, but here are a few thoughts on training ice hockey (or any athlete) during the in-season period.

  1. I think 2 lifts a week is more then enough if you are programming well. If we really wanted to I am sure we could arrange things so that we could train 3 or 4 days a week. But in my opinion, in-season the goal is to train as much as necessary not as much as possible.
  2. Intensity remains high, volume gets reduced. We still lift heavy, we just don’t perform lots of sets and reps.
  3. Keep lifts short and to the point. The team does a thorough warm up prior to practice and then comes into the weight room to lift two times a week. Because our warm up is already complete, our lifts generally don’t take longer then 30 minutes. The team comes into the weight room, grabs their cards, and starts.
  4. Pick exercises that have little chance of causing muscle soreness…no one wants sore/heavy legs on game day.
  5. Collect data daily and look for trends throughout the team and potential red flags with certain athletes. We measure training load (average HR x time on ice) and wellness (subjective questionnaire) on a daily basis. We also measure readiness (vertical jump) and get a bodyweight every single Monday.

As I said, nothing earth shattering but something that was running through my head and I decided to write down.

Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing

“If breathing isn’t normalized no other movement pattern will be.” Karl Lewit

Diaphragmatic breathing is probably the simplest and easiest thing we can perform with our athletes when it comes to changing and improving movement and performance, yet is constantly overlooked.

Proper respiration leads to better posture. Better posture leads to an athlete that is more resilient to injury and leads to better performance. More resilient + better performance = better athlete. If you aren’t coaching breathing you are missing the boat.


Some of the documented benefits of diaphragmatic breathing;

  • A window into the autonomic nervous system to help promote a more para-sympathetic state
  • Decreases heart rate
  • Decreases blood pressure
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Changes in insulin sensitivity
  • An important spinal stabilize

We simply cue an athlete to breathe in through the nose (3-4 seconds) and out through their mouth (6-8 seconds). Though it may seem like a small detail, breathing in through the nose and subsequently out through the mouth is critical as it stimulates the vagus nerve.

Thoughts on Lower-Crossed Syndrome in Ice Hockey

Last week I wrote a post that touched on Janda’s Upper-Crossed Syndrome and the effect it can have on the hockey athlete. Dr. Janda’s Lower-Crossed Syndrome is classified by a weak/inhibited glute max and anterior core along with tight/facilitated hip flexors and erector spine resulting in a malpositioned pelvis (anterior tilt). This issues commonly cause a tug-of-war between the tight hip flexors and weak anterior core which can lead to hernia issues or other hip issues that are caused by a malpositioned pelvis (FAI???).

Lower Crossed Syndrome

Moral of the story…just like hockey players tend to have some funky shoulders, they also tend to have some messed up hips! Some of the simple but important things we incorporate to counteract these issues;

  • Releasing the Hip Flexor: various ways to do this – diaphragmatic breathing, stretching the hip flexors, etc.
  • Bridging to facilitate the glute: we bridge all the time via Cook Hip Lifts, Slideboard Leg Curl, 1-Leg Shoulder Elevated Hip Bridges and some others
  • Getting into Hip Extension: in the off-season we will slowly incorporate running, first starting with tempo runs and then more sprinting in order to slowly work the hips into more and more aggressive hip extension
  • Pushing Sleds: not commonly thought of this way, but in my eyes the sled is just big hip extension machine. Because of the lack of eccentric contraction you can use a sled year round without worry of an athlete getting sore.


Weekend Goodies

I hope everyone had a great weekend! Here are a handful of both articles and podcasts that hit the internet over the last week or so. Enjoy!


Thoughts on Upper-Crossed Syndrome In Ice Hockey

In-Season Off-Ice Conditioning

Understanding and Training Hip Flexion by Michael Boyle

Anecdotes and Ideas on Isometric Training for Athletic Speed and Power by Joel Smith

The Fragile Generation by Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt


Power Athlete Radio with Cal Dietz

Strength Coach Podcast #219 w. Stu McGill

Strength Coach Podcast #219.5

Just Fly Performance with Robbie Bourke

Physical Preparation Podcast with Zac Cupples

Thoughts on Upper-Crossed Syndrome in Ice Hockey

Dr. Janda’s Upper-Crossed Syndrome, classified as weak/inhibited deep neck flexors, lower traps and serratus along with tight/facilitated pectorals, upper traps and levator scapulae, is commonly seen in hockey populations. As a result of this you’ll find manyathletes have malpositioned cervical spine/thorax leading to ‘neck breathing’ and not allowing the diaphragm to work effectively, which leads to poor thoracic mobility and a compromised function of the scapula.

Upper Crossed Syndome

What does this mean for the hockey athlete?

Because of the hunched over position that hockey players find themselves in through the demands of the game, it is safe to say that many hockey players will present some, if not all of the signs of Janda’s Upper-Crossed Syndome.

And because of that, hockey players tend to have some cranky shoulders that can lead to both impingement and potential injuries to the shoulder while absorbing force on the ice.

What do we do to counteract these issues;

  • Daily Diaphragmatic Breathing: a lot can be gained by performing some simple diaphragmatic breathing on a daily basis.
  • Daily Thoracic Spine Mobility
  • Upper Body Pressing: as the season progresses we will perform less and less bench press with a straight bar and add in other variations that are more shoulder friendly like landmine presses, push ups, and 1DB bench press. Adding movements that are little more shoulder friendly can go a long way in keeping shoulders happy as the demands of a long hockey season take its toll on the athletes body.
  • Upper Body Pulling: our strength program would be considered imbalanced in the sense that we always perform more sets/reps of upper body pulling (chin ups, rows, etc.) then we do pushing (bench, overhead press, etc.) to try to create more balance across the upper body. Generally speaking I would say that having a balanced program is ideal, but in this situation we have found creating a little bit of an unbalanced program has worked well in keeping our athletes shoulders healthy.

In-Season Off-Ice Conditioning

“If you get hurt in the training process, your training process is terrible.” – Mike Boyle

Dilemma: coach wants to give the team the day off from skating but still wants to perform a somewhat intense conditioning session.

Solution: Assault Bikes

The first question most people would ask is ‘Why biking and not running or using the slideboard?’ This is a reasonable and fair question, and the answer lies in having a solid understanding of the sport you are dealing with. You have to have a ‘why’ for what you are doing.

Anyone working with the ice hockey population is probably well aware of the effects that playing hockey has on an athletes body. Hockey players live in a flexed hip position, placing excessive both concentric and isometric stress on the hips and quads while skating. Then they sit on the bench between shifts in a flexed hip position. Then they sit in the locker room between periods in a flexed hip position. The same goes for the time they spend sitting in class, driving a car, and watching television. Many skate year-round. Hockey players literally live in a flexed hip position.

Taylor Hall

Because of this, running may be an issue and cause hip flexor strains if performed in-season. Though I am a huge advocate of performing exercises year-round that ask a hockey athlete to get into full hip extension (sled marching, 1-leg DL, slideboard leg curl, bridging variations), asking a hockey player to sprint and aggressively perform hip extension is probably a disaster waiting to happen. Don’t be shocked if you find yourself with a handful of hip flexor strains following the sprint based conditioning session.

***As a side note, we do run in the off-season, starting with tempo runs to build an aerobic conditioning base, work on sprint mechanics, and slowly get them into hip extension in a less-aggressive way then sprinting. We eventually and slowly work our way into sprinting when some of the postural issues that result from a long hockey season have been ironed out a little. Again, there is a ‘why’ to everything we are doing – nothing is left for chance, there is a logical, well thought-out process to everything we do***

Remember, you as a coach need to adapt the strength & conditioning program to the athlete/sport – the athlete/sport should not be trying to adapt to your strength & conditioning program.

I had to ask myself what is the easiest and safest effective way we can accomplish what it is that we want to accomplish? Is there a way to do this and make sure no one gets hurt? The answer is a clear yes, utilizing the Assault bike.

The Assault Bike allows the hockey athlete to essentially ‘save’ their hip flexors – on a bike you just push down while spinning, a position where the your hip flexors don’t have to do any substantial work. The result is a solid conditioning session without any glaring injury concerns.

As far as the slideboard goes the answer is simple; they skate and perform that same movement pattern over and over and over while on the ice in practice and during game – that bucket is so full that it’s overflowing! Don’t continue to fill full buckets, fill the empty bucket and get the athletes doing something different (as long as it’s safe like biking in this case) to try to create balance. Over-performing the same movement pattern time and time again is a great way for someone to get injured via an overuse injury.

The moral of the story is that you have a ‘Why’ for both everything you do as well as everything that you don’t do. The primary goal of a training program is to keep players in the game with improved performance coming second. Could we have jumped on the ice and conditioned, ran, or done slideboard work and hypothetically elicited a better conditioning effect? Maybe, maybe not. But a healthy player is always better then an unhealthy player, every single time. The bike allowed us to condition hard and live to fight another day.

Random Thoughts: November Edition

It’s a new month which means another brain dump of random thoughts that have been going through my head with a couple quotes tossed in for good measure. Enjoy.

  1. A robust system under stress remains strong. – Dave Tenney
  2. Great coaches have the same energy at 5pm that they do at 9am. Take care of yourself. Eat right. Sleep. Get out of the weight room when you have free time. It isn’t fair to those athletes later in the day if you are tired and just looking to get through their session.
  3. Criticize a mistake, not an athlete.
  4. Our job as strength and conditioning/sport performance coaches is to make athletes better general movers and more resilient/durable through proper strength training, and then hand them off to the sport coaches.
  5. The best strength coaches live in the gray area when it comes to disciplines like PRI, RPR and many others. They steal a little bit from various different disciplines and apply them to their program in a way that works for their situation. The best also don’t get caught going way too deep into the rabbit hole.
  6. Look for the teams and coaches that are the most successful. Figure out what the commonality between these successful teams and coaches are. Then apply it to your situation.
  7. As coaches we have the tendency to think we need to speak all the time to fill the gaps. In my opionon this is far from the truth. The coaches that are able to listen to their athletes are the coaches that will really do well in the long run. Listen 80% of the time and speak 20% of the time.
  8. Great sprinters have great isometric strength. – Chris Korfist
  9. 99% of the time when an athlete is struggling with a movement more weight is not going to solve the problem.
  10. Most all strength coaches would agree that there is a need to individualizing programs for athletes. But simply giving athletes different weights for the same exercise isn’t individualizing things.

15 “Extreme Ownership” Quotes from Jocko Willink

A few weeks ago I decided to pick up and read a book that I had previously read, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. Jocko is a retired United States Navy SEAL, a SEAL that was awarded both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his efforts and leadership in the Iraqi War, who wrote the book to help teach people how to become the strongest leader they possible can become.

As anyone that has ever read the book would tell you, its is without a doubt one of the best books any leader in any organization can read that is chalked full of amazing content. Here are 15 (there could have been 50) noteworthy quotes from Jocko;

  1. The book derives it’s title from the underlying principle – the mind-set – that provides the foundation for all the rest: Extreme Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.
  2. Good leaders don’t make excuses. Instead, they figure out a way to get it done.
  3. The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.
  4. If you allow the status quo to persist, you can’t expect to improve performance, and you can’t expect to win.
  5. When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues.
  6. Extreme Ownership: There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.
  7. The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. When mentored and coached properly, the junior leader can eventually replace the senior leader, allowing the senior leader to move on to the next level of leadership.
  8. Ego clouds and disrupts everything.
  9. A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow. They must be aggressive, but not overbearing. A leader must be calm, but not robotic. They must be confident, but never cocky. A leader must be brave, but not foolhardy. They must have competitive spirit, but be a gracious loser.
  10. When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable – if there are no consequences – that poor performance becomes the new standard. Therefore, leaders must enforce standards.
  11. There can be no leadership when there is no team.
  12. I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong. That is what a leader does – even if it means getting fired. If anyone was to be blamed and fired for what happened, let it be me.
  13. Leading people is the most challenging and, therefore, the most gratifying undertaking of all human endeavors.
  14. To implement real change, to drive people to accomplish something truly complex or difficult or dangerous – you can’t make people do these things. You have to lead them.
  15. If the frontline troops are unclear about the plan and yet are too intimidated to ask questions, the team’s ability to effectively execute the plan radically decreases.