Sample In-Season Program for Ice Hockey

I am a firm believer that as a field we get better when coaches are transparent. Attached at the bottom of this post is an exact template of what is going to be implemented with women’s hockey during this current in-season period, the next three weeks.

This is also almost identical as to what I have been implementing with volleyball during their in-season period as well. The movement patterns stay the same, the exercises that will be implemented will be more specific to the athlete/sport. For example, with volleyball our vertical pressing on day one will either be a variation on the Landmine Press or a variation of a Bottoms Up KB OH Press, while with women’s hockey will typically perform some type of incline pressing work, in this case alternating DB incline press. Our horizontal pressing with volleyball will typically be a push up where it is a bench press with women’s hockey. Movement patterns stay the same, exercises change.

No secrets here, always an open book. Help other coaches. Advance the field. Leave it better then you found it.

Womens Hockey InSeason P2

Health > Performance

“While an athlete’s reaching or exceeding individual performance aims and helping the team achieve its goals is fantastic in one sense, it’s completely undermined if this athlete is ruin in the process.” – Fergus Connolly

In the last few weeks I have slowly been making my way through Fergus Connolly’s new book Game Changer, which has been an outstanding read. One topic that really struck a nerve with me was the topic of health when it comes to student athletes. As Fergus states and something that I completely agree with is that health has to come before performance.

In my opinion, if there is one common denominator to success in sports it is that athlete health. Without a doubt, health is the single most important factor to success not only for the team but for individual athletes – it is hard to win important games when a key player or key players are sitting on the sidelines.

This is not to say that if a team is perfectly health throughout the entire competitive season that the team will have guaranteed success, but it is close to a guarantee that if a team is missing various players or certain key players that winning is going to be more challenging.

As a coach you have to have an understanding of the stress that you and all their other responsibilities as a student-athlete are placing on them on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. You can’t put athletes through high intensity sessions day in and day out and then wonder why they are broken down and/or tired all the time.

For example, our women’s hockey team has been reporting that they are very tired and a little run down over the course of the last 7-10 days. We have had very little injuries up until this point…then within a 48 hour span we had two groin strains. Neither of these issues have kept the athletes off the ice or are major in any way, but I found it interesting that both happened at essentially the same time and when many athletes were reporting being somewhat run down.

At first I looked at the volume/intensity of their on ice sessions…very similar to what they were experiencing in the weeks prior. I then looked at the volume/intensity of the work they were putting in during their off ice sessions. Again, the loads were consistent with previous weeks and not out of the norm or over the top by any means.

It then dawned on me that we are in the middle of mid-terms. The athletes have had increased demands and pressure through studying for all of their upcoming mid-term exams or putting the finishing touches on their mid-term papers. School, nothing hockey related, is currently adding a lot more stress to their system. As coaches, we have to remember that stress is stress – the body can’t and doesn’t differentiate between stressors.

As a result, we had to make some minor changes to our off ice sessions during this time to make sure we don’t ask too much of the athletes – health was put ahead of performance. Could we have pushed through what we originally had planned? Sure. Would we have stayed health? Maybe, maybe not – we have no way of knowing. But the point is this – as hard as it is for us as strength & conditioning coaches sometimes we need to realize that during the in-season period we are essentially stress managers and as a result need to place performance on the backburner so that we can do everything in our power to help the athlete stay as healthy as we can.

Arm Care Programs

When it comes to training overhead athletes a strength coach has to take into account the demands that are placed on the athlete through their sport. With overhead athletes, overuse injuries of the shoulder can be extremely common. Because of this many exercises that may not be contraindicated for most athletes are contraindicated for the overhead athlete.

In my opinion, good arm/shoulder care is more than just swapping a barbell bench press for DB bench press and adding some rotator cuff exercises into the mix – it’s about a well thought out, holistic strength program that appreciates the unique needs of an overhead athlete.

Here are a few thoughts;

    • Don’t overlook the importance of a strong lower body to work off of.
    • Don’t overlook the importance of a strong and stable core to work off of. Anti-rotation work (Pallof Press variations) and anti-extension work (rollouts, body saw, etc) are important for long term health.
    • Deadlifting > squatting. Both movements are a great bilateral lower body movement, but the deadlift has a few things that set it apart. Lots of upper back involvement which overhead athletes need. Deadlifting helps improve grip strength (more on that in a second). Also, volleyball and baseball/softball player won’t typically have the same degree of external rotation from one shoulder to another leading to issues with placing the bar across their back. Safety bar squatting would without a doubt be the best option when it comes to squatting.

  • Grip strength is strongly correlated to shoulder health. Suitcase carries. Farmers carries. Deadlifting.
  • Free the scap. Do as much pressing where the scapula has the ability to move freely. Push ups, landmine presses, bottoms up KB presses are all great pressing movements for overhead athletes.

    • Don’t just program sets and reps. Though traditional external rotation exercises make it into the program, the rotator cuff is built for stability and reflex driven which can be trained through compression and distraction of the shoulder. One is going to push the shoulder into the socket, one is going to pull it out of the socket. Think push ups and deadlifting, crawling and carries.

  • Med ball work is often overlooked for its ability to help maintain shoulder health. For example, a simple overhead throw is great for core/upper body power, but it also teaches the rotator cuff to decelerate just as it would every time an athlete throws a baseball or hits a volleyball.
  • Train outside the sagittal plane. Though this could go for any athlete in any sport, getting outside the sagittal plane is great for long term health, sport performance and proper movement. Single leg exercises, lateral squats, slideboard work for conditioning and lateral sled work all check these boxes.

Thoughts on In-Season Training

“The goal is to keep the goal the goal.” – Dan John

The goal of the weight room is to develop durable athletes that are able to withstand the demands of their sport through resistance training. With this in mind, it is important to remember that in-season strength training is still strength training and it is not a “maintenance” period, it’s about recovering as efficiently as possible while continually trying to get stronger/more powerful in a smart manner. Proper in-season training will lead to reduced injuries and we know strength is our number one protection against injury.

Three basic guidelines we adhere to:

1. Stick to the basics: push/pull/lower/core etc.

Nothing fancy in-season, just the basics…our main lifts remain our main lifts. For example, our off-season lower body training revolves around trap bar deadlift, rear foot elevated split squats, 1-leg RDL’s and 1-leg squats…and so does our in-season training. We still hang clean and snatch, we still bench and we still perform chin ups on a daily basis. The ‘important’ lifts never really change.

2. High intensity & low volume strength work 

Once we get to the in-season phase of the year, we continue to lift heavy with the goal of getting stronger, but the overall volume is decrease. We rarely get above 5 reps for our previously mentioned exercises and we look for 1-2 heavy sets per exercise. As an example, this last week women’s hockey performed rear foot elevated split squats for 3 sets of 2 reps each leg, with one set being a very heavy set – essentially the team performed two sets to get them ready for their one heavy set.

3. Incorporate mobility/correctives to counteract the demands of the sport

For example, with women’s hockey we know tight and weak hip flexors are a common issue so we incorporate stretches (spiderman, couch stretch, etc) and correctives (band hip flexor) to try to counterbalance these issues. Whatever the imbalance of the sport the goal should be to fight to maintain balance throughout the in-season period.

All that said, I think if we simply utilize our basic ‘important’ exercises, still continue to train heavy and try to get stronger, and perform these exercises extremely well, you’ll find many athletes will actually get stronger in-season.

Exercises You Should Be Doing: Suspension Fallouts

I am probably a little late to the party on this one, but the suspension fallout has become one of my favorite anti-extension core exercises. I have started to use it a little later in our anti-extension progression. We start with typical front plank work (regular, feet elevated, weighted feet elevated), progress into a swiss ball rollout, then the suspension fallout followed by a body saw. The movement is very simple but it is also a lot tougher then you may initially think.

Give it a try. Enjoy!

Random Thoughts: October Edition

New month, new list of random thoughts. Hopefully it sparks a little thinking. Enjoy.

  1. Every athlete has a trainable exercise menu. That menu isn’t necessarily the same for each and every athlete. We as coaches need to adapt and work with the athlete, not have the athlete adapt and try to fit them into our program.
  2. Deceleration is more important then top speed.
  3. Everyone likes to argue about basically everything in strength and conditioning, but at the end of the day the only thing that matters are the results you get. Whether you agree with the methods or not, the results don’t lie.
  4. Sometimes I wonder if strength coaches are training athletes to be better powerlifters or training athletes to be more resilient/better performing athletes.
  5. I become more and more of a med ball fan as the days go by for a couple reasons. For starters, Eric Cressey always talks about how power is plane specific – there is very little correlation between someone’s vertical jump and how hard they can shoot a hockey puck. Something like a med ball side toss can specifically train that rotational power that it takes to shoot a puck. Also, med balls allow you to train in various planes, something you don’t necessarily get from traditional Olympic lifts, which is important in developing an all around athlete. I think its extremely important to try to find ways to train power outside the sagittal plane.
  6. Integrating strength & conditioning with what the sport coach is doing at practice is something I think our industry needs to do better. We have a pretty good idea of the way the body deals with stress. Big stress days should be big stress days across the board. Low stress days should be low stress days across the board. Stay out of the middle. Integrate.
  7. Mike Boyle on deadlifting versus squatting: “Deadlifts involve flexion moments, versus extension and compressive forces. In squatting you are trying to produce extension and you are involved with a deliberate compressive load running down your spine. In deadlifts, none of those are present.”
  8. Coach when and if necessary. And that’s not all the time.
  9. I’ve completely eliminated loaded bilateral hip thrusts/bridges from all my programs. Too many people turn the movement into a lumbar extension instead of a hip extension, which isn’t a good thing. There are numerous better ways of training hip extension.
  10. If you are bigger stronger and faster but gave up movement integrity to get there, you’ll get hurt. – Gray Cook

Random Thoughts: September Edition

Another month, another list of random thoughts that have been going through my head. Enjoy!

  1. The brain remembers the last rep that an athlete does…don’t finish on a bad rep. – Gray Cook
  2. A great way for the athletes you work with to realize how much you care is to be there beyond just the strength & conditioning. Be at games. Show up to practices. Build relationships with them. It will go a long way in getting more buy-in when they come into the weight room.
  3. Great coaches are constantly seeking feedback on ways that they can be better. The great ones never think they know it all, it’s usually the complete opposite.
  4. Produce race horses, not plow horses. – Tony Holler
  5. If you spend any time around hockey players you will quickly notice and realize that most all of them can not get into full hip extension. Bridge, bridge, bridge! Bridge in the warm up with Cook Hip Lifts. Bridge in the training session with slideboard leg curls and 1-leg shoulder elevated bridges. The skating position constantly places hockey players in a flexed hip position and in my opinion it is extremely important to constantly fight against this with hip extension based exercises.
  6. Be an essentialist. Identify what is absolutely essential for the athletes you are working with to be successful at their sport – then be great at those essentials.
  7. In a lot of ways we as strength coaches overthink a lot of things. Get people moving better. Get people moving stronger. Get people more conditioned. Do these things and chances are everything will work out alright.
  8. I think, without a doubt, that the ankle is the most overlooked jointed in the body even though most would agree that it has a huge influence across the entire kinetic chain. It’s probably a great idea to constantly have some ankle mobility work in the program.
  9. Using the previous thoughts as a jumping off point, squatting with the heels elevated instantly makes almost everyone a better squatter and is probably should be one of the first correctives that will clean the squat up extremely quickly along with a mini-band below the knee. I might go as far as saying that I think most people should just go straight to squatting with their heels elevated starting day 1.
  10. It’s not what you know, its what you can get your athletes to do well. – Carl Valle

Circuits When Pressed for Time

A lot of times when it comes to training I find myself not having a heck of a lot of time to get things done, which I would assume is something that most people can probably relate to. In times like this, we have a couple options; one, call it a day and move on, or two, make the best of things and do something productive.

I’d recommend option two.

Enter a circuit. These circuits keep you moving at a decent pace and also allow you to get a decent amount of work done in a very short time frame. You get all aspects of a quality and well rounded training program, from activation through strength training and even some aerobic conditioning due to the continuous movement.

Here’s what a typical circuit day would look like;

General Warm Up
• Diaphragmatic Breathing x2 minutes
• Total Body Foam Roll
• Total Body Stretch

Activation Circuit
• Cook Hip Lift w/ breathe x5 each
• Floor Slides w/ breathe x10
• Leg Lowers w/ breathe x5 each
• Dead Bug w/ breathe x5 each
• Supine Band Hip Flexor 2×10 second hold each
• Mini Band Overhead Squat x10
• Lateral Band Walks x10 each way
• Band Pull Apart x15

Mobility Circuit
• V-Stance T-Spine Rotation x10 each
• Wall Ankle Mobs x10 each
• Split Squat x5 each
• Lateral Squat x5 each
• Rotational Squat x5 each
• Reaching 1-Leg RDL x8 each

Core
• Front Plank x30 seconds
• Side Plank x20 seconds each
• Body Saw x8
• Tall Kneeling Anti-Rotation Press x8 each

Bodyweight Strength Circuit (3 sets of each exercise)
• Push Up x20
• 1-Leg Squat x5 each
• Chin Up x10
• 1-Leg Shoulder Elevated Hip Bridge x15 each leg

Conditioning
• :10:20×8 Air Assault (2 sets, 4 minutes of rest between sets)

Simple and effective. A full program, from top to bottom, that will take you all of 30-45 minutes. This allows you to get something done even when you are in a crunch for time. Doing something like this on a daily basis won’t get you looking like The Rock or put you on the cover of Men’s Health anytime soon, but sometimes our busy lives require us to get in and out of the weight room quickly. Punch the clock and move on.

Pressing Alternatives

Pressing movements like an overhead press, incline bench or many other pressing movements can be both difficult and painful at times, especially for overhead athletes like volleyball, swimming, and baseball players.

More specifically, pressing movements tend to be more painful for overhead athletes when they are lying supine (on their backs) with their scapulae motion restricted by a bench and/or the floor.

Exercises like push ups, KB Bottoms Up Presses and the Landmine press allows for an overhead athlete to perform pressing movements while also allowing the scapulae to move freely and typically pain free, not being restricted by a bench or the floor and allowing the scapula to be free.

Push Ups
The push up may be my favorite upper body pressing exercise, and is hands down the most underrated exercise in the world of strength and conditioning, especially in female populations. It’s actually amazing how many people, both males and females, can’t perform a proper set of five or more push up. It’s a great upper body strength movement with the added benefit of both core and shoulder strength/stability and that you don’t get in most all other pressing exercises like benching.

Kettlebell Bottoms Up Press
It allows the shoulder to find the path of least resistance. Not all shoulders work the same, especially overhead athletes.

It helps to facilitate more rotator cuff activation. The rotator cuff is a reflex driven group of muscles built for stability, not strength. KB bottoms up press demands stability. If the rotator cuff isn’t stabilizing, the KB will fall over.

It also teaches the core and the shoulder to work together as a unit. If you lose core stability, you’ll again probably lose the kettlebell.

Overhead athletes tend to have cranky shoulders with pain in certain positions. Simply flipping the KB over turns a typically painful movement into a non-painful movement. Training through pain is a terrible idea. On the other hand, not training through pain is always a good thing.

Landmine Press
The landmine press, which has been made popular by Eric Cressey, is slowly becoming one of my favorite pressing exercises for all athletes. The landmine press frees the scapula, is great for building upward rotation of the scapula, requires some core stability, and helps with improving thoracic mobility – that’s a lot of bang for your buck.

If you have shoulder pain, work with overhead athletes, are tired of bench pressing, or just want to add some variety to your pressing, give some of these movements a try!

Quick Shoulder PreHab Circuit

Depending on who you listen to, you may or may not feel that direct rotator cuff work is important in order to keep the shoulders of overhead athletes healthy. Coaches like Eric Cressey and Michael Boyle still include direct rotator cuff in their programs with various external rotation exercises.

One the other hand, coaches/physical therapists like Gray Cook would tell you the rotator cuff is a reflex driven muscle group that is built for stability, and therefore strengthening isn’t necessary. They would argue that Turkish Get Ups, various crawling variations, and loaded carries (suitcase, farmers) is ideal for rotator cuff health.

Three extremely well educated, highly thought of coaches and physical therapists with somewhat differing opinions.

I personally tend to agree with Gray Cook in the thought process that direct rotator cuff is unnecessary – strengthening a muscle that is built on time and stabilization just doesn’t make sense to me. As a result we do a ton of carries, a ton of get ups and a ton of crawling variations.

But we also perform a band circuit and do some external rotation exercises just to cover all our bases. My thought process: the direct cuff work takes 2-3 minutes – you are better off safe then sorry and 2-3 minutes is not taking up much time at all. The following video is our typical shoulder band circuit with some direct external rotation.