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.

Our General Warm Up Template

It isn’t too often that I hear much when it comes to warming up. There is plenty of talk when it comes to Olympic lifting, strength training and some talk as it pertains to conditioning. But not so much when it comes to warming up. However, we put a lot of thought into our warm up period. We follow the same template for our warm up every single time we walk into the weight room, whether it is in-season or the off-season.

Foam Roll: We spend approximately 5 minutes on the foam roller and/or lacrosse ball, hitting every single muscle group with the hope of improving tissue quality. I would argue there is no more important quality than tissue quality and it is something we never skip, especially in-season when trying to do everything we can to keep athletes healthy and feeling well.

Breathing: We toss the rollers to the side and do some diaphragmatic breathing every day. If you aren’t aware of the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, there is a ton of info out there that you probably want to start digging into.

Static Stretching and/or Mobility: Once tissue quality is addressed tissue length is addressed. We try to stretch the hip in all three planes, hitting the groin, hip flexors, and hip rotators. Ankle, hip and thoracic spine mobility is always on the menu with an emphasis on driving some more internal rotation of the hip with some of Dr. Andreo Spina’s 90/90 hip CARs etc.

Activation: Nothing crazy here. We perform various forms of hip bridging (typically single leg versions), lateral band walks, band pull aparts, floor slides and FMS correctives fill this slot.

Dynamic Warm Up: Depending on the day we will perform either a linear or lateral dynamic warm up. The warm up will coincide with the rest of the training session. If it is a linear warm up we will perform linear plyo’s, linear sled work, and a linear based conditioning session. If it is a lateral warm up we will perform lateral plyo’s, lateral sled work, and lateral based conditioning.

Everything is slightly different depending on the team and their specific needs, but generally speaking it looks relatively close. In this 25-30 minute period we try to address as many of the movement based needs of the athlete as we can in the warm up period before we touch a weight, so that when they do touch a weight they are moving better and thoroughly warmed up. Nothing is left for chance and there is a system for everything we do.

20 Thought Provoking Gray Cook Quotes

Recently I was skimming through Movement by Gray Cook as I typically do every once in a while with some of the better material out there. The first thing I noticed – Gray has a ton of good quotes that really make you think. And since I’m all about things that make you think a little and grow as a strength coach, I thought I would share some of the quotes that I found to be the most thought provoking. It should be noted that I also went back through a lot of my notes I have taken on podcasts that Gray has been a part of.

Enjoy!

1. Unless you find the driver of bad movement and find the thing that changes it, you’re just guessing.
2. The essence of power is efficiency.
3. Poor movement can exist anywhere in the body but poor movement patterns can only exist in the brain.
4. Strength coaches should like qualities more then they do quantities.
5. Pain is not the problem it’s the signal.
6. Load a bad pattern and your just hitting save on a shitty document.
7. Are you moving poorly because you are in pain? Or are you in pain because you are moving poorly?
8. You can often prove stupidity, but you can rarely fix it.
9. Your brain is too smart to allow you to have full horsepower in a bad body position – it’s called muscle inhibition.
10. When someone leaves the weight room they should have a stamp of durability.
11. The point of lifting weights is to force stress into movement patterns.
12. The lift is over when your prime movers are smoked – lifting is not self limiting.
13. When someone hits the end on a carry, the carry is over because the prime movers can’t take over.
14. It’s not your lifting strength that matters, its how long you can maintain integrity under load.
15. Not everyone deserves the same program.
16. Many athletes are injured, they just don’t know it yet.
17. Our number one job is to improve efficiency of movement.
18. Don’t look at my workouts, look at my outcomes.
19. Stabilizers don’t do their job by being strong, they do their job by being fast.
20. Maintain the squat, train the deadlift.

Random Thoughts: May Edition

It’s a new month, so here are 10 quick and random thoughts that have been floating around my brain recently. If nothing else I hope it makes you think a little. Enjoy!

1. People need the simple stuff more then anything else. In my opinion, overcomplicating will just lead to undertrained athletes. Don’t underestimate the power of the basics because they aren’t as sexy as some of the other stuff.
2. Recently I heard Buddy Morris comment that his ‘skill’ guys with the Arizona Cardinals don’t squat during the pre-season period because of the eccentric load on their hamstrings through daily practice. To be honest I don’t know what to think about this, except that it does make me think.

3. General observation: if athletes are chatty and hard to focus through the warm up, it is probably a good indicator that they are recovered and ready to go. The reverse seems to also be true; if they are quiet with no energy, they probably aren’t ready and recovered from their previous training. This might sound obvious, but instead of trying to reign athletes in when they are chatty maybe we should try to use that to our advantage.

4. Athletes don’t buy into coaching, they buy into coaches. If you find yourself having to motivating a group every single day you might be better off looking in the mirror and trying to find out what you can do to make the group buy into you more. Motivating washes off like soap in the shower.

5. This spring in our ‘power’ block we paired two med ball throws, a plyo/jump and some type of speed/sled. The goal was to let the athletes recover completely after each speed/sled exercise through active recovery so that they could give a legit 100% when it came to the speed work. For what it’s worth, it seemed to work really well. We’ll see if this really did work as we thought it did when they have heart rate monitors next fall…

6. Blatantly stole this thought from ‘Strong by Science’ on Twitter…“Why do we label a 500lb squat strong and not a 36 inch vertical jump? One is arbitrary and the other is an example of power to weight ratio.” Really makes you think a little as to what is really important…

7. Sport specific training; move well, move fast, move strong, move for a long period of time. It’s that simple.

8. No matter what the sport, the best players are typically the fastest. So, does it matter how much weight we can move slowly?

9. Using the previous thought as a jumping off point, if max strength was the end all be all then power lifters would walk in and dominate sports, but they don’t. That doesn’t mean that being strong isn’t important, but at some point you are strong enough…I’m just not sure we know what that is quite yet.

10. If you are getting the training effect you are after with a ‘regression’, then why do you need to move on until that adaptation ceases?

Random Thoughts: April Edition

It’s a new month, so here are 10 quick and random thoughts that have been floating around my brain recently. If nothing else I hope it makes you think a little. Enjoy!

1. Most elite/above average athletes have more reactability then they do stability. For example, if you have them perform a 1-Leg Linear Hurdle Hop most elite athletes will do a better job performing a continuous hop then they will sticking each landing. They react to the ground well but can’t stabilize nearly as well. We also know the lack of stability is one of the major reasons athletes get hurt. Don’t get fooled by an athletes ability to react to the ground and spend ample time learning how to stabilize.

2. The more complex the movement, the easier it is going to be for an athlete to find a way to compensate. Keep things simple. Hammer the fundamentals. Be brilliant at the basic, big bang for your buck exercises.

3. As a coach, a little humility can go a long way.

4. The field of strength and conditioning isn’t about science, it’s about people. The best coaches are the ones that can interact with their athletes the best.

5. People should spend less time on their computers, phones and watching television and spend more time reading. Reading and getting better at your job is ridiculously easy, yet so many people don’t do it.

6. I think there is a place for more explosive lower body work year round for athletes. By that I don’t necessarily mean Olympic lifts, I mean more plyo’s to help maintain and improve explosiveness as the season goes on.

7. Diaphragmatic breathing is a game changer. It does wonders for core stability. It can go a long way in improving mobility. Tie it into anything and everything you can. Stretch for breathes and not for time or reps. Work it into the activation work.

8. The psoas may be the most overlooked muscle by our field. You would be shocked by how weak people are especially when their hips are above 90 degrees. Furthermore, simple band hip flexor work above 90 degrees is important for all athletes but it is a must for soccer and hockey athletes that spend very little time getting their hips into full flexion.

9. To keep field sport athletes healthy, hammer their posterior chain. Both bilateral and uni-lateral hip hinging along with bridging variations are going to go a lot further in keeping people healthy then anything else.

10. A lot of jumping athletes (basketball/volleyball) have patella issues. I think many of these issues goes back to a lack of ankle mobility. The ankle/foot is the first thing to hit the ground and absorb the force of landing and if it doesn’t have the mobility to do its job properly the issue will just travel up the chain to the knee. Improving ankle mobility might be an easy fix to patella issues.

Random Thoughts: March Edition

It’s a new month, so here are 10 quick and random thoughts that have been floating around my brain recently. If nothing else I hope it makes you think a little. Enjoy!

1. The trunk stability push up (TSPU) or anti-extension strength/stability is huge in female populations. There is actually some research showing that a poor TSPU has the strongest correlation to ACL tears then any other screen in the FMS. The TSPU can help tell you if an athlete is able to control spinal stability under load. If it can’t bad things are potentially going happen.
2. Corrective exercise should change movement immediately. If it doesn’t it probably isn’t ever going to.

3. Strength training is all about balance. Do you have balance between hip dominant and knee dominant exercises? Do you have balance between your upper body pushing and pulling? Do you have balance within these categories? For example, if you are training an athlete three days a week, I think its important for shoulder health to press vertically (OH Press variation), horizontally (bench press/push up, etc.), and somewhere between the two (incline press, landmine press, etc.). Focusing on one more then the others will probably lead to issues in the long run.

4. A good strength coach should be able to modify any movement/exercise in the weight room and make it non-painful.

5. Athletes need to move in three planes more often as we speed way to much time training in the sagittal plane. It’s not only great for hip mobility and injury prevention, but moving in all three planes is great for neuromuscular input – it’s like candy for the brain.

6. If you can’t do something well in the weight room but yet continue to do it anyway, you are eventually going to get hurt. It’s really that black and white. Regress and/or lateralize.

7. In strength and conditioning, if you wait for the research to prove to you that something is right, you’ll be way behind. Follow smart people, find the commonalities in what they are doing, and steal it.

8. When you keep things simple in the weight room I think you can actually get more done and get more quality work done.

9. To use the previous thought as a jumping off point, I’m not sure many athletes really need much more then basic movements. If you simply change the intensity and volume over the course of time I think you’ll find that most athletes are going to progress at a very good pace over their athletic career.

10. Very few people really actually want to get better and are open minded…they just want information that confirms what they are already doing is correct. These same people pretend they want to get better, but they don’t really want to hear the truth. These same people claim they are open minded until they find out everything they are doing is wrong.

1-Leg Hang Clean?

“The most dangerous phrase in the language is “we’ve always done it this way.” – Grace Hopper

Hockey, more specifically the skating stride, is essentially a single leg sport/movement. As a result, we tend to think 1-leg plyo’s are important/beneficial. We tend to think 1-leg strength exercises are important/beneficial. So why wouldn’t we think that 1-leg Olympic lifts are important/beneficial?

Yes, we do appear to not get as much triple extension when compared to traditional 2-leg hang cleans, but is the point of Olympic lifting to create full hip extension or to create the power to move a load at a high rate of speed? Though both are important, I’d argue it’s more important to create the power to move a load at a high rate of speed.

Additionally, I’d argue that there are also many added benefits to the 1-leg clean that you don’t get with a traditional 2-leg clean, like;

✅ Uni-lateral power production
✅ Uni-lateral lower body force absorption when landing in one leg
✅ Uni-lateral core force absorption when landing on one leg
✅ Potential increase in the rate of force production

Don’t be afraid to think differently. Following the herd often just leads to the slaughter house.

1-Leg Linear Hurdle Hop Progression

The goal of our ‘plyometric’ program is to first teach the athlete jumping and landing skills before we progress to what most people would consider true plyometrics. We prioritize eccentric stability before we worry about power develop ➡️ we prioritize injury prevention over performance.

Phase One: To A Box

The first emphasis is learning to land, absorbing force with your muscles instead of your joints. Learning to land and eccentrically stabilize yourself is critical when reducing potential injuries.

Phase Two: Over Hurdle with a Stick

Hops over a hurdle now adds gravity to the equation making the eccentric demand more challenging as the body gains acceleration on the way down.

Phase Three: Over Hurdle with a Mini-Bounce

Adding a mini-bounce now places an emphasis on switching from a stable eccentric landing to a more explosive concentric action. This also begins to prep an athlete for a continuous hurdle hop.

Phase Four: Continuous Over Hurdle

Finally we perform what looks like more of a traditional plyometric. The athlete now tries to minimize the time spent on the ground, training the more explosive and elastic qualities.

The Importance of In-Season Strength Training

Anyone that has spent a day as a strength and conditioning coach knows very well that in-season training is not high on the list of things to do for both athletes and sport coaches. In-season the strength coach becomes the dentist, someone that no one wants to go see.

In addition to this, during the season athletes seem to always be sore. They spend a lot of time at practice. They travel a lot. School work is starting to pile up. Stress is accumulating from many other places then the weight room.

I get it – they have a lot of demands placed on them and spending 45-60 minutes in the weight room a couple times a week isn’t their idea of time well spent.

To be honest, in-season training is probably undervalued by athletes and sport coaches. Whether they like it or not, in-season training is incredibly important for injury prevention. It’s a necessary evil.

This all begs the question, how should you program in-season? As a strength coach, how should you approach in-season training? Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Keep Pounding the Basics

Don’t ditch your big rocks in-season. Continue to bench, continue to do your chin-ups, continue hitting their legs hard, and keep progressing your core training. Whatever you believe in, keep believing in it during the in-season. The exercises shouldn’t change, and in most cases, your big rocks should always be your big rocks.

High Intensity, Low Volume

The volume, however, should change. Whatever your big rocks are, limit the amount of sets the athlete is performing but make sure the athletes hit 1-3 heavy sets on those exercises. For example, if you are benching 1-2 warm up sets followed by 1-3 heavy sets is all you need. Believe it or not, this is more then enough to keep your athletes strong and potentially gain a little bit of strength if possible in-season. After warming up, two hard and heavy sets is probably all you really need.

Understand the Athletic Demands Placed on the Athlete

You have to understand the cost of doing business for the specific athletes/sports that you are working with. You need to understand the demands that the sport is requiring of the athlete. For example, if you are working with a jumping athlete (basketball, volleyball, ect.) you would be wise to limit the amount of jumping (maybe more specifically landing) you perform with them in-season. The reality is, they are probably (definitely) doing too much of it as it is through practice and games. Additionally, exercises like hang clean/snatch (and others) may do as much harm as they do good because of the continued pounding on their joints. Does this mean you eliminate these exercises from you program? No, but keep them short and sweet. Additionally, I am a firm believer that Kettlebell Swings are an extremely underrated in-season exercise. They are great for horizontal force production with very little if any pounding on the joints. It’s important to understand who you are working with and program accordingly.

Spend Ample Time on Mobility and/or Tissue Quality

Not stretching is a bad idea. Whatever the sport is there is a good chance that athletes are repeating the same motion over and over again. A perfect example of this is an ice hockey player – they perform the same motion, skating, over and over and over again. As a strength coach you need to spend time trying to balance out what they are doing by attacking it with mobility and tissue quality. Stretching is always time well spent.

“You stretch today to prevent injuries in the future.” – Mike Boyle

Don’t Let Them Get Sore

If your want to lose both your athletes and your sport coach, have your athletes wake up sore the days following their in-season training. When progressing from one exercise to another you have to expect a little bit of soreness, but keep it to as little as possible. The last thing a sport coach wants to hear when they are trying to win games is that their athletes are sore because of their in-season strength program. Cut out isometric and eccentric work, it’s not the time or the place. As previously mentioned, limit the amount of volume by cutting back on the amount of sets performed. They need to still work otherwise you potentially lose strength, but make sure they aren’t sore because of it. In-season may also not be the time to introduce a new exercise, it’s a recipe for being sore the following days.

Don’t Look at the In-Season as a Maintenance Phase

One of the biggest mistakes a strength coach make is looking at the in-season phase as a maintenance phase. Even with the lower volume, with less time spent in the weight room, you need to still be focusing on getting stronger. For example, if you are working with men’s ice hockey and a freshman comes to school with a 135lb bench press, the last thing I would want to do is ‘maintain’ that number throughout the season – the athlete needs to get stronger. Furthermore, if your entire team is losing a certain percentage of their strength in-season it will take you a period of time in the off-season just to get back to square one. Losing strength in-season is the worst case scenario.

Hope that helps!

Random Thoughts: November Edition

Every month I try to put out a post with 10 or so random thoughts in regards to strength and conditioning. Here is the November edition.

1. “If you are bigger and stronger but gave up movement integrity to get there, you’ll end up hurt.” Gray Cook

2. When you are a young coach, don’t worry about what teams you work with, just do a great job with those teams. Worry more about proving your worth and making yourself valuable. Good things will eventually come.

3. There is a strong correlation between the quality of the demo you perform as a coach and how well an athlete performs an exercise. The better you demo, the better they’ll perform the lift. Additionally, it is fair to think that most everyone could demo more.

4. Don’t always fall into sagittal plane exercises. Athletes need more to truly be successful. Get them into the frontal and transverse planes in some way.

5. “Three people that scare me. One, the old fashion guy. Two, the lack of science knowledge guy. Three, the guy who does it the way he did as a player.” Buddy Morris

6. Culture is everything and should be the number one thing you are trying to develop as a leader.

7. Overtraining = injured. Sometimes less is more, especially in-season.

8. Over the course of 12-16 weeks most athletes would benefit from an eccentric or isometric phase in their strength work. Its extremely important for an athlete to be strong more then just concentrically to be successful at their sport and in order for them to stay healthy.

9. A well progressed plyometric program and a well progressed med ball program are huge for athletes. They are both a great way to develop bodyweight/lighter implement power. They are both great for developing power outside of the sagittal plane. Most importantly, they are both huge for injury prevention when progressed well and intelligently.

10. “No one will admit it, but we are hurting more people then every before in the weight room.” Dr. John Rusin. Amen.