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.

Goals of the Ice Hockey Off-Season

It could be said, and rightly so, that hockey players are made in the off-season. The success that a player has during the season can in many cases be traced back to the work they put in as the season ended in the spring and the long summer months leading into the fall pre-season.

Whether you are an older, advanced hockey player or a young up and coming player, here are a handful of goals any good off-ice training program will have in order to have you playing at an optimal level come September/October.

Restore Balance
Due in large part to the long season spent on the ice, players typically have developed a handful of postural and muscular imbalances that need to be addressed. Anyone who works with the hockey population can rattle these areas off in an instant. Any type of physical assessment, whether it be the Functional Movement Screen or any other screening tools that you use, can quickly bring some of these issues to your attention. Typically, a handful of these issues you will find are;

• Lack of shoulder mobility
• Lack of hip mobility
• Lack of ankle mobility
• Tight hip flexors
• Weak glutes
• Over-worked/strained groins

Think about the position a hockey player finds themselves in all the time; hunched over in a flexed hip posture. Players are not only in this position on the ice, but when sitting on the bench, sitting in the locker room, and on the bus going to and from games. It’s no wonder they have so many predictable issues.

Taylor Hall

Though any well thought out off-ice program should be performing it year round, spending ample time focusing on mobility exercises that target areas prone to imbalanced and stiffness needs to be a top priority. Movements like V-Stance T-Spine, Floor Slides, Quadruped Adductor Rock, Spiderman variations, and Ankle mobility exercises are highly recommended on a daily basis to keep athletes moving well and efficiently.

In addition to making mobility a priority, a well designed strength program can help to improve many of these issues, and probably in a relatively short time. In addition to making mobility a priority, it is critical that early in the off-season hockey athletes pay special attention to uni-lateral strength training in order to help ‘balance’ an athlete out. This leads right into the second point.
Get Stronger
Not to say it is impossible to get stronger during the in-season period, cause it isn’t,  but the off-season is obviously the time that the most gains in strength will be seen. And it doesn’t have to be and probably shouldn’t be very complicated. Our basic menu of exercises are made up of the following…

• RFE Split Squat
• 1-Leg Squat and Dead Lift
• Trap Bar Dead Lift
• Chin Up
• Bench Press
• Row’s
• Anti-Extension and Anti-Rotation Core work

RFE Split SQ

During the off-season we spend a lot of time lifting and lifting heavy. Our rep ranges we rarely get above 8 reps (they may at times) for a strength exercises and will generally stay between 3-8 reps.

We also spend a ton of time getting strong on one leg. Beyond the fact that skating/hockey is a sport played on one leg, training on one leg helps to balance out some of the postural/muscular imbalanced previous discussed. Getting strong (preferably on one leg) will correct a lot of potential issues and also go a long way in keeping a hockey player healthy in the upcoming season. Just don’t be afraid to load them up!
Develop Speed/Power/Explosiveness
When young athletes walk into the weight room it is somewhat easy to get them more powerful – simply getting stronger on the basic lifts is going to accomplish the goal of increasing power and/or explosiveness.

However, as athletes get older and become stronger simply increasing max strength will contribute less and less to improving explosiveness. At some point, building a bigger bench press or a bigger squat will do very little when it comes to developing a more explosive athlete. There becomes a point where strong enough is strong enough, otherwise powerlifters would be some of the best team sport athletes in the world.

This is why placing an emphasis of movements that have the potential to increase power, increase explosiveness, increase speed need to be a part of the program. Keep it simple when it comes to developing power with exercises/movements like;

• Olympic Lifts/Variations
• Linear Speed Development
• Lateral Speed Development
• Jumps/Plyo’s
• Med Ball Throws
• Sled Work

Currently we have played around with pairing many of these power movements together in order to have our athletes working through what we would consider a ‘power’ block. After our warm up period, we will have a power period that looks something like this;

• Sled or Speed Development
• Med Ball
• Med Ball
• Plyo/Jump

Our thought process is that pairing these exercises in a sequence like this allows us to train all these qualities but also supply enough time to rest between each individual movement. I am not 100% sold on this, but it is what we tried in this previous off-season.

Improve Conditioning
One of the places that I think most off-ice programs miss the boat is conditioning – or the lack of conditioning in the off-season. Being strong is great. Being powerful is great. But you need to have the ability to express that strength and power over the course of a hockey game – you need to be in great shape and focus on conditioning year round.

Hockey is an alactic-aerobic sport, meaning an athlete needs to perform high intensity efforts for a short period of time followed by lower intensity intervals. As a result, the off-ice conditioning program needs to revolve around high intensity intervals followed by low intensity (rest) periods. Things like…

• Tempo Runs: great for slowly building the aerobic system
• Shuttle Runs: high velocity sprints along with change of direction
• Slideboard Work: conditioning in the frontal plane along with conditioning the groin for the rigors of a long hockey season

Additionally, not getting out of shape is probably the easiest way to get into shape.

Minimize Time On Ice
Though it may be unpopular with most players, getting off the ice in the off-season is one of the best things a hockey player can do for themselves. As previously mentioned, summer is the only time when the hockey player can correct some of the muscular and postural issues that occur as a result of a long season. Getting off the ice is the only way that these issues can be fixed.

As a side note, this hip flexed rounded over posture is the reason the majority of our conditioning consists of some type of running in the off-season. Getting players out of hip flexion and into hip extension is vital. In an ideal world we would spend very little time on a bike in the off-season.

Additionally, from a psychological standpoint, getting off the ice and spending some time doing other things will only help when the season rolls back around. Getting off the ice, feeling better physically, feeling rejuvenated mentally, will lead to an excited and motivated player once they hit the ice in the pre-season.

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.

Slide Board Conditioning

Slide Board conditioning is pretty standard in the sport of hockey but relatively rare in other sports. But should it be?

The Slide Board offers a host of benefits that any athlete would greatly benefit from. A handful of benefits would be;

1. It’s standing. Sports are played standing, not sitting on something like a bike.

2. It is performed in what looks like the general ‘athletic’ position with the knees bent and hips flexed position. Basically every sport spends time in this position.

3. It’s gets athletes moving laterally/in the frontal plane. We spend so much of our time going straight ahead and a huge amount of strength training is done in a linear movement pattern. However, much of sport is played in the frontal plane. Basketball is the perfect example of a sport that has a huge lateral component (think defense) and would benefit greatly from the Slide Board.
4. It allows the athlete to work both the abductors and adductors in a functional pattern. Would simply adding Slide Board conditioning prevent some of the groin injuries seen so often in pre-season camps?

5. The athletes feet never leave the ground. Sports like basketball and volleyball require a lot of jumping and landing even in the off-season when they are playing pick up games, spring practices, and spring tournaments. The Slide Board offers a great conditioning alternative to still work energy system development without adding considerably more stress on the athletes body like we would see with sprinting.

6. It’s hard. Anyone who doesn’t think the Slide Board is a legit conditioning workout hasn’t ever done it. Try 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for a set a 10 and get back to me – you’ll have a new found respect for the Slide Board.

7. Lastly, the Slide Board trains the muscles that are directly involved in change of direction. Along with a well thought out strength program, could the Slide Board be beneficial in change of direction speed development and injury prevention?

Long story short – any and every athlete could and would benefit from conditioning on the Slide Board.

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.

The New KISS Principle

“KISS. Keep It Simple & Safe.” – Joe Kenn, Strength Coach, Carolina Panthers

As a strength coach you should ask yourself one simple question; what is the best exercise(s) to SAFELY get the adaptation that you are after? Whatever the answer is, do that.

For many of the athletes I work with it’s very simple and there is always a reason for the things that we do or don’t do. There is a ‘why’ for everything that we do. Our ‘whys’ also change depending on who we are working with. Training an overhead athlete is different from training a hockey player. Additionally, depending on the time of the year and the injury trends and demands that a specific sport we might change what we do. The ‘what’ part of our ‘why’ changes at this point.

“Don’t fit athletes into programs, fit programs to athletes.” – Eric Cressey

We also choose exercise/movements that train the quality we want, trying to get the biggest return on investment as we can without burying an athlete. This is especially true during the in-season period. Charlie Weingroff wrote something along these lines called The Concept of Lowest System Load. Essentially, Charlie advises to pick movements that train the adaptation that you are after while keeping the stress to the system as minimal as possible, if you can.

“The point of lifting weights is to force stress into movement patterns.” – Gray Cook

A few real world examples of this;

Volleyball
For our volleyball team the majority of our lower body work revolves around a handful of lifts. Without a doubt the Dead Lift is the lower body lift that we will push the most from a strength perspective. Yes, we focus more on the dead lift then we do the squat. For starters, many overhead athletes don’t have the requisite shoulder mobility to place a bar on their back. Second, if you analyze the dead lift what you will see is a bilateral hip hinge. Sport = hip hinging. If you ask an athlete to show you their best vertical or broad jump but stop them in the bottom of the movement before they actually jump, you will see a perfect hip hinge 99% of the time. Another benefit to dead lifting is that it demands the athlete be strong in their upper back and works on grip strength, something that an overhead athlete like a volleyball player will benefit from. Additionally, the Trap Bar has the lower barrier of entry when compared to a bilateral squat or a straight bar dead lift. We train the adaptation we are after, in a simple and safe way.

Women’s Hockey
In the off-season the RFE Split Squat is our biggest lower body lift with women’s hockey. However, once we reach the in-season we slowly get away from the movement as it demands a high degree of hip flexion. Deep hip flexion is something that many hockey players don’t handle well especially in-season when skating has picked up due to FAI issues. Even if RFE Split Squat is something that the athlete can handle during the in-season period, it’s a very demanding lift that can really chew someone up. At this point we will toss the RFESS out and focus more on 1-Leg Squats, Split Squats, Dead Lifting. These exercises the require much less hip flexion to perform properly and as a result are much more user friendly for a hockey player in-season.

The moral of the story is this; remember what is really important and how you can be the biggest asset to your teams/athletes as possible. The number one reason athletes come to the weight room is to develop physically in order to reduce the potential for injuries – and no one should ever get hurt in the weight room.

“Getting hurt training to not get hurt is as stupid as it sounds.” – Mike Boyle

Yes, there are certain qualities that we as strength coaches and sport performance coaches need to develop in our athletes. It is our job to not only help to develop strong athletes that are able to perform well on the field/court/ice, but our job is to build resilient athletes that can withstand the rigors of their sport. Because of this, we need to pick exercises/movements that will not only train the quality that we are trying to develop, but pick exercises/movements that will develop these qualities in the safest manner possible. The best teams at the end of the year are usually teams that have their best players playing.

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.

Is the Deadlift the real King of all Exercises?

“The risk reward is just in favor of the deadlift over the squat for most people.” – Gray Cook

Sport = hip hinging. Generally speaking, if you ask someone to show you their best vertical or broad jump but have them stop in the bottom position right before they were to jump, they’ll be in a great looking hip hinge – a vertical shin with the hips going backwards and the feet positioned under their hips. Why? Because this is the position where we can generate the most power. That position is a deadlift, and what you see in the deadlift is the universal athletic position.

The deadlift sets the foundation for so many athletic movements and is huge for athletic development. In the deadlift the hips travel backwards (like jumping) whereas when we squat the hips travel straight down.

Two Pre-requisites before allowing someone to deadlifting;

1. Symmetrical 2’s on the ASLR. The ASLR simple shows that our hips can move freely in their path backward amongst other things.
2. A passing toe touch that shows no points of restriction of the posterior chain as well smooth weight shift backward and a graceful bend forward.

Furthermore, we bring the weight up to a level where the athlete has the mobility to control the weight but also allows us to keep the weight heavy and get a large training effect. Don’t try to jam a square peg into a round hole by making everyone pull from the floor.