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.

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.

Tommy Moffitt on Iron Game Chalk Talk

Ron McKeefery did it again with another great strength coach on Iron Game Chalk Talk. This time he has LSU Director of Strength and Conditioning and one of the best strength coaches in the country, Tommy Moffitt. Always good to hear other coaches opinions and some of the things that they are doing with their athletes. Enjoy!

Got A Deck of Cards?

One thing that I don’t think people do enough is change-up their training. People seem to get on some type of training program, see some positive results, and then stick to it even though the results may begin to slow (or even stop) and they become bored with the same training day in and day out.

On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t feel people do enough conditioning, or more specifically, the right type of conditioning. Most people get on their favorite elliptical or treadmill and get after it for 30-45 minutes and call it ‘conditioning’. Talk about boring.

Thankfully we can cure both issues with a simply deck of cards.

The variety we can get with a deck of cards along with the great conditioning workout we can get is amazing. You can pick push ups from the floor or using a TRX, bodyweight squats, split squats, jump squats, burpees, straight leg sit ups, TRX rows, chin ups, and so on and so on. You can essentially pick any exercise you want, however I would recommend sticking to bodyweight exercises. Picking the exercises is the easy part, actually completing the workout is brutally tough.

Here’s how it works

  • shuffle a deck of cards
  • all face cards (Jack, Queen, King) will have a value of 10
  • Aces will have a value of 12
  • Number cards will be face value (6 of hearts = 6)
  • Jokers can be used or tossed to the side…if you use the Joker you can get creative and make it a 50 rep exercise or a 20 second sprint or whatever you want…point is if you use the Joker make it something different that will really tax you
  • Assign an exercise for each suit of cards (Hearts = Push Up, Diamonds = TRX row, Spade = bodyweight squat, club = straight leg sit up)

Once you have this all done, all you do is work through the deck of cards, performing the exercise for the prescribed reps based on what card you flip over. You can do it for time by using the same exercises and continually trying to beat your previous best time or you could simply change the exercises up each time you perform the deck of cards.

The take home point is this…mix things up and make the workout fun. This will challenge you more than any session on the ellipitcal or treadmill and all your really using is your bodyweight for resistance.

Fun, challenging, and intense. Doesn’t get much better than that.

The Complex From Hell

With the weather changing and the likelihood of being able to go outside and do some sprints on the track or any other form of outdoor conditioning becoming less and less likely as the days pass, I find myself trying new and different things on a weekly basis in order to get some type of conditioning in a handful of times a week (even thought I hate it with a passion). A while back I wrote about the TABATA protocol that I have been performing 1-2 times a week (usually 2), which I love because it’s over in 4 minutes and it kicks my butt.

That being said, recently I have been performing a barbell complex followed by 20-30 seconds on the ropes. It goes a little something like this…

BB Row x 5

RDL x 5

Hang Clean x 5

Front Squat x 5

Overhead (Military) Press x 5

Ropes for speed x 20 seconds

Rest 60-90 seconds

Repeat 3-4 times


You can perform the exercises in a couple of different ways. You could perform everything by itself, doing 5 barbell rows, 5 RDL’s, and so on which I have been doing. You could also combine the movements by performing 5 barbell row’s into 5 RDL’s and then 5 hang clean to front squat to an overhead press, a little something like the following video. Either way works, the key is to never let go of the barbell and move fluently from movement to movement.

For anyone who hasn’t done this before, I know what you’re thinking, and it is so much harder than it looks. A word of advice, pick a weight that you think is going to be too easy because I promise by the time you get to rounds 2-5 you’ll be glad you didn’t pick a heavier weight, you’ll be humbled quickly, AND it’s not really about the weight that you use and more about the nonstop, high intensity aspect of each of the successive movements. I speak from personal experience when I say that the weight can and will humble you very quickly.

Also, if you don’t have access to ropes, which many of you probably don’t, you have a couple of options. You could just stop after the barbell complex because I’m sure once you get through a couple of them you’ll be gassed, you could drop the bar and pump out 5 push up’s, or you could even go jump on the bike/treadmill for a quick 20-30 all out sprint. To be honest, for beginners simply performing the barbell complex will probably be enough.

Finally, the movements I picked are by no means set in stone. I personally use these 5 movements because of the ease/flow from one movement to the next, not because these are some special and/or better than other movements…by all means get creative and make it work for you. Just remember, the goal is to move from movement to movement with no rest between each movement all while never putting the barbell down.


Real World Strength & Conditioning

As I was “surfing the net” the other day I came across a short, 7 part video series documenting the offseason strength and conditioning program for the University of Iowa football team.I figured I would post this for a couple of reasons. For starters, people ask me all the time what a strength coach does on a daily basis and in answering the question I come across a lot of misconceptions. Most of the time people think a strength coach simply “makes athletes lift weights”, which is somewhat true but in reality it’s such a small aspect of what actually goes on day in and day out in a top-notch strength and conditioning program.

Another reason I posted this was for actual strength coaches so that they could see what one of the best strength coaches in the nation, Chris Doyle, does on a daily basis with a consistent top 25 football program. For those who don’t know, Coach Doyle’s reputation is as good as it gets, sending players like Colts tight end Dallas Clark and linebacker Pat Angerer, Chargers safety Bob Sanders, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, Jets running back Shonn Greene, Raiders offenseive lineman Robert Gallery,  and most recently Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn, amongst others to the NFL. The success these players have had in the NFL is a testimonial to the work Coach Doyle and his staff are doing with the football team in their year round strength and conditioning program. As a coach, I feel it’s always interesting to see what exactly is going on day in and day out at a top-notch football and strength program. You can watch the entire 7 part video series HERE.

Tips to Increase Fat Loss

A lean, healthy body is something that we all strive for but yet many of us are still chasing. Here are a few ways to get your fat loss furnace running at full speed.

1)      Consistency

One of the biggest reasons people don’t make the progress they want in the gym when it comes to fat loss is their consistency. Too often people go to the gym for a couple of weeks straight and then miss a week. Too often people eat a healthier diet for a couple of weeks and then fall off the wagon for a week. One step forward, two steps backward. By simply being consistent day in and day out you should see some positive changes, especially if you follow some of the other tips to come.

2)      Your Still Performing LISS/LSD

LISS (low intensity steady state) or LSD (long, slow, distance) cardio is the devil for a couple of reasons. One, it’s boring. Getting on the elliptical or the treadmill and spending 45-60 minutes a day gets old and it gets old quick…hence why consistency is such an issue. Get off the treadmill, you’re not a hamster. The second reason is because it’s simply not as effective as HIIT (high intensity interval training) and HIIT can be done in half the time it takes you to do LISS. Next time you head to the gym, try some interval training. An easy example of this would be 15 second all out sprints on the bike followed by 45 seconds of active recovery for 10-12 minutes. For more ideas and alternatives check this out.

3)      Lack of Compound Lifts

Try building your workouts around the big, multi-joint exercises. Lifts like squat variations, deadlift variations, pull ups and chin ups, and bench pressing will burn considerably more calories than the triceps kickbacks and dumbbell curls your trainer has you doing. Chances are with the multi-joint exercises you’ll build a solid pair of arms anyway with all the pushing and pulling you’ll be doing with much heavier weights than you were using with the kickbacks and curls.

4)      Add Some Good Weight

This almost goes hand in hand with using compound lifts. Compound lifts build muscle and strength than the smaller single joint exercises. The more muscle you hold, the faster your metabolism will be. A faster metabolism means more calories burned over the course of the day. Get stronger and add some good mass and get leaner.

Might be time for this guy to get a little stronger

5)       Your Diet is Crap

This might be the most obvious point on the entire list yet it’s something that happens all too often. You need to have some idea of what you’re consuming on a daily basis. I’m not saying you need to count calories, but I am saying you need to have a general idea of how many calories you’re consuming. You can’t try to lose weight when you consume 3500 calories one day, 1800 the next, 2500 the next, and so on. Find a caloric range that’s appropriate for you and try to stay within that range every day. Once you find an appropriate range, you can make the needed changes when weight loss begins to plateau by simply becoming a little more active to burn a few more calories a day or lower your calorie range on a daily basis.

Why Can't I Lose Weight?

6)      You Obsess on the Scale

One of the worst instruments to track progress is the scale. People get on the scale day in and day out and lose their mind when they are up 0.4lbs from one day to the other. Get off the scale and pay more attention to how your clothes feel and how you feel. Focus on what the mirrors telling you. Does it tell you that you look good? Like crap? If you like the way you look, does it matter what the scale says? Stop chasing a number on the scale and start focusing on what your eyes are telling you.

4 Minutes to A Better You

If you’re anything like me, and most of you are, the one thing you hate most about training is conditioning. Not many people enjoy pushing a prowler around, spending a half hour at the track running sprints, or wasting an hour of your time on the elliptical when you could be actually doing something useful. What if I were to tell you that you could get a GREAT conditioning session done in 4 minutes with the same or even better results? Enter Tabata.

Simply put, Tabata is an interval protocol performed on a bike that has been shown to highly improve both aerobic and anaerobic capacity in numerous scientific studies. The Tabata protocol calls for 20 seconds of ALL OUT sprinting followed by 10 seconds of active rest, repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes. Pretty straight forward, but difficult to say the least.

I, for example, perform Tabata a couple times a week. I’ll jump on the bike, perform a 1 minute warm up followed by the 4 minute Tabata protocol and then another 1 minute cool down for a total of 6 minutes. Remember, this is after a strength training session so my body is warm and ready to go, therefore the 1 minute warm up is more or less just getting comfortable on the bike and maybe a little bit of a stall tactic.

Do yourself a favor and add 1-2 Tabata sessions a week after your regular strength training like I have. If done right, the protocol is a quick, intense, and mentally challenging interval session that will eat away at those love handles. It’s tough, but it’s will be one of the best fat burning sessions you’ll encounter, and it’s over in only 4 minutes!

Train Like An Athlete

Ask yourself why you go to the gym or workout in general. I’m guessing the answers running through most of your heads is either to drop so bodyfat/weight and become stronger or to perform better by running faster and staying injury free during your beer league softball season or mens league hockey season. So if your goal is to be leaner and stronger why wouldn’t you train like an athlete? Last time I checked, athletes sport some of the strongest and leanest physiques around. If your goal is to perform better in certain athletic settings (or in general) and stay healthy while doing so, why wouldn’t you train like an athlete? Get where I’m going with this?

Maria Sharapova trains like an athlete

Maria Sharapova trains like an athlete

That begs the question, how exactly does an athlete train? Obviously it depends on the sport, but one thing I can guarantee you is that they don’t train like a bodybuilder and have a “shoulder day” or a “chest and triceps” day. Bodybuilders tend to perform single joint exercises that target a specific muscle like doing a leg extension to target the quads or a lying hamstring curl to target the hamstrings. Athletes on the other hand train the body as an entire unit, not single muscles. When we are out on the field, ice, court, or living our everyday life, our bodies function as an entire unit working together, so why on earth would you train your body in any other way?

For further evidence, step into any strength and conditioning center at a college or university and then go back to your normal gym. You’ll be quick to notice that the athletes in the strength and conditioning center will have more aesthetically pleasing, leaner, and more powerful looking bodies than the normal gym goers and this isn’t because it they work harder…they work smarter. Athletes train movement patterns, not specific muscles.

The next obvious question is what movement patterns should someone be concerned with. To be simplistic, here are the movement patterns that you should familiarize yourself with:
You won't catch UFC fighter Nate Marquardt doing leg extensions

You won't catch UFC fighter Nate Marquardt doing leg extensions

  • Hip dominant exercises (deadlift, hang cleans, good mornings)
  • Quad dominant exercises (squat, front squat, split squat)
  • Horizontal pressing exercises (bench press, floor press)
  • Horizontal pulling exercise (1-arm row, barbell row)
  • Vertical pressing exercises (military press, push press)
  • Vertical pulling exercise (chin up, pull up, pulldowns)
  • Core exercises (planks, medicine ball slams, Pallof press)

It should also be noted that athletes train with heavy weights. When you stepped into that strength and conditioning center I’ll bet you didn’t see any of the athletes doing high reps on many exercises, if any. For example, if an athlete is performing the bench press, they’ll perform the movement in the 3-6 rep range on a typical training day, not the 10-15 rep sets that you’ll see at your local gym (I’m talking to you ladies). Moral of the story, TRAIN HEAVY!  

Furthermore, athletes are known to incorporate soft tissue work either before or after a training session. But before you get all worked up and claim that you can’t afford soft tissue work (massage) there is a very simple way of getting soft tissue work via a foam roller. Athletes will foam roll, working out any trigger points (areas of the muscle that are sore/tender) for 5-10 minutes on a daily basis. In my opinion, it probably doesn’t make much of a difference whether you foam roll prior to working out, after working out, or while watching your favorite television sitcom at night just as long as you allocate that 5-10 minutes of tissue work at some point during the day.

University of California Pole Vaulter Allison Stokke trains heavy

University of California Pole Vaulter Allison Stokke trains heavy

Another key piece to the puzzle that separates athletes from the typical gym goer is the dynamic warm up and mobility work. In short, a dynamic warm up is a form of stretching that prepares the body for physical exertion and sport performance. Because dynamic stretching prepares the body for physical exertion and sport performance, it only makes sense that the dynamic warm up should be performed prior to a workout or event. The dynamic warm up can increase the range of movement as well as increasing blood and oxygen flow to the working muscles all while reducing the risk of injury. A quick dynamic warm up could look something like this:
  • Knee Hugs
  • Quad Walk
  • Inverted Hamstring
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Inchworm
  • World’s Greatest Stretch

The final ingredient that athletes use is conditioning. However, an athletes conditioning program looks nothing like the typical gym goers cardio program. Chances are you won’t catch any athletes on an elliptical or treadmill for an extended period of time performing “traditional” cardio. What you will see is an athlete performing interval training, short bouts of high intensity exercise followed by bouts of lower intensity exercise, which only makes sense when you think about it. Lets look at a normal football game or tennis match. During both events the athlete goes all out for a short period of time (~6-8 seconds in football, ~10-12 seconds in tennis) followed by a longer period of rest (~45 seconds to a minute). With that, why would an athlete perform longer duration of “traditional” cardio, it doesn’t translate to the performance needs of their sports? They wouldn’t and they don’t. This form of conditioning trains the athlete from a cardiovascular perspective as well as producing a lean, muscular physique it a shorter period of time, making it ideal for everyone. For further information on this subject check out my previous post of LSD cardio.

Terrell Owens performs intervals

Terrell Owens performs intervals

Putting it all Together

Here is a sample 4 day program that would be ideal for anyone looking to build a leaner, stronger, injury proof, athletic body.

Day One & Three

Foam Roll & Dynamic Warm Up (~15 minutes)

Strength Training (~45 minutes) performing:

  • Hip dominant exercise ( 3 sets of 3-5 reps)
  • Horizontal pressing exercise (3 sets of 3-5 reps)
  • Horizontal pulling exercise ( 3 sets of 3-5 reps)
  • Core exercise

Conditioning (~15 minutes)

Traditional Static Stretching (~10 minutes)

NBA star Dwight Howard trains to maximize athletic performance

NBA star Dwight Howard trains to maximize athletic performance


Day Two & Four

Foam Roll & Dynamic Warm Up

Strength Training (~45 minutes) performing:

  • Quad dominant exercise (3 sets of 3-5 reps)
  • Vertical pressing exercise (3 sets of 3-5 reps)
  • Vertical pulling exercise (3 sets of 3-5 reps)
  • Core exercise

Conditioning (~15 minutes)

Traditional Static Stretching (~10 minutes)


Now get out there and train like an athlete!

LSD…My Thoughts

With spring and summer approaching and the weather finally becoming better than terrible its time to see people doing everything they can to shed those extra pounds and tighten things up a little bit. In doing so, most people take to the track, the roads, a treadmill, or an elliptical and perform 30, 45, even a full hour of LSD (long slow distance) steady state type cardio. But the question is, does LSD steady state cardio really help you drop those extra pounds and tighten things up, and if it does, is it the most effective way to do so?

To answer the question, I’d say yes and no (I know, sounds like I’m riding the fence on this). Does LSD shed those extra pounds and tighten you up…yes if its coupled with a healthy diet the long 30-60 minute sessions on the treadmill or track will indeed help you to drop some unwanted weight. However, in my opinion, as well as results of current research, LSD steady state is NOT the most effective way to drop those unwanted pounds and tighten up. Enter interval training.

Simply put, interval or HIIT (high intensity interval training) trumps LSD steady state on so many levels with research supporting these claims. Bouts of high intensity (sprinting) followed by bouts of low intensity (walking) at a 1:4 or 1:3 ratio for 10-15 minutes is all you need. Head out to a local football field, track, or even treadmill during the cold winter seasons and sprint, all out, for 15 seconds followed by a 45 second walk or even just waiting for the next interval. After 10-15 minutes, you’ll a) be completely gassed, b) done with any cardio training while everyone else is still humping away, and c) think your heart is going to jump out of your chest.

I do however want to stress that I don’t think LSD cardio is bad or wrong, interval training is just more effective and much less time consuming. Would performing LSD a couple times a week be a bad thing, no. If you decide that after work on a nice spring/summer day you want to go for a jog, do it. It’s not going to hurt you and it gets you up and burning some calories as opposed to sitting and watching tv and stuffing your face. But, if your performing LSD cardio 4-6 days a week, I’d tell you that your wasting your time. If your goal is to live a stronger, healthier life, I just encourage you to add some interval training to your workout to see even greater results both from a cardiovascular/health standpoint and a body compositional standpoint. If LSD is something that you want to continue to do, I would recommend 2 days at most coupled with another 2 days of interval training. I personally perform 1-2 LSD steady state sessions a week for about 20 minutes while performing 2-3 HIIT sessions a week that last anywhere from 10-15 minutes.

In ending, I leave you with this, a little anecdotal evidence for those that are still a little skeptical. Forget any of the research, forget my opinion and let your eyes do the work. Here is a side to side picture of a typical marathon runner who performs primarily LSD steady state cardio and a sprinter who would typically perform primarily interval (HIIT) training workouts.

You tell me…who looks like the stronger, healthier athlete?