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.

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.

Step One When Fixing the Squat

Anyone who has worked with athletes knows that it is not uncommon to see the inability to simply bodyweight squat to parallel with proper form. We could argue over what the issue is. Lack of ankle mobility? Lack of hip mobility? Lack of core stability? Could be one, all, or a combination of the three.

The first, best and easiest fix? Raise the heels. Raising the heels gives you more ankle mobility. Raising the heels causes an anterior weight shift which makes it easier to sit back when you squat.

PS: Powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters have been wearing shoes with an elevated heel for a long, long time. There is no actual research that shows that elevating the heels hurts the knees.

PPS: If someone can’t perform a bodyweight squat properly, loading them with a barbell isn’t all that smart and you could seriously hurt someone. It’s actually pretty irresponsible.

The Importance of In-Season 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-season athletes seem to always be sore. They spend a lot of time at practice. They are traveling a lot. School work is starting to pile up. 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.

So, how do you keep your sport coach happy in-season? How do you keep your athletes wanting (or at least not dreading) the weight room in-season? 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 during the off-season, keep believing in it during the in-season. For the most part, the exercises shouldn’t change.

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. Its 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. 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.

Better Tissue Quality, Better You

Every time that I walk into a commercial gym I am amazed at what I don’t see. I rarely, if ever, see any type of dynamic warm up which I thought was an aspect of strength and conditioning had worked its way into programs of weekend warriors. I hate to break it to you, but the 5 minute walk on the treadmill or ride on the bike isn’t cutting it – but that’s an argument for another time and place.

It’s even rarer to see someone performing any type of mobility or stability work, and it’s safe to say that I never see anyone performing any type of activation work – I’m sure weekend warriors will pick up on these issues from physical therapists and strength coaches in due time, but at this point I’m not surprised these issues haven’t reached the masses yet. Again, this is an argument for another time and place.

What really amazes me is the lack tissue work people are performing (or not performing). I truly believe that if people, whether an athlete or a weekend warrior, wants to move better and feel better, attacking their tissue quality is paramount, yet virtually no one performs it. It can help with tight muscles, mobility issues, and recovery from previous workouts. Furthermore, I contend that many injuries could be avoided by simply having quality tissue.

At both UNH and MBSC all of our athletes spend ample time working on their tissue quality before each training session and many spend time on their own trying to improve their tissue quality. The athletes actually look forward to it and don’t need any prompting from coaches, especially in-season when their bodies become more and more beat up.

What makes it even more bizarre to me is how effortless and easy it is to improve tissue quality. All you need is a $15 foam roller and/or a $2 lacrosse ball and a couple of minutes. You can do it while watching television or while you’re waiting for dinner to come out of the oven. Jump on the foam roller and find those trigger points/painful spots and go to work. If you’re a little more advanced and need a little more than the foam roller, grab a lacrosse ball and really target those trigger points – and trust me, you’ll never get to the point where a lacrosse ball doesn’t get the job done.

Long story short, improving your tissue quality is one of the most important things you can do if you want to feel better and move better. I have yet to find someone who has a massage and walks away feeling worse than they did when they walked in – they feel and move better than they did before the session. Do yourself a favor and make it a priority to spend at least 15 minutes improving tissue quality on a daily basis – you won’t regret it.

Overhead Athletes and Pressing

Okay, I’m going to open a big can of worms with this one, and you may think I am crazy, but I don’t know if an overhead athlete (baseball/softball/swimmers ect.) should be allowed to press with a barbell, whether it be overhead pressing or bench pressing. The more and more I think about it, I’m just not sure it makes sense.

can of worms

The problem is that there is no real consensus on whether an overhead athlete should be allowed to press with a barbell. Some strength coaches and physical therapists will tell you that overhead athletes should be pressing overhead. They’ll explain that if the athlete is going to be put in an overhead position during competition they need to be strong in that position. Fair enough.

On the other hand, others would argue that the overhead athlete should not doing any type of training overhead – they do way too much of it already. Think about how many times a college aged swimmer has been put in this overhead position throughout the course of their swimming career – the number is staggering. Again, fair enough.

I understand both sides of the argument, but I keep going back to the same thing; risk vs. reward.

risk versus reward

My issue with the traditional barbell bench press locks the athlete into a certain position, not allowing a free range of motion while the athlete presses. This also places an athlete in a fixed scapula position (lying on a bench) as opposed to a free scapula position where the scapula is not pinned down, like a push up.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at some of the work Eric Cressey (the king of shoulders) is doing and you will find many of the same thoughts. Cressey has seen overhead athletes that complain of pain while bench pressing (fixed position) immediately stop and perform push ups instead (free position) and report zero pain while doing so.

My other issue is that most overhead athletes can not get into a correct overhead position. These athletes have such poor tissue quality around the shoulder and/or such poor shoulder mobility that it doesn’t allow them to get into a proper overhead position, creating much more un-needed stress on the shoulder joint.

Since I am advocating not performing any barbell pressing with overhead athletes, the question remains what would I recommend?

As simple and basic as it sounds, I think push ups are king for most overhead athletes. I think you should aim to exhaust push ups and progress them in every way you can think of. Weighted push ups, feet elevated push ups, weighted feet elevated push ups, chain or band resisted push ups, TRX push ups, and whatever else you could think of would work. Clap push ups probably don’t fall into this category, they typically look terrible and do nothing but cause wrist pain in a lot of athletes.

A close second would be Landmine Presses and various cable presses. Landmine presses and cable presses have an additional bonus of allowing you to perform them uni-laterally, which creates a great functional carryover for an overhead athlete (or any athlete for that matter). Also, these exercises can be performed tall kneeling, 1/2 kneeling, standing or even in a split stance to allow for more options when programming. Finally, cable presses can be performed in a push-pull fashion, adding a little more variety and fun.

Finally, if you have to, Alternating DB Presses or 1-arm DB Presses would come last. These exercises are exceptional for most all athletes, just not overhead athletes because they don’t allow for that free scapula motion. However, if you insist on having some type of heavy horizontal pressing in the program, these movements are much better options then the traditional bench press.

Last but certainly not least, I would take an aggressive approach to trying to keep the shoulder healthy year-round. Adding shoulder mobility, rotator cuff strength/stabilization exercises throughout the program is essential.

  • Shoulder mobility: Alternating Shoulder Flexion on a Peanut, 1/2 Kneeling T-Spine Rotation, Bench T-Spine and other mobility drills you have in your training toolbox.
  • Rotator Cuff Strength/Stability: Bottoms Up Kettlebell Presses, Bottoms Up Kettlebell Carries, Floor Slides, Bear Crawls, Lateral Crawls, Band Pull Aparts, Seated External Rotation, Cable External Rotation, Cable Internal Rotation, ect.

Long story short, I would stay away from the barbell with an overhead athlete, simple because the risk:reward isn’t worth it. There are so many more options to train pressing strength that have a much lower risk for injury and/or pain that it seems the barbell should fall to the bottom of your list of training tools, maybe even off your training list all-together.

Reconstructing the Desk Jockey

These days it seems like people are spending more and more time sitting, whether it be behind a desk, watching television, driving in the car, or in other ways. With that said, we see the same mobility issues showing up over and over again. What are these issues? Terrible t-spine rotation and locked up hips.

desk jockey

I personally see these issues every single day with the adult population that I work with. They come in with their shoulders rounded forward and a slight forward lean because of some brutally tight hip flexors.

With these issues in mind, I’ve had to consciously program with an eye on fixing these issues. Here are some of the things that I have implemented with the adults I work with. I have seen some pretty good results across the board, with some people reporting some majority improvements.

Foam Rolling & Static Stretching

Every day the adults I work with do the same thing: a total body foam roll followed by a lower body intensive stretch via quadruped adductor rocks, foam roller hamstring split, and fantastic four (among other stretches). In essence, we try to stretch the hip with a 3-dimensional point of view: the front of the hip, the side of the hip, and the back of the hip.

foam rolling

Mobility Circuits

After the foam roll and stretch, we go through an active warm up. In this active warm up we perform the typical activation exercises like Cook hip lifts, band pull aparts, and lateral band walks. In addition to this, we sprinkle in a mobility movement for the three major areas of concern; t-spine, hip, and ankle. Like the foam roll and stretch, this is non-negotiable – we do something for these three areas every single day. Movements like 1/2 Kneeling T-Spine rotation, Turkish get up’s, wall ankle mobs, active spiderman, and goblet squat holds can be consistently found in the program.

2:1 Pull:Push Ratio

This doesn’t take a ton of explaining. We do twice as much pulling as we do pushing. For example, for every set of push ups we do, we do two sets of TRX Rows. If someone has a shoulder issue we would handle it on a case by case basis, but the general rule of thumb is that if it hurts we don’t do it. Additionally, we might jump to a 3:1 ratio to get even more pulling and less pushing for this individual.

Improving Daily Habits

I freely admit, I have no control over how much or how little people are actually doing this, I can only encourage it. I try to encourage the adults to get up and move numerous times throughout the day. Go get some water, talk to someone in a different area of the office, take the long route to the bathroom, whatever it takes to get up and move more. A good rule of thumb is to not sit in the same position for more than 15 minutes at a time.

get up and move

Full Range of Motion

Again, this seems very simple but it yields tremendous results. Continually make sure that adults are taking all of their movements through a full range of motion. At times this can be more difficult then it sounds as you need to constantly be regressing people in order for them to be able to move through a full range of motion, but its worth it. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes people can just be lazy – hold them accountable and they’ll see much better results.

The combination of these 5 components to our program has done wonders for many of our adults. Try adding as many of these in to your program and see what kind of results you get – I’d be willing to bet you would see some great results just like we have.

Simple Recovery Strategies

Anyone that trains hard and often will preach to you about how important recovery is from session to session. As fun as it is to beat yourself up each day in the weight room or on the field, you need to do something to turn the ship around for the next days workout, practice, or competition. Here are a few quick and simple ways to help promote recovery from day to day.

foam rolling

Foam Rolling
As simple and as obvious as it is, spending more time on a foam roller will do wonders in making you feel a little better and recover faster, yet many people don’t spend enough time foam rolling. Training hard creates trigger points and adhesions within your muscles, knotting your muscles up and making foam rolling a somewhat painful experience at times. Spending 5-10 minutes a day on a foam roller would be an absolute minimum in my eyes, and if your a college athlete, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a foam roller in your dorm room/apartment.

Mobility/Flexibility
Thanks to Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD, stretching and mobility can now be fun. Taking 15 minutes at night to go through some type of mobility or flexibility drills can not only help you recover from the days work, but can help you turn the ship around for the next days training session or competition. Anyone can find 15 minutes to make themselves better a day, so make it a priority. Here is one of my favorites from Kelly for opening up the hips.

Get More Sleep
It seems simple, but getting more sleep is crucial for an athlete or weekend warrior training hard. Aim for 7-8+ hours a sleep a night, and try to get to bed and wake up around the same times each day so that your body can get into some type of cycle.

sleeping

Post Workout Nutrition
An often overlooked aspect of recovery is proper nutrition after training, whether it be strength training, conditioning, or a practice/game. Getting some quality sources of carbohydrates and protein within an hour after your session will help to promote the healing and recovery process. Something as simple as a glass of chocolate milk or a protein shake mixed in fat free milk is a great, easy and effective post workout shake.

chocolate milk

Take Rest Days
We have become a culture of “more is better” which isn’t the case when it comes to strength training and conditioning. You need to take some days off and let your body rest. A rest day is a great time to spend extra time with your foam roller and working on some mobility, taking the dog for a walk, or jumping on the bike for an easy ride.

HRV Monitoring
If you really want to take your recovery to the next level, buy yourself the BioForce HRV app. Simply put, the BioForce HRV app allows you to track your recovery from day to day by taking your HRV each morning. The app will allow you to track your recovery over time and readiness every day. With the app you can take the guessing out of the equation and train when your body is ready to train and take rest days when your body needs a little break.

hrv bioforce

Incorporate one, two, three or more of these ideas into your daily schedule and watch your recovery improve and performance in the weight room or on the field increase. Take care of your body, you only have one.

Improving Poor Posture

Here are four quick tips on improve posture which anyone can benefit from. Remember, move better, feel better, perform better. Take the time to take care of yourself.

Posture

1. 2:1 Push:Pull Ratio

All you have to do is take a walk through the mall or the grocery store and you’ll notice the incredible amount of people walking around with anteriorly rounded shoulders, ‘Douche Bag’ shoulders as Kelly Starrett would call them. A good way to help reposition those shoulders back in the socket where they should be would to be focus on more pulling than pushing. For example, for each set on the bench press you perform, perform 2 sets of chin ups. This, along with some soft tissue and t-spine mobility work (more on these later) and you’ll notice a major difference in posture.

rounded shoulders

2. Mobility Circuits

If you want to move better a good place to start is by focusing more on mobility, specifically t-spine, ankle and hip mobility. Tight, stiff shoulders? Focus on some t-spine mobility drills. Knee pain when you squat? Look at adding some ankle mobility into your program. Low back pain? You guessed it, add some hip mobility movements.

baby mobility

3. Move More

This seems so obvious but it gets overlooked. People need to move more. As a society, we spend way to much time parked on our butt watching television, sitting in class, sitting on a computer or sitting in a car. See a trend – we sit WAY to much. Get up and move more. Get up and walk around the office every 1/2 hour or so. Instead of getting home and sitting in front of the television watching some reality show, take the dog for a walk, you both could use it.

4. Soft Tissue Quality

Performing some type of soft tissue work on yourself on a daily basis, even if its for as little as 5-10 minutes, will do wonders for your posture. Take the time to loosen up some of those tight muscles, which I guarantee you have. A foam roller will work just fine but I am a little more apt to have people use a lacrosse ball. Hunt around your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and scapula and see if you can find some trigger points. Chances are it won’t take you more than 10 seconds to find some gnarly spots to work on. Take the time to get rid of as many of those gnarly sports as possible. Believe it or not proper muscle tissue shouldn’t be sore at all even if your using a lacrosse ball – you’ll be shocked how much better you feel and move (and improve athletic performance due to un-restricted movement patterns) after spending some quality time with a foam roller or lacrosse ball everyday.