Monday Musings

I think I am going to try to start a new series here, calling it Monday Musings (obviously). Here is my thought; after a week in the weight room, listening to podcasts and reading, I’ll dump a quick thought or two or three things that are going through my head.

  1. Lots of really smart people keep talking about Isometric work. Anthony Donskov did in the Hockey Strength Podcast. Matthew Van Dyke and Max Schmarzo did on Robbie Bourke’s All Things Strength & Wellness Podcast. One of my goals this upcoming year is to try to strategically place more isometric work in training programs throughout both the in-season and off-season training cycles because I think most athletes could benefit from performing more isometric work.
  2. A minor programming change we’ve made this off-season is adding vertical pulling to our lower body days (4 day lifting schedule). I think it is safe to say that athletes need more pulling then they do pushing to help keep shoulders healthy, potentially going as far as saying I may recommend all athletes performing a 2:1 pull:push ratio in their strength program. In order to do so, we do vertical pulling on our lower body days and only horizontal pulling on upper body days. Do I think this will eliminate any and every potential shoulder injury? No. But I do think more pulling and/or pulling strength will doing nothing but benefit athletes from both a health and performance perspective.
  3. Sean Skahan posted something about no longer performing chin ups with bands for athletes that can’t perform the programmed number of reps. Jon Blair, Assistant Strength Coach at UNH, really pushed me to do this about a year ago. What we’ve done is added eccentric reps if an athlete can’t get the desired number of reps. For example, if 3 sets of 5 is programmed and the athlete can only complete 2 body weight chin ups, they finish the set by doing the other 3 reps by doing eccentric only chin ups. It is still yet to be determined if this is working, but I am confident that having athletes use bands doesn’t work very well, so this is worth a try.

That’s it for this week, Happy Monday!

Heels Elevated Bilateral Squatting?

Got a lot of engagement with various coaches on Twitter with this thought the other day. Though I am not a huge proponent of excessive loading of the bilateral squat (back/front squat) I do think it’s important to be able to perform the squat pattern well as it is a basic, fundamental movement pattern.

Heels Elevated Twitter Post

As a coach I think you should always be asking yourself if you like the way the any movement looks and I typically don’t love the way the squat movement looks. One of our most important jobs is to improve movement efficiency and with the heels elevated I almost find that the movement immediately looks better, for two big reasons;

  1. the biggest reason, the heel elevation essentially gives the athlete more ankle mobility
  2. elevating the heels gives the athlete an anterior weight shift that allows them to ‘sit back’ in the movement.

Beyond this, it’s important to be in tune and understand the group you are coaching – we know hockey athletes will typically present ankle mobility issues because they skate in a boot that eliminates most all ankle movement – so why would we try to jam a square peg into a round hole.

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.

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.

Accommodating Resistance

Chains and other forms off accommodating resistance can be used for more then just speed work. The most important thing is stressing movement patterns and chasing the adaptation, not necessarily the specific exercise you chose.

In this case the instability of the chains add a shoulder stability component that stresses the rotator cuff in a way that regular bench press won’t. Plus it’s a nice change a pace and challenge for athletes.

Shown is 100 w/ 32lbs of chains.

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.