Posts Tagged ‘workout’

If there’s one thing I seek to apply to every hockey training program regardless the goal, level or phase of the training program it’s to make the training as efficient as possible. You see all training is cumulative meaning what you do during one workout affects the subsequent workout. Gone are the days of marathon workouts and the ‘more is better’ attitude. Instead we want to be a little bit smarter with our training so that our efforts during training don’t compromise our ability to recover after.

One way we ensure that we will recover optimally is by learning what our work capacity is. What are the various thresholds to the different training stimuli? Knowing these and staying just ‘under the radar’ allows for the best possible scenario in terms of the most return of improvement related to investment made.

But there is one other strategy we utilize with our hockey players that has proven extremely beneficial in terms of achieving the desired outcome without extra investment in training. The strategy is to use the test as the drill. I’ll explain what this means below.

One of the assessments we use when meeting with a hockey player for the first time is to determine the rotation around various joints. For example popular bodybuilding programs include a disproportionate amount of exercises that internally rotate the shoulder. How does this happen? Well imagine as part of a workout performing bench presses, cable cross overs and flys?

Over time we’ll see the shoulder become pulled forward and internally rotated. This results in poor postural alignment, impaired core function and increases the likelihood for injury.

As the shoulder becomes tighter with respect to internal rotation the ability to reach up behind the back is decreased.

Now that we know what the limitation is we also know what the fix should be. The answer involves positioning the right arm, as in the picture, to the end range behind the back as positioned. Next place the left hand on right wrist and press down gently with the right arm. The left arm should resist this pressure.

As you press down with the right arm remember to keep a few points in mind. The first is to ensure as close to perfect posture as possible. Sit with the head tall, the chest up and the shoulders down and back. Breath  normally through the diaphragm rather than by lifting the chest and shoulders on each breath. Perform 3 or 4 reps on each side with a gentle 10 second hold. There should be no discomfort at all when performing the exercise.

Use this exercise during your warm-up to improve the external rotation of your shoulders. Put the emphasis on the side with the greater deficiency. So if the right arm is significantly tighter than the left start with the right and work to balance it out with the left. Continue as long as their is a deficiency or more importantly there is a difference between the left and right sides of the body.

This is just one example of how the assessment can become the drill. Stay tuned for future examples of determining your weak links, how to use that same test as an exercise and to improve your hockey performance as a result.


A few weeks ago I wrote about how I did a workout on some sand dunes. And part of the workout involved wearing a weighted vest. Since that post I’ve had the chance to throw the vest on a few more times and have noticed something interesting that I hadn’t considered earlier. I learned that running sand dunes helped fix my shoulders.

At this point you might be wondering ‘what did I miss?’ He was talking about running sand dunes and now is switching over to talking about improved shoulder function. How the heck are these two related? Let me explain.

In my younger days I used to train as a bodybuilder. I bought the magazines, took the supplements and performed the isolated, single joint exercises bodybuilders love in order to feel the muscle. After a few years of this my joints weren’t loving me so much. Particularly my shoulders and my AC joint specifically.

You see I was in the habit of doing ‘mirror workouts’. Biceps, chest, traps, abs, quads etc or anything you could see when you looked in the mirror. As a result I had a pretty unbalanced physique with way too much open-chain pressing motions, too many upper trap exercises and too many internal rotation exercises.

And as long as I continued with my ‘mirror workouts’ I continued to have issues with my shoulders. I’m not sure which came first but eventually I realized I wouldn’t be 250 lbs and 4 % bodyfat and that there was a smarter, safer and more effective way to train. I start to balance out the back side of physique and added in some external rotations to realign my shoulders.

And things improved quite a bit. I could press heavy weight. There was no soreness or discomfort but I learned something that showed me I wasn’t all the way there. And it had to do with how I was breathing.

You see all the years of upright rows, shrugs and basically anything that lifted the shoulders to the ears was stimulating my upper traps and levators. So I developed over active ‘shrugging-type’ muscles. And when I was fatigued I would take deep breaths and my chest would rise and fall. Since I had over-active traps and levators when I need to get air I would fire these muscles first, as I had trained them so often, and consequently my chest would lift and fall. But this isn’t the way we should breath.

If we take a deep breath properly our chest and shoulders shouldn’t move. Instead we should notice the movement at the stomach as the diaphragm pulls down as we inhale and rises as we exhale.

When I was wearing the weighted vest I secured the vest as tightly as possible around my torso. And since the vest is pulled on over the head it rests on the shoulders. As I began to fatigue I realized I needed to get air but couldn’t do so by lifting my shoulders and expanding my chest due to the constriction of the vest. The only alternative to me was to relax my chest and breath properly through my stomach and diaphragm.

Before you rush out to throw on a vest and experience this yourself practice breathing through your stomach and diaphragm. Look to minimize and eliminate the involvement of the chest and shoulders. And lastly, pay attention to the impact this new breathing style has on the health of your shoulders.


On the weekend I joined a couple of friends and we ran some sprints on some sand dunes here in town. Now running sprints are hard to do at the best of times but these dunes were crazy. There were three of us doing the workout and after warming up properly we set out to climb to the top. We took turns with the first guy going as far as he could, then the second guy to the same point and the third guy joining the pack. You may advance 30-50 meters at a time depending on which segment of the climb we were on, the steepness at that point plus how deep the sand was. You have to picture a very fine, silty sand where your entire foot sinks with each step. And as you fatigue and the time your foot is in contact with the ground lengthens your foot sinks more.

As you are doing the climb the discomfort is divided between your lungs and legs. It’s hard to distinguish which is more compromised between your fitness and your strength. As you finish each segment your lungs are on fire and your legs have difficulty doing what the mind is requesting.

So what does this all have to with hockey training? What lessons can be learned here that can help you? Well here are a couple of insights I gained which should help you as you begin your off-season training program.

1. Your off-season training program is about you. When we arrived at the dunes my friends were pulling on weighted vests to do the workout. When I saw this I decided I would pull out some of the weights from my vest. Why would I do this? Well I had never done this climb before. Actually I hadn’t done any hill, stair or sand dune climbing of any kind yet this off-season so I wasn’t about to do the first one as the most aggressive one with the added load of a weighted vest.

Could I have done the climb with all the weights in the vest? Maybe. Might it have been too much? Hard to say. What I do know is that by easing into this training I will give my body a better chance today, tomorrow and the next time I challenge the dunes.

2. It’s better to do 10% too little than 1% too much. Training is about creating a stimulus that the body reacts to and improves as a result. We have thresholds related to the amount of stimulus we can handle. Too much stimulus and the body reacts in negative way and impairs future training. Not enough of a stimulus and there is an insignificant response which results in minimal improvement or none at all. We need to be smart about our training to determine what our thresholds are. We can do this objectively through assessments such as a lactate threshold or VO2 max or subjectively through a rate of perceived exertion.

Determining your threshold is a difficult thing to do because it involves assessments, tracking workouts and being honest with yourself during training. There is a difference between holding up during training because you don’t like hard work and want the easy way out and holding back on a set because you know it is simply too much for you at that time.

That’s where the concept of 10% too little and 1% too much comes from. By doing 1% too much you will exceed the capacity of the system. You will push the training to the point where the physical demands exceeds the ability of the body to recover. As a result the body will respond accordingly which will compromise future days of training. And with off-season training you are looking to accomplish the bulk of your gains, growth and improvement during this time so any interruptions in training are that much more costly.

So as you begin your off-season training remember your training is about you, your needs and goals and your abilities. There are times where competition during the training process can be healthy and bring out the best in you. But remember to listen to your body, take some time for thorough assessments, chart your progress and to push to the limits your body will allow.


There’s an expression when it comes to strength and conditioning that ‘if you’re not assessing you’re guessing’. This makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about it. Imagine taking a trip and not knowing where you’re starting out from. How will you get there? How long will it take? What is the best way to get there? There are so many variables that come into play with such a decision it makes it so much harder if not impossible when we don’t even know our starting point.

But the assessments we make shouldn’t end when we start training. We continually record loads used during workouts, days of rest, fluctuations in volume and many other factors during training. This allows us to fine tune as we go, make adjustments and see what is working and what could be improved.

And take this a step further and imagine being able to assess your players during a game? How important would it be to know which players are ‘in the zone’ and which ones are having off-days? Sure you can tell who is having a good game but can you tell who is 2 or 3% above normal? Or who is 2 or 3% below what they are normally capable of? Pretty hard to tell isn’t it? But when you think about it the highest level of sport is usually decided by the smallest of increments.

Hockey training is this specific already. At the 2010 Olympics the US women’s hockey team were not only were assessed prior, during and at the conclusion of their training they were also being assessed during the Olympics. Each member of this team was wearing a heart rate monitor that could be read by the coaching staff. During the gold medal game it was reported that the US players were working 20% harder than any of their other games.

Imagine how useful it would be to know how your players are feeling? Who’s suffering the most? Who’s recovering the quickest? Should you shorten shifts? Can you leave your top centre out there to win another face off? If you’re down a d-man who can pick up the extra ice time?

It will be interesting to see how many teams will now start to implement this strategy as well. When the competition is getting that much tighter this might be a  way for teams seeking the an advantage to come out on top. With minimal investment in time and money this would an ideal way to train smarter and give your team the best chance possible.


Hockey is definitely a game of flow. For example, think to the last great game you watched or played and most likely you enjoyed this game primarily due to the outcome. But even though your team ended up on the right side of the winning column this game was memorable because it had flow. Sometimes this means the refs ‘put away their whistles’ and allowed the teams to play. This creates an exciting style of hockey that is both fun to play and watch.

Besides the flow of the game and the back and forth rushes for both sides there is also a level of excitement when there is a change in the game. This can be a change in the score or a change in momentum after a team that is down kills off a penalty or wins a fight.

The changes in flow aren’t completely random and players can influence many aspects of the game and sometimes the outcome itself when they create a change. And sometimes the best players are the ones that have the greatest potential to create change in the game. Consider the following.

Which player would you rather have on your team? The one who is moderately fast and goes all-out 100% of the time? Or the one who is just as fast, or maybe a step faster, but chooses key moments in the game to exploit the opponent with their speed?

Think about as well how the previous scenario relates to the emotions of the players. While you definitely want to play with emotion you want to be in control. Sometimes the player who is going 100% has an emotional disposition to match and is less likely to stay in control in the heat of the moment.

Think as well about how this relates to your energy levels during a game. If you’re going 100% all the time what will your energy be like in the 3rd period? And if the game goes into OT can you sustain your intensity?

Now don’t confuse the above with coasting or slacking. You need to bring your best every opportunity you get. And if you are a 3rd or 4th line player sometimes you need to go a little more than the rest in order to catch the coach’s eye. You can play intensely, put in 100% effort but still be in control.

Think about the greats of the game and you can picture the flow and changes in their games. Gretzky’s head used to bob up and down when he was really pushing (I’m not recommending this technique, just making the point that you could identify when he had changed gears).

Your hockey training is similar in this regard. Some days are all-out  and intense while others are low intensity. Some training sessions are short and others are long. You wouldn’t go in the weight room and try and go 100% for the whole hour never mind doing this every time you worked. So remember the ebb and flow of a great game of hockey and keep this in mind as you perform your hockey training workouts.