Today being the last the day of August and most of our hockey players going back to their respective team, I can definitely feel like the summer is coming to an end. I must say that it has been an incredible summer; we had a lot of guys busting their ass in the weight room making tremendous progress during the last couple of months . They got stronger, faster and became better athletes, and I must say that I am really proud of each and everyone of them for what they accomplished this summer.
That being said, coaching athletes for 9-12 hours a day for over 12 weeks is gonna make you a better coach and it will make you learn a lot of things. Here is what I learned during this awesome summer of 2010:
1. There is no limit to how much you can load single-leg exercises to increase strength. I actually wrote a post about the case for single-leg training a couple weeks ago, but it never ceases to amaze me how strong you can get with single-leg lifts. This is Endeavor athlete Charlie Vasaturo doing 6 reps on a reverse lunge with a front squat grip with 255 pounds:
2. On a related note, younger athletes can get strong pretty quickly. You just need to make sure their form is perfect and you can start loading them up pretty good. It is very common to have athletes under 16 get to 60lbs dumbbells for reverse lunges for multiple reps within 3 months of dedicated training. Here is Endeavor athlete Conor Landrigan, 14 years old with 65lbs dumbbells:
3. This is no breaking news for anyone that speed development through sprints is great to help athletes get faster. But one thing equally important, if not more than linear speed is transitional speed. Sports are all about quick transitions, changes of direction and reacting quickly to what’s happening on the ice/field/court. I, myself, was focusing too much on linear speed and not enough on transitional speed. My good friend and colleague Kevin Neeld has been doing a good job of including all sorts of start positions (2 point start, push up start, tall kneeling start, side standing start) in the sprint work we have our athletes do, as well as including different transitional drills later on as progressions. We have seen tremendous results with our athletes using these transitional drills. Here is an example:
4. By now, I abandoned the idea that I would eventually be able to get rid of that french accent! So why not just laugh about it. Our athletes absolutely love it anyway as it can give them a good laugh. On this video, you can hear Endeavor athlete and Colorado Avalanche prospect Colby Cohen impersonating me in the back (telling Jeff Buvinow doing the stability front plank with perturbation to squeeze his butt and keep his chest up):
2 notes on that video: First, this is a tremendous core exercise as it is very specific to the demands of contact sports like ice hockey.
Second, Colby likes to have a good time when he’s around at Endeavor, but he also means business when it’s time to work hard, especially when he hang cleans; here he is smoking 230lbs for 2 reps.
5. Hockey players have a lot of problems with their hips, and I mean A LOT. Whether it is sports hernia, groin strains, hip flexor strains or hip capsule problems, hockey players will have a lot of problems with their hips for 2 main reasons: First, skating is a very unnatural movement pattern for the human body and it puts a lots of stress on the hips for different reasons, mainly because your hips spend most of the time in external rotation. Second, hockey players spend way too much time on the ice, even in the off-season where they should take some time off and focus more on training. These 2 ingredients are a good recipe for hip injury. That being said, hockey players need a lot of soft-tissue work (foam roller, massage, ART) done on their hips especially on their TFL (tensor fascia-latae), adductor magnus and hip external rotators (mainly piriformis). They also need a good balance of mobility, flexilibity and strength in their hip muscles (more on that to come in an upcoming blog post).
6. I have to give ALL the credit to Kevin Neeld for coming up with that one, but this might just be the most specific form of conditioning hockey players can do off-ice:
When you think about it, hockey is played the exact same way: holding an isometric position for a couple of seconds (while they just glide on the ice and follow the play) followed by a short burst of speed consisting of a couple quick strides. This is also one of the hardest form of conditioning you can do. Coming up with that was just a brilliant idea from Kevin!
In conclusion, summer 2010 have been amazing and made me a better and more knowledgeable coach. All of this would not have been possible without the hundreds of athletes that trained with us and were so dedicated to becoming better hockey players and athletes in general. To all of them, the best of luck for their upcoming season!
For those of you who don’t know Brian St. Pierre, he is a sports nutritionist and strength coach. He just returned to Grad School to pursue his Master’s degree in nutrition. He actually left his job at Cressey Performance, with Eric Cressey, where he worked for the past couple of years. Throughout his career, Brian has been a nutrition consultant and strength coach for a wide variety of athletes of all levels. Brian is a very smart guy with a lot of knowledge from whom I learned a lot of things by reading his blog on a regular basis and most recently from working with him to improve my diet. That being said, here are 3 things I learned from him.
1. Organic dairy products are far superior to their conventional counterparts. The quality of conventional dairy products is actually pretty bad. You need to consider these facts about dairy:
Cows are milked almost year round (compared to only 6 weeks after birth about 100 years ago) which compromise their immune system and the quality of milk is greatly diminished. It also increases the pregnancy-triggered estrogens in milk which is associated with the growth of many tumors as well as prostate and breast cancer.
Cows, who are herbivorous animals, are fed with corn and other cheap grains which leads to stomach acidity, which in turn leads to infectious bacteria and E. coli in cows. That situation then forces the dairy producers to stuff cows with antibiotics.
Casein, a protein found in milk, is suspected to be linked to different forms of cancer namely thyroid cancer and prostate cancer.
That being said, it is easy to conclude that the way dairies are produced nowadays is less than optimal to a good diet. That is why, if you still want to consume dairies, you should definitely make the switch to organic products as the cows are raised more naturally, milked a lot less, fed with food actually suited for herbivorous and not stuffed with hormones and antibiotics.
While we’re at it, why don’t you make the switch to whole milk as studies have shown that low-fat milk was associated with larger waist circumference, while whole milk was associated with smaller waist circumference. For more info on that subject, make sure to check out Brian’s post on conventional dairy on his website.
2. Make the switch to sprouted grains. This would apply to flour-containing products like bread, wraps and the like. Sprouted grain products are generally less processed than traditional whole-grain products and contain less preservatives. The benefits of sprouted grains over whole-grain don’t stop there; they’re also more nutrient-dense with more vitamins and minerals, their content in fibers is higher and they contain more protein. Ezekiel products are totally awesome if you want to make the witch as they have a lot of variety in their products and they’re absolutely delicious!
3. A drink combining protein and simple carbs (read: sugar) post-workout might not be the best option. This might come as a shocker to most of you, and I have to say that I was very surprised to learn that myself. I learned that from Brian while he was working with me to help me improve my diet. I was actually taking a protein + simple carbs drink after every single training session, and apparently that was not optimal.
You may not agree with that, but at least take this information into consideration. It is true that protein and carbs are necessary to improve recovery, but there is actually no evidence out there that proves that a protein and simple carbs drink is more efficient at replenishing your glycogen stores and improving your recovery than a whole food meal containing both of these nutrients would. It really surprised me, as I’ve always been led to believe that a faster digesting protein and carbs drink would be more efficient at helping recovery. But if you take a closer look a recent research, you’ll find nothing supporting that.
Having that kind of drink post-workout is actually not bad; just be aware that it is not better. Knowing that, what would be optimal post-workout: taking a protein and simple carbs drink that is virtually nutrient-empty or having a whole food meal that will provide you with fibers and tons of vitamins and minerals?
I still think that simple carbs have their place in sport nutrition; taking simple carbs before and/or during workout (depending on the intensity of the workout) could be very beneficial as it will provide you with rapidly available energy.
To learn more about Brian, make sure you check out his blog as he has a ton of valuable information that he shares with his audience. And if you feel like your diet needs improvement, please note that Brian is available through on-line consultation. Just visit Brian’s website for more details.
Last week, I wrote a post about how useless crunches are from a functional standpoint. I received a lot of questions about it from readers. The 2 most common ones were: how can you can get a six pack without doing crunches? And, what are good options to use instead of crunches?
For the first one, the answer is pretty simple: crunches won’t give you the six pack look, not eating like a fat ass will! Everybody needs to get out of the mindset that doing more crunches will make the fat around your mid-section magically disappear. That is a myth if you don’t already know; what you see on TV is not always true.
Crunches don’t make your abs “grow” more than any other exercise; the rectus abdominis (the six pack muscle) actually have a pretty limited growth potential compared to other muscles because of its different composition. Making healthier food choices and actually doing some conditioning (read: cardio) work once in a while will help shed the fat off your mid-section, and that way you might actually get to see your abs someday.
For the second question, you do have a lot of different options to work your core muscles. As I mentioned in my post last week, the main function of the core is one of stabilization to prevent extension, lateral flexion and rotation at the lumbar spine. Here is an example for each one of these categories.
This is a slideboard bodysaw, that I stole from Tony Gentilcore; it is an anti-extension progression. The back should stay neutral with a slight natural arch and you need to brace your belly to prevent your lower back from arching during the whole movement.
This one is called a half-kneeling belly press (or Pallof press); this is an anti-rotation exercise as your core must stabilize and prevent your upper body from rotating toward the cable column. The half-kneeling position gives you a bigger stability challenge from doing it from a standing position. On the video, it is done for time, but it can also be done for repetitions.
This is a bunkie side plank; it is in the category of the anti-lateral-flexion. Unlike a traditional side plank, you are only supported by your top leg; it adds a component of stability from the core all the way into your adductor (groin) muscles. It is a great progression, especially for hockey players to help prevent groin injuries, as the “traditional core” muscles like the rectus abdominis and the obliques are closely related to the adductor muscles. And don’t the let the simplicity of the exercise fool you, it is way harder than it looks; make sure you give it a try!
Another very important function of the core muscles is to be able to transfer forces from the lower body to the upper body which is a very important one when it comes to training for sports. Like I said previously, the first goal is to be able to stabilize the core through a variety of exercises to keep the spine as neutral as possible during training and sporting activities. When you have achieved a good level of stability, you can include rotational exercises that will help improve the force transfer between the lower body and the upper body.
Pay special attention to the way the exercise is performed; the rotation is generated by the hips and the trunk and the spine stay as neutral as possible. That is exactly how rotational power should be trained for injury prevention for the lower back as well as for optimal performance (as you will be able to generate A LOT more power from your hips than from your trunk alone).
This is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to core training, as there are lots of different aspects to take care of in your training. There are also a lot of different exercises and progressions you can use. Hopefully, it gave you a couple of ideas on where to start to train your mid-section in a more functional and optimal way.
It may seem like a shocking title for those of you who know I’m actually from Canada. This country has produced the best hockey players of all time throughout the years, but it also might be on the downfall. Let me explain myself…
It’s no secret to anyone that a big share of the best players from the last few decades are coming from Canada; Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, Steve Yzerman and most recently Chris Pronger and Sidney Crosby. Hockey is Canada’s national sport and we have played the sport for a longer time than pretty much the rest of the world. Without any number to support that, I also know for a fact that a big majority of guys have been playing hockey on a consistent basis at some point as a kid. So, in a way, it is not surprising to see so many players emerge from Canada.
Probably one of the greatest Canadian hockey player of all time
But in the last couple of years we have seen less and less Canadian players (especially French-Canadian) break through in the NHL. According to USA Hockey, the number of Canadian junior hockey players who make it to the NHL have decreased by 50% in the last 20 years! That’s a huge number. Also, in this year’s NHL draft only 13 Fench-Canadian players have been selected; and the first one was selected 67th overall. Even funnier, Danny Biega, who was that 67th overall pick was actually playing for Harvard last season. Those are pretty alarming numbers for Canada’s hockey development programs considering that so many good players used to come from Canada (and especially the province of Quebec).
Danny Biega…playing for Harvard University!
Maybe the fact that 16-20 years old kids playing in the QMJHL (Quebec’s highest level junior league) are playing 80+ games a year as something to do with it….maybe the fact that it is not unusual for them to travel 8 hours by bus just to play a single game has to do with it…maybe the fact that these kids are required to take classes in school at the same time has to do with it…or is it all these things combined and the huge amount of stress it puts on their body that might do more harm than good to their development? And some of them are playing hockey year round never giving their body some rest…Give me a break! There is no way this can all be that good for a player’s development.
But what do I know? I’m just a strength coach after all…
Another thing that struck me is how retarded training is among most of the junior hockey teams and hockey development programs. I had a discussion last week with one of our player who plays in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) for a well established team about their training and two things struck me: the first one, when they do testing at the beginning of the season they test (among other things) push ups for max reps and bench press using 100lbs for max reps as well. Apparently, you go through both tests within a minute or two of the other one (not always in the same order). There are just so many things wrong with that protocol, but I won’t go into much details about that since it could be the purpose of an entire different post.
The second thing he said that totally suprised me is the fact that they have NO TRAINING PROGRAM AT ALL; they don’t in-season nor off-season! This is totally retarded in my opinion that a team in a league that is suppose to prepare and expose their players as much as possible so they have a chance of being drafted in the NHL are not physically preparing their players at all! And I know for a fact that it is not only one team. And a lot of teams in the major junior hockey leagues in Canada that do have some kind of strength and conditioning programs, most of the time, it’s gonna be programs that include bodybuilding style training (body part splits) and some sort of distance running or other aerobic type of conditioning; none of these are specific or optimal for hockey players. I am saying that because I actually came across a couple of these programs in the past.
Appropriate training for hockey players? …I don’t think so
I am pretty sure that this kind of stuff is not only present in Canada, beacuse I have seen it in programs coming from elsewhere. But I will say this: I have been in the United States for 6 months now and I have seen far more good training facilities and people who really “get it” than I have seen in my whole life living in Canada.
I am in no way trying to diss all the training that is done in Canada; I actually know people from there who actually do a good job at training athletes. All I’m trying to say is that in a general way, the United States are improving more and more the quality of development that is offered to players. The guys play less games in College settings and the seasons are generally shorter so that gives them the time to get good off-ice training that includes appropriate speed, power, strength and conditioning development as well as time to recover and work on injury prevention.
In the meantime, most development programs in Canada encourage players to spend more time on the ice as the general mentality is (more often than not) more is better; players play more games, have more practices and are encouraged to specialize at an early age and play year round in summer leagues, camps and showcases being conviced by their coach that this is the only way they’re gonna get better. All this is gonna lead you to in the long run is overtrained athletes (read: it’s gonna slow down their development) and lots of overuse injuries. Are we going backwards?
In my own opinion, I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that team USA has reached the gold medal game in the Olympic tournament this year, even though the team wasn’t expected to perform so well, especially when we consider the impressive rosters on not only the Canadian team, but also Sweden and Russia’s teams.
Is this the beginning of an era in hockey? Only the future will tell us.
At the risk of getting some hate mail for this blog post, I will call out one of the most popular exercise in athletes and fitness enthousiasts alike; the crunch. Whether they are done on the ground, on a stability ball, on a Bosu ball, with your legs straight, with your legs bent or juggling with dumbbells I don’t care; crunches are probably the most useless exercise to train your core (or abs, or midsection, whatever you want to call it).
Why? I am going to answer that question with another question: why are we doing crunches anyway? It’s probably for one of two reasons. The first one is because it is believed by many that the main function of your abs (read: rectus abdominis) is to flex your spine, so it would seem normal to train abs by doing flexions. The other reason is because crunches have been around forever, everyone has been doing them, so we just don’t think about why we do it.
The truth is a that flexion at the spine is not the main function of your rectus abdominis. Spinal flexion is actually one of the mechanisms that lead to low back injuries along with hyperextension and rotation. And Dr.Stuart McGill who is one of the lead researcher in the world in low back pain and injuries has actually described that in great details in his books. So why would you want to try to recreate an injury mechanism in your training?
The true role of the rectus abdominis is to prevent extension at the lumbar spine; in other words, its primary function is stability at the lower back. The rectus abdominis also works with the obliques (internal and external) as well as with the spinal erectors and inner core muscles to create a brace around the spine to prevent excessive movements.
That’s right, all these muscles work together to STABILIZE around the lower back. So why the hell would you want to find ways to create more motion at this joint that needs stability by using all sorts of flexion and rotation exercises? That just doesn’t make sense to me.
One more thing is that by training the rectus abdominis with repeated flexion doing crunches, you’re actually shortening that muscle. Keeping in mind that the rectus abdominis attaches at the ribs, what’s going to happen if this muscle keeps shortening and pulls the ribs down?
You’re gonna end up with a pretty bad kyphosis (rounded over upper back) and that’s gonna lead you to a whole lot of other problems.
The true role of the core muscles is to stabilize; prevent flexion, prevent extension, prevent side bend and prevent rotation to avoid excessive motion. So wouldn’t it make sense to train these muscles that exact same way? There are tons of excellent exercises that are gonna enhance stability of the trunk. If you don’t know where to start, there is a revolutionary exercise that we just discovered and nobody ever heard of, that is gonna do wonders to improve stability….it’s called a plank!
But what about rotation? You need rotational power when you sports, right? I totally agree with that, but rotation should be trained through the hips while the trunk muscles remain stable. Most of your rotational power is going to come from your hips anyway.
I think it’s about time we drop the crunches for good. Just because they have been around forever and it seems like everyone does them means they are good for you, nor you should keep doing them.
In my last post I touched a little bit on the importance of stretching. The post was about static stretching, but I also mentioned that dynamic stretching is another important part of the puzzle. In fact, dynamic stretching is often overlooked; a lot of people are familiar with it, but at the same time so many people use only static stretching to warm up when there’s a much better option.
Dynamic stretching is really important to improve range of motion as it will improve stability and control within that full range of motion. Therefore it’s also more specific to any sport than static stretching is (think about it, how many movements are done passively in sports?). It is not only important to have good range of motion around our joints, but also to have body control within that new range of motion if we want it to be helping us perform better in the gym and when play sports.
With our athletes, we always use a dynamic stretching warm up at the beginning of every session right after doing some soft-tissue work with the foam roller to get the muscles more pliable and react better to dynamic stretching. We try to include drills that will improve mobility mainly at the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders (which are the joints that are meant for more mobility). And we’re also going to try to include drills that will improve stability and control within that full range of motion.
Here is an example of one of the warm ups we use with our athletes that my colleague Kevin Neeld has put together a couple of months ago:
Please note that I performed only 3-4 reps for ONE SIDE ONLY of the drills in the video just to keep it shorter. Obviously, we always perform everything on both sides usually! This is the full warm up:
- 3 ways ankle drill vs wall 5,5,5/side
- Penguin’s walk on 25 yards
- Rectus femoris mobilization vs wall x8/side
- Reverse lunges with rotation x8/side
- 2 way hip rock x6/side
- Lateral lunges x8/side
- Side-lying rotation-extension x8/side
- Side lying bow & arrow (5sec holds) x 5/side
- Yoga push ups x8
- Inverted reach x8/side
The exercises are paired in such a way that we mobilize a joint in a more passive way and we immediatly stabilize that same joint in its new found range of motion with the very next exercise (example: rectus femoris mobilization to improve mobility of the hip flexors followed by reverse lunge to get stability in that full range of motion).
This is just to give an example of what a good warm up should include to improve range of motion with your athletes and prevent the risks of injuries, but keep in mind that are tons of other options to include in your dynamic stretching routine.
I would probably not teach you anything if I told you that static stretching is an important part of any training program and that it is very useful from an injury prevention standpoint. But static stretching has became increasingly important with the years as we move less and less and spend more and more time sitting; that’s where modern life has led us.
Muscles spend hours in a shortened position and that affects our posture and the way our body moves in a very bad way. Therefore, we need something to reverse at least some of the damage we inflict on our body. Static stretching will help restore proper length on these shortened muscles.
Here are 2 of my new favorite stretches I use on a daily basis:
First one is a box hip flexor stretch that I stole from Strength Coach Mike Boyle. It helps lengthen those hip flexor muscles that spend so much time in a shortened position from all the sitting, but you can also add some hip internal rotation to put more emphasis on the psoas/iliacus. The opposite side hip flexion is also maintained and you want to press down with your foot on the box to change the empahsis of the stretch compared to a traditional hip flexor stretch.
The second one is more of an upper body stretch as it will stretch your pecs, your lats and improve that hunched over posture by improving your thoracic spine range of motion. When performing this one you want to try to wrap the ball over with your upper back and let your arms hang in a “Y” position. You can play around with it a little bit by moving your arms down in a “T” position to get a greater pec stretch (sternal portion) or by moving your arms up in an “I” position to get a greater lat stretch. It is truly one of my favorite as it is the total opposite of the position we are stuck in all the time when we sit.
Unless you have been living in a cave with no internet access for the past 6 years, you have probably heard of Eric Cressey before. Eric is one of the industry’s leaders in strength and conditioning. He is a well established coach, writer and business guy as he’s been owning his own facility for the last three years and has been coaching thousands of athletes in different sports. Eric is also an accomplished lifter himself as he used to compete in powerlifting and he still deadlifts well over 600 pounds to this day.
Eric is also a VALUABLE source of information with all the material he’s written. I would recommend all of his articles and products to anyone trying to become a better strength and conditioning coach. To say that I have learned A LOT from Eric during the past few years would be an understatement. Here is just a couple of things I have picked up from him lately. Enjoy!
1. Taking care of shoulder health is more than just strengthening the rotator cuff.
If you want to have healthy shoulders, you obviously need to take care of them in your training. If you do some stretching and some strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff and think it’s taken care of, well, the sad truth is that you are leaving out a lot of very important factors that play a huge role in shoudler health. Here is a list of all the things you should consider when working with people with bum shoulders or when trying to keep shoulders healthy:
1. Soft-tissue quality (primarily pec major and minor, levator scapula, scalenes, lats and rotator cuff)
2. Scapular stability
3. Thoracic spine mobility (in extension and rotation)
4. Range of motion at the gleno-humeral joint
5. Tissue length of the following: pec major and minor, levator scapula, lats and biceps.
6. Rotator cuff strength
7. Hip and ankle mobility of the opposite side (as the shoulder have fascial connections with these 2 joints)
8. Breathing patterns (as breathing through your chest instead of your belly can lead to over stressing muscles like the pecs and scalenes)
As you can see, there is a lot to address to prevent/treat shoulder injuries, and these factors happen to be even more important when dealing with athletes from sports like baseball, swimming and basketball, as these athletes put tremendous amounts of stress on their shoulders.
2. Soft tissue work and flexibility work go hand-in-hand.
Almost everyone by now knows that tissue length and tissue quality are of paramount importance to stay away from imbalances and injuries. But did you also know that these 2 need to be combined for optimal results and lasting changes. Once you work on your soft-tissue quality, whether it is with foam rolling, ART, Graston or just good ol’ massage, you should work on tissue quality right after.
Once you have removed the adhesions (or knots) in your muscles, doesn’t it make sense to stretch them right after, before you have new adhesions/knots reappear? In fact, right after soft-tissue work, your muscles are more pliable and less resistant to any change in length, so you should take advantage of that time to “re-educate those tissues on how to deform properly” as Cressey put it himself.
3. Get out of those high heels!
Wearing conventional “high heeled” sneakers with a lot of cushioning and support around the ankles are probably the worst thing you can do to your feet and ankles. It limits your range of motion at the ankle (especially in dorsiflexion) and it modifies the way you walk and run as you don’t have to absorb ground forces as much as all the padding in the soles is doing the job; your feet are basically becoming lazier. You are also losing a good amount of proprioception in your feet as they are separated from the ground by a 1-2″ cushion. And as Cressey said it himself: “…wearing sneakers has really screwed up the way people run, and in my opinion, has caused the exponential rise in injuries among distance runners.” That doesn’t mean we should all ditch our sneakers, but I think we should definitely make better footwear choices. Nike Frees, Puma flats and Vibram Five Fingers are all better options as they keep you closer to the ground.
Although not yet socially acceptable, this is probably the best footwear choice you could make!
Doing more barefoot stuff (like warm ups and deadlift) in our training is another way to go as it will reestablish proprioception in our feet.
If you’re interested to learn more from Eric Cressey, I would suggest you check out his website and sign up for his FREE newsletter!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the INNER CORE explaining the differences between traditional core exercises and inner core activation. I also included a simple inner core activation exercise. The truth is, there is a ton of variations and progressions you can use to progress your inner core activation drills to more challenging ones.
Here is another variation of inner core activation drill that I stole from my friend Dr.Perry Nickelston, which I modified a little bit:
You want to make sure you’re squeezing the ball with your legs while pushing back with your butt against it. Also, make sure your spine stays neutral and your belly firm at all time as you reach forward and up with your arm straight.
Remember to progress your inner core activation drills slowly as you don’t want you outer core muscles to take over if the challenge is too hard for your inner core.
For a lot of valuable information on the inner core and lots of other cool stuff, make sure to check out Dr.Perry Nickelston’s facebook page Stop Chasing Pain.