Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lateral Shuffle Test - An Effective Method of Assessing Lateral Speed & Range

Speed is always a physical characteristic that everyone would like to improve on.  In many instances linear speed is where emphasis is placed and assessed, but in many game situations its lateral range and speed where races are won.  There are many assessments available for agility, change of direction and linear speed, but one test that I have always used over the past 25 years is the lateral shuffle test.  It assess: foot quickness in the frontal plane, change of direction, allows you to see how the core reacts to frontal plane loads, and provides you with an accurate and reliable tool to assess this movement.  I have used this for many sports including hockey, football, and soccer.  Measure 2 lines, 12 feet apart, start on the inside of one of the markers and shuffle heel to heel (no crossovers) complete as many lengths as you can in 15 seconds and measure to the closest half length.  What I love about this test, is that you can see how much more ground you can cover in subsequent tests after training.  I.e. if you improve from 12 to 13.5 lengths, you have covered another 18 feet in the same amount of time.  This means you are racing after pucks or balls with greater lateral speed.  Good NHL skaters are getting 15-15.5 lengths per attempt....where do you score?

Friday, 14 March 2014

My Thoughts on Aerobic Training & Hockey As It Relates To Preparation

Much of the banter and discussion regarding sports performance on the internet, conferences etc seem to focus on speed, power, and strength.  These topics are obviously very critical in the development of high performance athletes.  The one area that I always dedicate much thought and program development to is cardiovascular conditioning.  Like the afore- mentioned physical qualities, this is one that also creates much controversy and debate.  The following are my opinions on the topic based on 30 plus years in the field, and the literature that has been published, we do use this at www.accottawa.com .  Although I am going to reference the sport of hockey often, the concepts can be applied to many sports.

Ice hockey is typically defined as an anaerobic sport.  Here are the facts as we know it:

       The game is 60 minutes in length
       Shifts are made up of 30-60 second intense efforts
       Average play/player - 20 minutes or less
       Energy system usage - all
       Atp-pc - limiting factor in 5-10 second bursts
       Lactic acid - 9-11 mmol/l observed during games
       Aerobic - the higher the players vo2 max, the higher the aerobic contribution and the lower the anaerobic one.

When devising a plan to enhance the cardiovascular component of hockey, I believe it’s important to look at the energy systems that support each other (ATP-PC Lactic Acid anaerobic & aerobic), and by enhancing this with a specific focus, I can thereby enhance the whole system. 

The particular issue that I see as a common problem in the training field is that many take the concept of sport specificity too far.  For example, since shifts are generally made up of 30-60 seconds of 5-10 second repeated bursts, training should be entirely focused on intervals in this range, and more specificity can be achieved by manipulating the rest periods to achieve the energy system goal.  I.e.. 10 sec max effort with 50 second rest could be defined as a focus on the ATP-PC system, while 10 sec hard effort with 10 seconds recovery repeated 20 times would be aerobic.  Same interval different focus.

The above example could be considered very sport specific to hockey as it matches up the short bursts we typically see on the ice.  I am not convinced, being so sport specific in this particular instance is the optimal method to train. Here are my reasons why:

The game itself is as stated earlier anaerobic in nature.  So if we take an NHL pro for example, his season would begin in September with training camp, and could last until mid June if he reaches the Stanley Cup final.  This would be almost 10 months of anaerobic focused work.  This can be extremely fatiguing in addition to the stress of performing at such a high level.  If you add to this volume of yearly work (yes playing and practicing is work & volume to the body) high intensity sprint interval training, then you are asking your body to adapt to anaerobic work year round.  There is a potential negative cost to the body with this kind of continual stress placed on it. Ie. Overtraining, injury etc.

If you take into account that all of the strength and plyometric training that a hockey player will endure, this adds to the volume of total yearly anaerobic work.  In a study by, Parra et al. he showed that only 2 weeks of daily sprint interval training increased citrate synthase maximal activity but did not change “anaerobic” work capacity, possibly because of chronic fatigue induced by daily training (Acta Physiol. Scand 169: 157–165, 2000).  There is a possibility of this kind of chronic fatigue setting in for a hockey player also.  Realizing that the study was only 2 weeks long and work was every day, I am extrapolating what might happen with a hockey player’s volume of work.

I think this issue may have started with a great paper that McMaster University Professor Martin Gibala completed called Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance. J Physiol 2006, 575:901–911His conclusion stated “that young healthy persons of average fitness, intense interval exercise is a time-efficient strategy to stimulate skeletal muscle adaptations comparable with traditional endurance training.”  This study although extremely beneficial does NOT address the impact on high performance athletes, and has been in my opinion been taken out of context by many in the fitness industry with the proliferation of HIT circuit style trainingSee my other blog article on the perils of this type of training It is also my belief that those who are just beginning an exercise program are not structurally capable or physiologically ready to handing high intensity exercise.
The other fact from a reference point of view that I would like to make has to do with the concept of training impacting either a peripheral or central adaptation.  In a great review article by Dave Docherty A Proposed Model for Examining the Interference Phenomenon between Concurrent Aerobic and Strength Training (Sports Medicine 2000 Dec 30 (6) he discusses whether exercise stimulus can affect the body peripherally or via a central adaptation.  It has been proposed that peripheral adaptations are stimulated through the state of hypoxia experienced by the muscle during high intensity, aerobic interval training or high intensity strength training with reps at 10 rm’s or over.  Other adaptations include increases in muscle capillarisation, mitochondrial enzyme activity and myoglobin content.  Central adaptation are those associated with lower intensity training that is associated with changes in the cardiopulmonary mechanisms.  As training intensity increases the location of adaptation appears to shift to the peripheral components with changes in muscle capillarisation, oxidative enzyme activity, mitochondrial volume and density, and myoglobin.

The illustration below details this process.

While this article looked at the interference models for concurrent strength and aerobic work, it certainly alludes to this zone of interference that I believe can cause problems for hockey players and other athletes who focus too much high intensity interval training year round.  There is clearly, important adaptations that appear to occur with low-intensity continuous training that are not observed with mixed or high-intensity training. In his review Docherty states “While the immediate effect of low-intensity high- volume training on intense exercise performance can be difficult to assess, it would appear that the insertion of these low-intensity training sessions has a positive impact on performance, despite being performed at an intensity that is markedly less than that which is specifically performed at during intense exercise competition. It is often purported that these periods of relatively low-intensity, high training volumes may provide the aerobic platform needed to facilitate the specific adaptations that occur in response to the high-intensity or specific workouts.”

In another good review by Olivier Girard titled Repeat Spring Ability (RSA) Factors Contributing to Fatigue Part 1 & 2, he states that research has shown that subjects with a greater VO2 max have a superior ability to resist fatigue during RSA (not unlike hockey), especially during the latter stages of a repeated-sprint test when subjects may reach their max VO2.   This suggests that improving VO2 may allow for a greater aerobic contribution to repeated sprints, potentially improving RSA.

With all of this information I want to be clear that I am not advocating that you train hockey players like marathoners or a Tour De France cyclist.  They do not need to be running or cycling for 2-3 hours at a time, this would be not advantageous for strength and power development.  But I believe there is enough evidence to advocate the use of aerobic training in a range of 30-45 minutes, working at heart rate intensity of 75-85% for a period of time before the more specific energy system work is to be done.

Typically I like to use aerobic work very early in the off-season training cycle twice per week.  In addition to the reasons I have stated above, I believe that this fundamental fitness characteristic provides safe base level training, especially for young athletes, in addition to re-introducing cardiovascular training to the more experienced player after time off from the competitive season.  I believe that 3-4 weeks of this kind of cardiovascular conditioning, placed on the appropriate days 2-3 times per week and depending on the athlete will only enhance his base fitness levels.  This in the end will provide a better foundation for the intense work and recover that is necessary for high performance sport.

The following is an example of general guidelines I use for planning the conditioning element of our off ice training program.  More specific changes to this will be done based on the individual athlete.

I hope you found this article interesting and thought provoking.  It may not be the perfect model, but it is a concept that I have used for many years with relative success.  The world of sports performance research is evolving constantly, with that I have not doubt, I could re-write this article based on the exclusive use of high intensity intervals.  The papers are there to support both views.  As a coach you have to make a choice as to what might bring about results in an efficient and safe method.  This is what has worked for me.  Feel free to debate this or ask questions on twitter @lornegoldenberg look forward to comments and questions.

Monday, 17 February 2014

My Thoughts on Spring & Summer Hockey As It Relates to Physical Development

As we are rolling into mid February, many competitive hockey teams are finishing off their season and are either heading into the playoffs or deciding what to do with all the free time.

Just like the pros, who have a very long and tiring season, competitive hockey can sometimes be just as demanding for kids aged 13 and up. Long road trips to tournaments with inappropriate nutrition, many weekly practices and games can all lead to a decrease in lean body weight, loss of power, and the mental strain that goes along with being on the ice for such a long period of time. As a matter of fact, most minor hockey players across all age groups, likely play MORE hockey than the average NHLer! Factor that into a year round calendar and the potential for physical development continues to go down. Here is a great article by Ken Cambpell that recently appeared in the hockey newshttp://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/how-much-is-too-much-hockey-for-youth-hockey-players/ add to this the likelihood that they may have been doing in-season circuits for off ice training and you are seeing a bunch of factors that go into declining physical development. I have called this the Jack of All Trades Workout for Hockey, click on the link to read.
Zach Bogosian 2005-15 yrs old 155lb

Zach Bogosian 2013 - 220lb NHLer
At the end of a long season, the pros will often take 10-14 days, depending on when they finish, to recuperate and re-invigorate their mind before that trek back to the weight room to focus on strength and conditioning for hockey. Most pros will not step back onto the ice until late June, and at that it might only be once a week to focus on their hands and to begin the process of ameliorating their new strength to the specific skill of skating. By late July this would increase to twice a week to focus on specific skills and by mid to late August they may be participating in scrimmages to prepare for training camp.

This process is critically important to their mental and physical development. Yet often I hear about young kids who are back on the ice within a few weeks of the end of the regular season, playing in spring tournaments and summer leagues. These are kids who are hoping to play at a higher level the following fall, and as with most cases, it’s IMPERATIVE that they become bigger, stronger and faster for hockey.  Depending on the age group, minor hockey kids should be in the gym strength training 2-5 days per week. The larger number is obviously for the older kids major bantam and up.

In most cases kids are pressured by their own organizations to participate, with the belief that this will be beneficial in their quest to make the team (the revenue stream for these teams are never mentioned as a benefit) In some cases its what a friend might be doing and peer pressure to participate. Whatever the reason, playing spring and summer hockey does absolutely NOTHING for a player that needs to get stronger, faster, improve his balance, correct some movement errors, improve his conditioning, or actively rehabilitate some chronic injuries. Strength and conditioning for hockey, off-ice training, physical development for hockey, or whatever you would like to call it, is what will make a young hockey player better. Build the engine to support the technical skills.

The off-season is just that, the OFF-SEASON. Use it wisely as you decide what physical components are important to improve on-ice ability.  In my 20+ plus years in the NHL I have never seen a player participate in a mandatory summer hockey league, but I do see them in the strength and conditioning room.

There are many options when it comes to trying to select a program for your young player. This article How to Pick A Hockey Conditioning Program may be helpful.

Check out the Athletic Conditioning Center for our spring programs and get a jump on your off-season off-ice training programs now!

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Push Press – Coaching Cues to Enhance Hip Extension

I have used the push press movement for over 25 years with my athletes in a number of settings and variations (ie. DB’s MB’s etc).  Having been introduced to it in 1986 at a US Weightlifting Federation Coaches Certification in Colorado Springs Colorado, it has become a valuable movement in developing power in my athletes.

Before I began using the push press, I utilized the simple standing front military press for a number of years.  When I finally started utilizing Olympic style weight lifting in my programs, it was apparent how much more the push press could provide an athlete from a power perspective.  Although the front military press is a great fundamental strength movement, as its also very effective for shoulder hypertrophy and to teach shoulder extension in a controlled setting, your athletes should also be using this exercise as a prep movement in early training phases to prepare your body for the increased power of the push press.  I feel it will help groove the movement pattern in a controlled fashion and thereby enhance the push press itself.

Whereby the front military is typically a controlled movement i.e. slower tempos 3:0:3 or 2:0:2.  The push press is an explosive full body movement that enhances the triple extension of the ankles, knees and hips that is so important in power production during training and sports competition.

Push Press Issues
Like any Olympic style movement, this exercise is very technical; there are some movement faults that should be monitored to ensure an optimal result.

The first issue that comes to mind is the placement of the bar.  It should be sitting on top of the clavicles as you come off the rack.  This can become a problem for many people, as they do not possess the shoulder or wrist flexibility/mobility to allow the start of the movement in the correct position.  Its beyond the scope of this article to talk about solutions to this common problem, suffice to say that not everyone can obtain the mobility necessary.  With that, I will allow for an elbows under the bar position or utilize dumbbells but only after I have exhausted all other possibilities regarding improving flexibility/mobility in the wrist and shoulder.  But only if the athlete can execute proper triple extension.

Another major issue has to do with the movement of the hips.  In any number of settings you might see either a hip dominant push press or a quad dominant push press.  For me, the quad dominant variation is not as effective, decreases power output and bar velocity, puts the lower back at risk and undue stress on the patellar tendon as the knees shift forward.  Let me explain…..

In a proper hip dominant push press you will see the hips drop back (with neutral spine) at the same time as the knee and ankle moves into flexion as the movement initiates.  Following this slight dip, the body will reverse movement, utilizing the stretch shortening cycle to enhance the upward bar movement.  When this is accomplished the glutes and quads will contribute to an effective movement.

Coaching Cues To Enhance Hip Movement

Here are 2 example video clips.  This is Mark Scheiffle of the Winnipeg Jets, training at the Gary Roberts High Performance Centre in the summer of 2013. 

In this first video you can see how Mark’s movement is not smooth or powerful. There is an uncontrolled rotation of his pelvis slightly tucking causing undue stress on his back, and the slight incorrect movement patterning of his legs.  The movement does not look clean or smooth.
The Correction
In attempting to correct this error, you can use a verbal cue such as “hips back”, “sit back” or “weight on heels as you drop” or with the use of a box, you can provide the athlete with kinesthetic awareness of where you would like his hips to be.  By using an appropriate height, and by cueing with the command, “Sit back just until you first feel the box on your glutes, and then reverse movement explosively” You do not want the athlete sitting down or pausing like you might in a box squat.  This will result in a weak stretch-shortening reflex response.

After he re-positions himself following the first rep,  you can see the movement in this second video is much more effective and the bar has more speed to it.

Like any Olympic style weight lifting movement, care must be taken to ensure proper patterning.  Allowing your athlete or client to progressive with this kind of a error will certainly result in injury over time and most importantly the opportunity to not reach optimal increases in power.

Technique before loading!