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 news 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!