Hockey Specific Training

By October 31, 2011 Products

Hockey is a unique sport that requires special training methods. Kevin Neeld is a very smart strength coach who specializes in training hockey players. I have a lot of respect for Kevin as he’s both highly educated and practical. I asked him a few questions and he was kind enough to provide some answers.

1. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Kevin. It’s very clear that Hockey players have their own unique set of challenges. What are the most common issues you see with your Hockey guys? 

My pleasure Bret. Thanks for the opportunity. You’re right that hockey players have special needs. There are a ton of considerations when designing a program for hockey players, but I’ll highlight three.  From a program design standpoint, it is rare for hockey players to have access to a comprehensive program. The trend in the sport, still, is to train using huge volumes of sprint and plyometric work, maybe throw in some push-ups and sit-ups, and then go for a jog. There are glaring holes in this approach, from the standpoint of creating an adaptation stimulus AND from facilitating recovery from the training. I don’t fault youth coaches/parents that take on the role of training an entire team without an academic background or any real training experience. They’re doing the best they can with the information they have. Of course, there is plenty of room for improvement and a good first step would be in recognizing ALL of the physical qualities that should permeate a quality program, including: soft-tissue, static flexibility, dynamic flexibility/mobility, multi-directional speed, lower body power, full body power in multiple planes (most notably in rotary directions), full body strength training, multi-directional core training (including hip, scap, rotator cuff, anterior neck and breathing work), and conditioning work. Not all of these qualities will be emphasized during ALL phases of a yearly training plan, but all need to be appreciated during appropriate times.

Second, the idea of “hockey-specific” training has gone madly awry. Unfortunately, there are still a ton of coaches out there that think hockey-specific training is jumping onto a BOSU ball on one leg while going through a shooting motion with a stick attached to a resistance band. As you likely know already, this is a terrific way to screw up shooting mechanics, reinforce deleterious imbalances, and ultimately make the player weaker…but it sells. Hockey players need to be explosive, strong, well conditioned and durable (read: injury resistant). Many of these so-called “sport-specific” approaches fail to improve any of these qualities.

Lastly, from an injury standpoint, hockey players are plagued by adductor and hip flexor strains and an increased number of players are also suffering from labral tears secondary to FAI (femoracetabular impingement) and electing to get sports hernia surgeries. In almost every case, these injuries and surgeries could be avoided with early recognition of structural “abnormalities” and by taking specific precautions to restore balance in stiffness and strength across the hips. In returning to the idea of “hockey-specific training”, many of the strategies we use to both help players return to play after suffering and injury and to prevent these injuries altogether could be appropriately described as “anti-hockey-specific training.” Simply, we seek the adaptations that result from the sport and, when appropriate, use specific strategies to REVERSE them. At a minimum, more players need to be aware of soft-tissue treatment techniques, whether they’re self-inflicted or performed by a manual therapist.

2. Very interesting. This makes perfect sense when you consider their sport. Why are most coaches failing to see the big picture in terms of hockey-specific training? 

As I mentioned above, it’s not necessarily due to a lack of caring. As is the current trend in most youth sports, the emphasis is on games and exposure at the expense of training. We’ve replaced preparation with competition, development with exposure. That is a long-term development model problem that permeates almost all youth sports, and one that USA Hockey is doing a terrific job addressing with their new American Development Model.

The other thing to note is that hockey-specific training is relatively new. In general, there have been three extreme approaches: distance running only, circus-like “hockey-specific” training, and “the football guy” (powerlifting). Of the three, the powerlifting approach is probably the most optimal, but all are extremely limited. Fortunately, we’re seeing more strength and conditioning coaches that somewhat specialize in training hockey players. Coach Boyle has done a great job of bringing more attention to the special needs of the sport and many of his former employees do a terrific job with the players they work with.  I anticipate more quality training being available on a widespread scale within the next decade as more youth programs are seeking out quality professionals to come in a run both sport- and age-specific programs.

3. You recently wrote a book and it’s very comprehensive. Why do you feel it’s unique and a must-have for hockey players and coaches? 

As I mentioned above, I think the most glaring hole in most hockey training programs (other them not existing for a lot of players!) is the absence of training techniques for specific athletic qualities. In Ultimate Hockey Training, I broke down each physical quality (e.g. soft-tissue work, flexibility, mobility/dynamic warm-ups, linear and transitional speed training, lower body, full body and rotational power, lower and upper body strength, multi-directional core strength, and work capacity and conditioning), explained why it was important for hockey players, and gave linear and parallel exercise progressions for each one. As one example, I presented dozens of rotational core exercises in a progression from basic to advanced, with variations presented in parallel for each stage. Variations are especially important for players with longer training backgrounds, both in the interest of creating a diverse stimulus pool and in preventing training boredom.

The book also describes how the emphasis on various training qualities should change based on the time of season, is full of program examples and training templates, provides an in-depth discussion on the prevention of specific hip injuries, and highlights the vast roles that the nervous system plays in all aspects of hockey performance (speed, power, strength, and conditioning), a concept that has NEVER been touched on in another hockey product. My goal in writing Ultimate Hockey Training was to provide a resource that would have enough scientific backing and advanced information for strength coaches that work with hockey players for a living, and enough ready-to-use information to appeal to players, parents and youth coaches that may not have the academic background. The idea was to present the most comprehensive hockey training resource ever produced using language that allows the entire hockey community to benefit. So far the reviews have been great!

4. Rightfully so! It is an excellent resource and one that is beneficial for all types of athletes, not just hockey players. In addition, I’m surprised at how affordable it is. Where can readers purchase the book?

For more information on the book or to purchase click HERE. Thanks for the opportunity Bret!

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