Today I have a guest blog post for you from Joe Amberlock. Joe is currently a student at Liberty University and has spent the past winter working with the hockey team there. I have spoken with him several times on the phone and he is a really nice dude with a huge passion for strength and conditioning. He approached me about doing a guest blog talking about the lessons he’s learned about in-season training with his hockey guys, and seeing that I also work with a lot of hockey players, I enthusiastically obliged his request.
So with that, I’ll turn it over to Joe!
Lessons Learned During In-Season Hockey Training
Over the past six months I have had the opportunity and privilege to work as the head strength and conditioning coach of a collegiate hockey program. Throughout the season I learned many lessons. Some of these lessons I was forced to learn the hard way and some were a bit less humbling; however, as coaches we learn from our mistakes and gain confidence from our maturation. Without further ado here are six lessons I’ve learned while making mistakes, misjudgments, and progress this season.
1. Don’t let your methods contribute to overuse injuries
Hockey is an extremely repetitive sport; athletes repeat the same movement patterns all throughout practice as well as during games. As you can imagine this can easily lead to overuse injuries, especially in the groin. It’s common for hockey players to have a history of groin injuries or perhaps they’re consistently battling through them during the season. While you may be tempted to train movements that heavily incorporate the groin I’ve personally found that laying off exercises that stress that area should take a back seat. To avoid an overuse injury in a specific area it makes little sense to directly use it more often; in fact you may be further assisting in its breakdown.
2. Uni-lateral movements are not a substitute for stretching
I heard this from one of my favorite coaches Ian King awhile back and just like many of Coach King’s methods it’s proven itself true. A lot of coaches are under the impression that uni-lateral movements such as lunges, split squats, and step-ups will increase their athlete’s flexibility do to these exercises demand for range of motion; however, this is not the case. Although you may be witnessing your athletes move through better ROM as sets continue they are not actually increasing flexibility. In order for a muscle to increase flexibility there must be a relaxation of that muscle, how can a muscle relax if it is contracting? Answer: It can’t! So the “increased flexibility” you’re observing is actually the athletes muscles getting warmer and more pliable throughout the sets giving the illusion that the athletes flexibility is being enhanced.
3. Stretch the Hip-Flexor
Hockey is played in a leaned over position, and just like leaning over your desk for all day will tighten up your hip flexors so will hours on the ice. Tight hip flexors impair glute and hamstring recruitment; simply put, when your glutes and hamstrings aren’t firing you can kiss all the power you’re developing in the weight room good-bye. Constantly stressing the importance of hip-flexor mobility to my athletes has not only lead to speed improvements on the ice, but we’ve only had one hip-flexor tweak over the course of six months.
4. Stick with the Movements that get your Athletes Stronger
Far too often in season strength & conditioning coaches stance on in season training tends to mirror the rehabilitation of a senior citizen rather than the training of an athlete. Although you may see a lot of professional Strength & Conditioning coaches only performing pre-hab/re-hab movements during in-season training doesn’t mean it’s correct. In season exercise selection is all about getting the best bang for your buck, so ditch all the small remedial movements and stick to what got your athletes strong in the first place. Large compound lifts are what your program is built on in the off-season, and it shouldn’t differ in-season. I’ve found it best to choose four large movements each workout.
• A hip-hinge movement such as an RDL or deadlift.
• A squat variation or single leg variation such as the Bulgarian split squat.
• A pressing movement such as bench press or an overhead press.
• And finally pulling variation such as chin-ups or rows.
In-season programming doesn’t need to be rocket science; stick to the basics, demand a quality effort from your athletes and results will follow.
5. Strength should not be put on maintenance in-season
Hockey players are on the ice practicing or playing for the majority of the calendar year. This means that if these athletes do in fact get an off-season you can be sure it will be a short one. This means that gains in strength cannot be reserved for the off-season and must be made in season. Avoid putting your athletes in maintenance mode and strive to get them stronger throughout the season. (Ben’s note: For more on this idea, read THIS).
Having athletes in the weight-room two days a week is the minimum, anything less will limit the athletes’ progress and anything more may hinder their recovery. Although volume will have to be lower due to the demands of a competitive season does not mean your athletes cannot lift heavy. Should they be using a max effort cycle? No. But the intensity should be high enough to elicit strength gains. Over the course of the season it tends to be volume that will fatigue the athlete—not intensity— so don’t be afraid to have your athletes get rid of those 2.5 pound ornaments on the bar and put on some real weight to make progress.
6. Learn to be intuitive
As Buddy Morris says, “Your athletes bodies are talking to you; are you listening?” As a coach you need to be in tune with how your athletes are feeling and what they’re going through on and off the ice. Does this mean stalking them on Twitter accounts? No. However, if the team just returned from a cramped, eight hour bus ride after playing a double header, you might want to re-think those heavy squats you originally had in mind. I’m all for developing mental toughness in your athletes, but differentiate when you are driving your athletes to get better and when you’re driving them into the ground.
On the road to becoming a good coach, there are no short cuts. A quality coach knows this and is constantly learning, improving, and evolving through his or her experiences. Over the past six months, these are some of the lessons that have helped me to evolve as a coach, and I hope they can assist you to accomplish the same.
Joe Amberlock (Orlandi) is an undergraduate student at Liberty University pursuing a degree in Kinesiology. Joe’s tutelage under master strength coaches Bill Gillespie and Dave Williams, along with experience working with world record holding powerlifters and Division 1 collegiate athletics, has allowed him to learn, apply, and share his methods to all levels of athletes. Find out more at AmberlockPerformance.com.