Proper Strength Training For Ice Hockey Players & Soccer Players By Mauro Simonetti N.D., K.in., PICP 2, BioSignature 2
Every day I observe on social media what many trainers and/or “strength coaches” are doing with their clients and/or athletes and I am saddened to see how in 2019 many are still way behind in the craft of strength & conditioning. Too many are still utilizing methods and exercises that not only serve no purpose to the athlete but it is wasting their energy, time and worst part, actually causing them a major disservice in their athletic development for their sport. The fact of the matter is that these coaches have either been badly educated or have been exposed to wrongful information or plain out just don’t know what they are doing and what affects me most is that these athletes or their parents are paying them serious money. I also see these same athletes always injured, weak and can’t sustain proper endurance and strength either. These coaches put aside their integrity for money or again, plain out ignorance in proper training. Another thing I realized in this industry is that many pro athletes prefer to go get their training by subpar high gimmick social media trainers to get trained for FREE and get more fame. This is sad and shows the poor integrity of the athlete. With all the money these athletes make you would think that INVESTING a few thousands of dollars to STAY dominant in their sport would not even be a question but this is the reality, fame is more important for some than being responsible and accountable to their fans, teams and teammates.
Same goes for professional teams, many people believe that pro players have all the best coaches and necessary pros to help them but the reality is FAR from that. Most pro teams have the wrong professionals hired for their strength and conditioning and not to mention that a lot of these players are also not eating and supplementing right and that alone is a serious downfall for the athlete, the team and the fans who pay big money to watch them perform. If given proper guidance, the players PLAY BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER, HAVE LESS RISKS OF INJURY AND….. A LONGER AND OVERALL BETTER AND HEALTHIER CAREER.
Let’s continue to what is actually the most important and often, believe it or not with pro athletes, the most neglected and underrated aspect of it all, NUTRITION! This is to my opinion, BY FAR, the most important factor of the game! 75% of your results come from your fuel (nutrition). If no attention is given on nutrition, especially on young athletes, you’ll have bigger problems in the long run and the ice hockey & soccer warriors who take the time to nourish well and train hard in the gym are the ones who will progress and get the attention. I have been around many pro athletes and young hockey & soccer players as well as people involved in these sports so I speak with personal experience. I was also once a scout in major junior hockey and head scout and assistant gm in junior AAA hockey and the ex NHL players & coaches I had the privilege to work with also told me that even in the NHL, not too much attention is given on nutrition and supplementation. The players are pretty much on their own and often why we see many fail after they’re drafted. The talent is there but their athletic development was poor and this cost them their career. Let me make this super clear, if your strength coach does not speak about nutrition, I suggest that you find yourself someone with better qualifications because otherwise he has failed you and you have basically failed yourself.
Now let’s move forward to the strength & conditioning part. When I receive an athlete for the first time in my office, I do extensive evaluations as any coach should be doing because you can’t properly guide and prepare an athlete if you don’t know what is going on with him/her. I will do body fat tests and hormone modulation, structural balance tests for muscular imbalances, alignment and flexibility and of course assess the athlete’s nutritional status. This step is critical to create programs that are made up of corrective/remedial exercises to prevent injuries as much as possible and if injury occurs, recovery will be faster and strengthen the weaknesses I have to work on before moving towards other strength and conditioning objectives.
Believe it or not, I will even go to the extent of looking for any type of food intolerances and/or allergies because this can impair the athlete’s performance by a great deal! I want to make sure that the athlete gets in his/hers best performance right from the start. These evaluations are necessary to make sure that the programs I design are specifically tailored to his/her needs. If your strength coach is not doing this then you are simply not only wasting away your money, but unfortunately potentially your scholarship and/or career.
Now let’s get down to the stuff that gets me upset lol. I laugh about it here in my blog but the truth is that this is no laughing matter. I’m not sure how this got started with all these false training trends based around speed, agility or coordination training. Let me give you a few examples of these types of complete waste of times, sorry I mean “training systems.”
Bosu Balls: Let me start by explaining how this even got started. In the late 90s, unstable surface training (UST) exploded in mainstream popularity and exercise balls (a.k.a. Swiss balls), BOSU balls, and small inflated discs were bombarded on every gym floor. UST was originally applied in clinical rehabilitation settings with physiotherapists for example, particularly to address ankle issues. Following an ankle sprain, many patients develop functional ankle instability and even though research had already demonstrated that this deficit could be addressed by adding UST, which can improve sensory function, meaning that the central nervous system received better feedback to improve the motor signals it sent out, there are actually also better exercises we can do to address these ankle issues. The big problem here is that due to the fact that therapists saw success using UST for functional ankle instability, they eventually began applying it to other populations like athletes for example and this is a grave mistake especially that most of the studies at the time were poorly designed, either not accounting for previous history of injury, not having a simple control group, or simply by being too short in duration. There were too many red flags and conflicting and poorly designed reports/ studies. The fact of the matter is that training on unstable surfaces actually increased risk of knee injuries especially and cause actual muscular deficiencies and these athletes have been shown to be injured more often, more prone to surgeries and actually much less strong than their counterparts who train on stable surface. In fact, some well-designed studies have connected unstable surface training to an overall decrease in athletic performance period! Through my own experience I can tell you that every single athlete I have ever worked with that came from UST training were actually very structurally unbalanced, had poor knees, poor VMO and told me they were often injured. Whereas as soon as I work with them, they no longer have these issues and my athletes are either never injured or minimal injuries which we recover super quickly as well. Furthermore, they ALL GET MUCH STRONGER, FASTER, EXPLOSIVE AND OVERALL ON ANOTHER LEVEL OF ATHLETIC DEVELOPMENT. Some studies have also shown that it only takes a few sets of unstable training in each workout to add up to big problems. To my opinion, unstable training is best used for upper body work, like sitting or lying on balls while training. For lower body work, keep your feet on solid ground because this is the ONLY way you can ever produce the most effective stability and force of power. You can’t ever press on squats as heavy on UST than off the ground and that alone tells you the athlete that presses from ground will always be stronger, faster and better conditioned than the athlete pressing small weights on UST. In my humble opinion, you don’t even need a scientific study to prove this, it is sheer common sense. The strongest athletes work on ground and not unstable floors. Not to mention that it compromises the hell out of your forms in actual functional movements and this alone is a serious drawback to what essentially you are trying to do which is train in proper form and movements and have those new gains transfer into your sport.
Speed ladders: Ok, get ready for this one because it will for whatever reason shock many and if there’s one tool utilized in athletic development that really bothers me is the speed ladders. Let me start by asking you this, how do we develop speed, quickness and agility? The answer is: The key is to increase the horsepower, the brakes, and the accelerator of the athlete. I think the answer for me is always the same, agility and quickness simply comes down to good training. We need to work on lower body strength and lower body power as well as upper body and believe it or not, posterior chain is critical for not only strength but also for acceleration and posture for less risk of injury and unfortunately the speed ladders does NONE of those. In fact one study I had seen on sprinters showed that the fastest sprinters were those who were able to do the most pull ups. Therefore, you can play with ladders and bungee cords all you want, but that is like putting mags that belong on a Ferrari on a Ford Festiva. No offense to anyone who owns a Festiva but, you get what I mean. The most I believe the speed ladders (agility ladders) will provide is proprioception and even there, there are much better tools for this as well.
I also hate the name “Agility Ladder”. Agility is an athlete’s ability to stop and start, the culmination of acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction or movement. Explain to me how can you possibly get agile in your sport when you approach ladder routines like a tap dancer? These movements with minimal knee bend, and rapid foot movement only. Not only does it NOT look impressive, in fact you look weird doing it, but clearly this has little effect on speed and agility in a way that is relevant to athletics. When and where does a hockey player show any type of ladder drill movements on the ice? Where does a soccer player move like this? NOWEHERE! So now, we know it produces no stability, no posturing, no speed, no power and it has ZERO TRANSFER to the sport. So again, why are we doing these drills? I don’t know if you know this but getting better at a skill only means getting better at that specific skill. One skill DOES NOT transfer into another skill. Even being the best hockey player on the planet does not mean you can fight Floyd Mayweather in boxing. You are a great skater and puck handler it doesn’t mean you can dance around and avoid punches and give them either. Same thing for a great boxer it does not mean he will be a great mixed martial artist. So unless you wanna become the fastest tap dancer on the planet, these ladders are a major disservice for you. Some will say for conditioning. If this is your answer, then again you are poorly trained to my opinion because there are far far far far better ways to get conditioned and well prepped for your sport.
Furthermore, it takes away from their actual brain to muscle connection patterns. Your neurological functions have no adaptations to your sport. Example, you want to get good at dribbling a ball? Dribble a ball. You want to get good at deking players? Get on the ice or field and go deke some players over and over so THIS SKILL TRANSFERS into your game. You want to get good at puck handling? PUCK HANDLE your life away every day and stop drills that serve you no purpose.
Let’s take it further and ask a larger question, “Does foot speed have anything to do with agility?” I know many of you will read this and say this guy is crazy right? I think the problem is that coaches and parents equate quick feet with speed and agility. However, quick feet don’t equal to speed in your legs any more than quick feet equal agility. In some cases, fast feet might actually make an athlete slow. I often see quick feet as a detriment to speed. In fact, some of our quick turnover guys, those who would be described as having quick feet, are very slow off the start. How do you like them apples?
The problem is quick feet don’t use the ground well to produce force. PLEASE READ THAT LAST LINE OVER AND OVER UNTIL IT SINKS IN AND YOU UNDERSTAND IT. Fast feet might be good on hot coals, but not on hard ground. I never saw hockey nor soccer played on hot coal. Think of the ground as the well from which we draw speed. It is not how fast the feet move, but rather how much FORCE goes into the ground. This is basic action-reaction physics fact and not an opinion. Force into the ground equals forward motion. This is why the athletes with the best vertical jumps are most often the fastest. It comes down to force production and not tap dancing on a speed ladder. I also often hear coaches argue the vertical vs. horizontal argument and say the vertical jump doesn’t correspond to horizontal speed, but how about you call the NFL because they have years of data that begs to differ. Force into the ground is force into the ground no matter how you spin it. The truth is parents should be asking about vertical jump improvement, not about quick feet. I’ve seen many players with quick feet but are very slow on the ice and soccer field. If you move your feet fast and don’t go anywhere, does it matter? What does it give you? NOTHING! The best solution to getting faster is to get stronger legs. Feet don’t matter. Legs matter!
Reaction time drills: I have never ever seen anyone nor any athlete ever get faster with these drills. Once again, power and speed are produced in the gym by building output, torque and horsepower. How in the hell will you trying to catch a ball ever make you faster on the ice? It is complete nonsense! Even in gifted individuals, it will improve by only a super small percentage and it will take way too many hours of work for that mere percentage. Again, waste of time and money. I like these drills more for creating a better focus and tunnel vision concentration which has been shown for better response but for speed, it is a complete farce. So trying to sell parents that their child will greatly improve their reaction time is a complete fraud end of story.
Bonus note: Another major and common mistake coaches make is a lack of remedial work in their athletes. In a hockey player for example, they spend most of the time bent forward. This position tightens up all the hip flexors and lower back and makes the upper body postural muscles not only weak but also very off. This usually leads to bad posture, anterior pelvis rotation, tight hamstrings, glutes and piriformis therefore, forward rotation of the pelvis will reduce speed, power and acceleration. Believe it or not, posture is also important for speed and acceleration dynamics so when you have all this tightness your take off and stride will be poor or not as good as it should be. With these postural problems, I also see tight glutes and hamstrings involved in the push off phase of the skating stride. A proper phase of remedial/corrective exercises along with a good active release technique therapist and osteopath will solve these issues. In fact, the athletes I work with all year round do remedial work regularly in their periodization.
You need to understand that working these steps are of critical importance and fixing these issues will have dramatic results when it comes to building up speed, agility, power, acceleration and even coordination. Not to mention that one very important and always avoided aspect that also develops in the athlete when they are properly trained and in my opinion a super important one is….CONFIDENCE! Building confidence also transfers into their sport and leads to better players period!
Remember what I am telling you here today. Weight lifting is the most explosive sport on the planet. If you can perform well in the gym, then any other sport you will play will be much easier to perform. You may be a good hockey player or soccer player, etc… but it is in the gym where you become an athlete. So the question is, do you want to be a hockey player or an athlete who plays hockey? Develop well by working hard and properly. Stop the gimmicks and bullshit and waste of your time and money. Train for success and nothing less.