by Andrew Hopf CHL, Training and Nutrition
Introduction: Andrew Hopf, the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL provides tips for hockey recruits trying to get their body in top physical shape to crack into the CHL or NCAA. He’s also the President of Next Level Performance Training located in Kitchener, Ontario. Find him on Facebook or Twitter.
TRANSITIONING from minor to major junior or NCAA hockey leagues can be intimidating and downright scary for young hockey players in North America.
In the OHL, our players are traveling in “unknown waters” and are not only expected to improve their skills exponentially over the course of 6 months following their minor midget year, but also to gain a significant amount of strength and muscle mass to compete against NHL draftees.
On top of this, these 16 or 17-year-old men will be shipped away from home and expected to cook for themselves and essentially reinvent their life styles in a way that will allow them to manage the massive time constraints the CHL schedule puts on their lives.
This article is will explore the many physical challenges young hockey players face in their transition to major junior and the NCAA and will attempt to provide strategies in the areas of strength and conditioning, nutrition and lifestyle management designed to aid in the maturation process from a game of boys to a game of men.
I. Physical Preparation for the CHL/NCAA Through Strength and Conditioning
“Quick feet”, “first to the puck”, “strong stick”, “good decisions” and “strong on the boards” are all buzz phrases we have heard, or will hear our coaches use to describe attributes of players and to some extent will help them justify putting certain players on the ice during key times of the game.
For this reason, many parents and coaches have enlisted services of strength programs specifically designed to improve quick feet, agility or core strength. The issue with this way of thinking and programming is that it does not address the specific physiologic, biomechanical, biochemical and psychological needs for each player that are required for him/her to make quantifiable improvements in their performance that will allow them to compete against players 3 or more years older than them.
Essentially, there is no “one program fits all” approach to training a hockey player. To play at an elite level all players must be strong, powerful, agile and possess the cardiovascular and metabolic capabilities to supply the correct amount of energy for the demands of a 60+ minute game. Although all the descriptions of attributes coaches use are extremely important in the game of hockey, how each athlete makes improvements in them may be different. The following will provide some insight into how individualized programming works and some training tips to help you through your training for strength and power.
Developing a Foundation Through Functional Movement with Progressions Towards Strength and Power
Being able to complete a functional movement (Squat, lift, push, pull or carry) requires a precise amount of mobility (at the ankle, hip, thoracic spine and shoulder joints) and stability (at the knee, lumbopelvic, and scapular regions). If one lacks the proper amount of mobility or stability at any of the previously described joints, the movement will be inefficient (wasted energy) and could lead to either acute or chronic injury.
Once we are able to complete the prescribed movement with impeccable technical proficiency, then and only then is it appropriate to add an external load in the form of a dumbbell or barbel. For this reason it is extremely important for developing athletes and hockey players to consider a few things relevant to functional movement before and during their strength and conditioning programs.
1. Get Assessed
As a strength coach it is impossible to be able to program properly without assessing first. Tools such as the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), various joint range of motion and stability tests provide strength coaches with a clear picture of an athletes limitations and capabilities. Make sure your strength and conditioning coach is providing this, if not, you may not be getting a program that adequately addresses your athletic needs.
2. Be Patient and Progress within Your Means
A movement can become technically flawed if the external load becomes too great. Many athletes can become injured or limit their improvements by progressing too quickly and not pay attention to the small details in movement which have a significant impact on performance. Progress within your means and never sacrifice technique for additional weight.
So many times during my tenure in the OHL have I seen young athletes try to lift more than they are capable of (just to keep up with the overagers) and in every single case the technique is horrible. Be patient! These guys are 3-4 years older than you and no one within your organization expects you to be as strong as them (not yet at least).
This might mean taking a few steps backwards to work on technique and address movement limitations, but consider it a small investment of time in what is hopefully a long and healthy hockey career.
3. Have a coach
Having a keen eye for energy leaks or breaks in technique can help reduce your risk of injury and can maximize your results. As a strength and conditioning specialist myself, I am always on the lookout for faults in movement at each joint and progress my athletes properly over the course of their training cycle. Executing each rep with perfection (whether it is with strength, power, sprint or cardiovascular training) is my number one priority. Make sure it is yours as well.
4. Preparation, Recovery and Restoration
In a league where you might only play one season before your NHL draft, your rate of progression needs to be exceptionally high. For this reason, making sure you are physically prepared for each practice (and obviously game) and subsequently recovering properly following the game/practice becomes very important. I use the analogy that you are only able to practice as “hard” as you recover.
What I mean by this is that if you do not recovery to the best of your ability, how do you expect to be able to train or practice hard the next day on a “gas tank” that is only half full. Areas that are extremely important in the preparation and recovery process include:
A. Pre/Post Practice Training Nutrition
For most players they are in school until 2pm, then are expected to go right to practice. Make sure you prepare ahead of time and have some sort of protein source (BCAA or protein shake) in your system 45 minutes prior to practice. As for post practice nutrition, you should be ingesting a protein source that is easily digested and a simple sugar. Without going into too much biochemical jargon, this is massively important to help you grow and replenish intramuscular energy stores.
B. Warm Ups Prior to Practice
This is one area that I am consistently frustrated by. Many players don’t even warm up before practices, yet we are traditionally told that practices are harder than games. Make sure that your warm up includes proper gluten activation and dynamic mobilization exercises before you go on the ice.
Concluding Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning with Developing Players
Many players are eager to get results but lack the patience and attention to detail required to progress properly though a program. For this reason, many young men put themselves at risk of injury and in a lot of circumstances don’t get the results they are reaching for. My goal from this article is to hopefully allow players to understand the importance of training with purpose and the technical requirements of strength/power training. Make sure every repetition is your best and never sacrifice form or technical proficiency for more weight.
II. Nutrition and Lifestyle Management
For many players who are entering the CHL, it is a complete “180” from what they are used to at home. They are in many cases expected to cook their own meals, manage a full-time school schedule, be at the rink for practice, video and training sessions, and usually at least attempt to maintain a social life. Even for a mature adult this can be extremely overwhelming, never mind a 16 of 17-year-old “man”. In order to help these young men through this transition I have composed a short list of “tips” they can use to help them stay on track and focused throughout their busy lives.
1. Plan Your Week in Advance
Plan all your meals, study/homework times, practice/training times, etc on a Sunday night. This will help you bring structure to your life and will allow you to be much more productive.
2. Prepare Food Ahead of Time
Maintaining body weight is one of the hardest thing for CHL players to do, due to the massive amount of activity throughout the week and in many cases the challenge of getting enough calories in their diet. What I suggest to many of the players with the Owen Sound Attack is to plan and prepare your meals on your off day (usually Sunday). This means:
– Pre cut vegetables
– Pre cook chicken, beef
– Bag trail mix (almonds, dried cranberries, etc)
– Have ingredients for smoothies ready
Developing this habit will make life much easier and increase your body’s ability to recover immensely from the strenuous game and practice schedule that you have.
3. Stay Focused
With the emergence of Facebook, Twitter and high-definition video games it can be very challenging to stay focused and committed to your routine. Whatever it is you are doing, homework, practice, training or cooking be committed to that task. Don’t have your phone near by so you can sneak a peek on Twitter. Sustained and purposeful focus is the key to success. Do not let distractions get in your way.
I hope my suggestions on training, nutrition and lifestyle management strike a chord in you and you take some of it and apply it to your everyday. The journey towards major junior and professional hockey is a long one and it requires sustained focus, commitment and attention to the smallest detail.
It is important to remember that every warm up, every repetition, every rest period, every meal and every recovery session is part of the bigger picture of making you a better hockey player. Enjoy the process of it and become passionate about self-improvement. The success you will reap from the investment of time and energy is remarkable and I am truly excited to see the quality of player many of our young athletes are going to be in the coming years.
About the Author
Andrew is currently the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL. As part of the 2010-2011 OHL Championship Team, Andrew helped recreate a structured strength and conditioning program with the Attack, which aided them in their championship run.
Andrew is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and has obtain his Masters Degree from the University of Waterloo where he studies cellular muscle physiology. Andrew is also the President/CEO of Next Level Performance Training located in Kitchener, Ontario.
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