Aug 26, 2016Out Ahead
Quinnipiac University men’s ice hockey stays in front of the competition with a preseason strength and conditioning program that transfers directly to the ice.
This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.
In NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey, early October victories earn more than just a “W” on the schedule. These games also play a key factor in determining seedings for the national championship tournament in March. That’s why, at Quinnipiac University, we emphasize a strong start to the season.
The secret to having a strong start is a solid preseason training regimen. Ours ties into our offseason program and sets the stage for the subsequent competitive slate. Typically lasting five weeks, the goal for the preseason is improving players’ specific conditioning and work capacity, and I make sure everything we do directly carries over to the ice.
When I’ve done my job in the preseason, the players show up physically and mentally prepared for the first practice. And when the players are dialed in from day one, the hockey coaches can get them technically and tactically ready to win games.
Recent results indicate that our preseason approach has been working. Over the past four years, the team has gone 18-6-2 in October. These showings led to 109 total wins (the second-highest in the country during this period) and four straight NCAA tournament berths, including trips to the national championship game in 2013 and 2016.
PROGRESS TO PRESEASON
Although relatively short, our preseason program is an important part of our broader offseason plan. Early in the offseason, our exercises, techniques, and training of movement patterns and metabolic demands are general. But as we move toward the preseason, they become tailored to the demands of ice hockey.
Our offseason training is composed of three main phases: General Physical Preparedness (GPP), Special Physical Preparedness (SpPP), and Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP). I think of preparedness like a tree. The roots of the tree are the general qualities (GPP) that we develop. They have to be strong and deep in order to support the rest of the tree.
The trunk is made up of the special qualities (SpPP) that we reinforce during the preseason. These improve athletes’ abilities to perform specific sport skills more efficiently and at a higher speed/rate.
That brings us to the branches and leaves, which are the specific sport skills (SPP). When you have deep roots and a strong trunk, the potential to improve these skills is much greater.
During GPP, the goal is to develop the physical qualities needed for ice hockey, and our program consists primarily of general training to improve strength, endurance, flexibility, mobility, stability, and coordination.
As our offseason progresses, we incorporate more SpPP work, which serves as a bridge between GPP and SPP. A lot of our preseason is spent in this phase. We aim to use the physical qualities developed in GPP to improve athletes’ motor potential and support the sport skills they’ll need in SPP-specifically speed, power, and movement skills.
Much of what I do during SpPP incorporates “special strength training,” a practice I’ve adopted from the former Soviet Union. Coaches there took preparing for athletics very seriously and developed many unique methods that are still valid today.
The final stage in the offseason is SPP work, which prepares athletes for specific hockey movements. At this stage, our athletes start to increase the amount of time they spend on the ice. Training during this stage incorporates actions specific to the sport that can only be learned through repetition.
I deliberately avoid using the term “sport specific” when describing any of the movements and exercises we do throughout the offseason and preseason. I am a firm believer that strength coaches are not able to do anything truly sport specific in the weightroom, since we do not train the skills of the game. Although some of the characteristics we focus on can be specific to a sport, that’s a different term and a key point to understand.
Honing in specifically on the preseason, the exercises in our SpPP phase are selected to enhance athletes’ motor potential and efficiency of movements, ensuring that most of their energy is directed toward developing the skills of the game. Therefore, we are careful about choosing and coaching our movements.
We start with a sport analysis. Trying to think as specifically as possible, we always ask ourselves: “How is this exercise similar to a hockey movement?” The primary drivers of our choices are the motions that occur on the ice, as well as the muscle actions (eccentric, isometric, concentric) and how they function, common injuries, the time to apply force (long versus short), and planes of movement.
In addition, we apply the Principle of Dynamic Correspondence from Mel Siff and Yuri Verkhoshansky. This concept emphasizes that exercises should be chosen to enhance a specific sport’s required motor qualities and movement patterns in several areas:
• Muscle groups involved in the exercise
• Amplitude and direction of movement
• Accentuated part of force production
• Rate and time of maximum force production
• Regimen of muscular work.
Factoring in all of these criteria, our primary SpPP exercises include plyometrics, loaded jumps, and linear and lateral movement drills. These replicate the same angles, joint positions, and velocities that occur on the ice. By completing these exercises, our athletes learn how to produce and apply force to optimally project their bodies.
The first week of our preseason phase consists of testing to see how the athletes have improved over the offseason. The next four weeks are geared toward power endurance and specific conditioning. Our approach to on-ice conditioning is very general during the first two weeks of the preseason (involving straight-ahead skating and programmed change of directions) and progresses to more specific work the last two weeks (including more change-of-direction drills).
We train five days a week during the preseason, spending three days in the weightroom and two days on conditioning. Each day has a different emphasis and focus:
• Monday: Power
• Tuesday: On-ice conditioning
• Wednesday: Strength
• Thursday: Aerobic conditioning
• Friday: Power endurance
Each strength-training day begins with a warm-up, core work, and plyometric exercises. Then, we move to a full-body routine that incorporates the focus of the day. We distribute stress throughout the week so we can maximize what we do during workouts. For example, our athletes should be the freshest on Mondays, so that’s when we train power. Our power lifts include loaded jumps, presses, and lunges.
Tuesdays are used to build specific conditioning on the ice, so speed, agility, and conditioning drills are incorporated. These are planned with the coaching staff beforehand and gradually progressed over the four-week preseason period. I am fortunate to have a great relationship with our coaching staff, and we communicate regularly to ensure we administer the right amounts of training load and volume on and off the ice.
By the middle of the week, athletes are usually experiencing some residual fatigue from the Monday and Tuesday sessions. Since strength can be trained in a slightly fatigued state-as long as we don’t approach maximal loads-it is our focus on Wednesdays. Our loads generally fall between 75 and 85 percent of one-rep maximum, and typical exercises include squats, pulls, and rows.
The first two preseason Thursdays are held off-ice and focus on aerobic conditioning that emphasizes recovery. We perform soft-tissue work, dynamic flexibility, and low-level conditioning to stimulate athletes’ aerobic systems. The last two Thursdays involve on-ice conditioning. This helps the athletes get accustomed to skating at higher volumes and intensities as we approach the start of practice.
Athletes are often feeling a good amount of fatigue by Friday, so we train what we can, which is usually endurance. To focus on this trait, we perform a variety of circuits that emphasize power, muscular endurance, and team building. The circuits include kettlebells, barbells, medicine balls, sleds, and landmines, and we work on team building by partnering athletes at each station. (See “Week in Review” below for a sample week of our preseason training.)
Enacted over the course of five weeks, our preseason program has played an important role in the team’s success. However, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we have in recent years without the support of our administration, coaching staff, and support staff, or the hard work of our student-athletes.
To view a list of references for this article, go to Training-Conditioning.com/References.
Since the 22 hours athletes spend outside the weightroom each day are just as important as the time they spend in it, we use part of our preseason to teach Quinnipiac University men’s ice hockey players how to care for and fuel their bodies when they are on their own. The main area we educate them about is recovery-specifically, sleep and nutrition. We discuss sleep and nutrition as often as we can, hold presentations and distribute handouts on these topics, and post relevant infographics in our weightroom. Our athletes also self-report their sleep in a player-tracking database.
For nutrition, Dana White, MS, RD, ATC, Sports Nutritionist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Athletic Training and Sports Medicine at Quinnipiac, speaks to the team during the first week of school. Our players also have access to a student-athlete cookbook that I put together four years ago. It lists easy, healthy recipes they can make on their own.
Here’s a recipe that’s a big hit with the men’s ice hockey team:
Spinach & Cheese Omelet
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 egg
- 2 egg whites
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 cup baby spinach, roughly chopped
- 1 slice low-fat Swiss cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Combine egg, egg whites, and water in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and whisk well. Add spinach to egg mixture. Spray skillet with cooking spray. Add eggs and cook for three to four minutes or until eggs begin to set. Using a spatula, gently pull in the sides of the omelet to let any uncooked egg run to the edges of the pan. Place cheese on one side of the omelet and gently fold in half. Allow to cook for two more minutes or until cheese is melted.
- Calories: 168
- Total fat: 6.5 grams
- Saturated fat: 2.5 grams
- Total carbohydrate: 4 grams
- Protein: 22 grams
- Sodium: 274 milligrams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sidebar 2:
WEEK IN REVIEW
Here is a sample week from the Quinnipiac University men’s ice hockey team’s preseason plan.
A1. Alternating dumbbell split-squat jumps 3×4
A2. Alternating bodyweight step-up jumps 3×4
A3. Chain bench presses 3×5, 5, until technical failure
A4. Seated wall reaches 3×3 breaths
B1. Kettlebell lateral lunges 2×5 each leg
B2. One-arm Keiser rotational presses 2×6 each arm
B3. Landmine rotations 2×16
B4. Inverted rows 2xmax
A1. Front squats 3×5, 3, 3
A2. Pull-ups 3×5
A3. Dumbbell incline presses 3×6
A4. Active straight-leg raises 3×2 breaths each leg
B1. Rack pulls 2×4
B2. One-arm Keiser rotational rows 2×6 each arm
B3. Bent-over Y/T holds 2×15 seconds each
B4. Plank knee tuck circuits 2×8 each leg