News & Updates
May 29, 2015
Here are some thoughts and links for the weekend to consider.
Effort applied over time (work) is something that Dan Millman (author of the Way of the Peaceful Warrior) extols in this podcast. So it had me thinking about ways that I do little things that add up over time. What little things can I add or change to make a big difference over time? Here are the resources I found, and here’s what popped into my head.
Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham
The idea that the Maker, or the creative can have their creativity completely compromised if they have to adhere to a manager’s schedule. The manager’s schedule includes the idea of meetings, hourly scheduling and pragmatic planning. The maker, when faced with mid day meetings will avoid starting hard or ambitious projects if they know they have an impending meeting. On the other hand, when the maker is left unperturbed for an entire day, they are more likely to start projects that are difficult or ambitious. This blog post and research came from purposefully putting myself on the maker’s schedule. I removed myself from my normal day to day routine, and as such my mind expanded and asked questions like it rarely does when I know I have a group I need to train later in the day.
10 Most Common Words to Avoid by Tim Ferriss
I wanted to write an article on this a while back, but then I realized Tim already did it for me. I believe that speaking precisely requires precise thought. When thought is precise, rather than vague, goals and objectives can be clearly defined and more easily met. Two words to add to the list (inspired by Jeff Compton…and Laird Hamilton) are “try” and “can’t”. Tim’s words to avoid are vague and inspire judgment. Using the word “try” gives the user subconscious permission to fail at whatever they’re doing. Using the term “I haven’t yet” instead of “can’t” implies that effort and practice are required to achieve something, rather than it being impossible to achieve.
Ask Why Three Times by Jason Zook
To get to the root of difficult question, ask why three times. I find that athletes we train, and those we don’t, make decisions without much thought. They do so based on superficial variables; on how things seem rather than how they are. Many athletes will turn aside training opportunities with reasons like “I don’t have enough time”, “it’s too expensive”, or “I have schoolwork”. Asking why three times as described in the article may help to uncover the root of why someone is passing up opportunities and what they can do to instead take advantage of them. It also allows athletes to consider how they are spending their time.
I always wonder about athletes, or people, who seemingly put in close to no effort with their training, but still have excellent cardiovascular endurance. I think part of it has to do with early training stimulus (sensitive period for cardio training), and genetics. But I also think it has something to do with lifestyle. As a rational S&C coach, my goal would be to control what I can control. And I could mostly control the work done by my athletes while they are under my supervision. But if the other 23 hours of the day, the athlete is engaged in counterproductive activities to their training, even the best designed program is useless. Obviously, strength & conditioning coaches then encourage their athletes to engage in optimal lifestyle choices such as getting enough sleep, eating well, etc.. What if coaches could also get athletes to improve their athletes’ cardiovascular training by adding a lifestyle cardiovascular component. i.e. meditative/refreshing jogs with natural sprints (Fartlek/Bruce Lee style), encourage thinking of manual labor positively, and do more low intensity exercise. Since I’ve stopped doing manual labor as my primary means of income like I did when I was younger, I am on the lookout for more ways to add methods of improving my cardiovascular fitness by adding lifestyle components, not included in my training. For example, Bruce Lee would explore a new city with a light jog first thing upon getting to that city. What habits could I set for myself like this? What habits could I suggest for my athletes?
Complaining and Blaming
The idea that complaining and blaming was destructive to our mental health was something I accepted. But after watching the video linked above, what stood out to me, was that when someone blames/complains, they are using up energy that should be used to hold the person/situation you are complaining/blaming accountable. Essentially, by complaining, you are making the situation worse for yourself psychologically, and also pragmatically because you don’t have as much energy to address the problem. Interesting thoughts.
May 24, 2015
The spider has eight legs that are very mobile. They are responsible for all of the spider’s movement. The spider’s body is nothing but a “core”, and is the stabile attachment point for all the legs. It does no movement of its own to contribute to the spider’s mobility.
This idea should not be far removed from how an elite athlete should move. The core is stabile and relatively immobile while the limbs are responsible for the movement. The core might be responsible for slight adjustments in posture and positioning, but it is inefficient at gross movements or corrections, as mentioned here.
Story #1: I thought I had a great core. I remember doing some sort of (stupid) core strength test at a tryout camp, where I had the longest plank. I’m sure that zero attention was paid to my form and that’s how I was able to manage a 2min15s single arm, single leg plank with a dowel on my back. Regardless, I thought I had a strong core.
Story #2: I went to a power skating camp when I was younger. Like many power skating camps, they wanted to see an upright torso angle and a very large knee bend. Expecting that the money my parents were paying for this hockey camp was paying for valuable information, I listened closely to them. I was very proud when after my third year of attending this camp they had no negative feedback on my video, indicating that I had perfectly assimilated their technique into my stride. However, the only way I was able to get my torso upright was to jut open my ribcage. And this also led me to over emphasize my knee bend my entire career up until recently.
Story #3: A few seasons ago, I asked my teammate for feedback. He is a goalie, very perceptive and intelligent. He said that I was very readable. In order to solve that, I tried to be less predictable. I don’t know how…and my “trying” didn’t yield results.
Expert Movers – All Star Athletes
See if you can pick out the commonality between the next three videos given what I’ve mentioned about the spider.
If you noticed that their core is very stable and hardly moves or deviates. Meanwhile, their hands and legs are responsible for movement and manipulating the ball/stick/puck, then you’re on the right path.
Motor Programs – Efficiency in Learning, Efficiency in Execution and the Proximal to Distal Gradient
So the best athletes have excellent core control. I’ll explain in a bit, and refer back to Story #1 (the 2:15 plank) how typical “core training” won’t create the excellent core control needed by elite athletes. The best athletes are able to keep their core stable in many positions and in many movements.
Going back to Story #3, I’ve realized that I essentially had a different core position for each skill: skating forward, turning, shooting, passing, hitting. This made it very easy for a goalie or other player to read me because they knew what I was going to do depending on how I was leaning. In contrast to Patrick Kane (or Curry & Messi), they maintain a very stable core position in many movements. This makes them less predictable and harder to read.
Having less core positions, or the same core position that applies to more movements leads to efficiency in learning. There are less core positions that apply to more movement, which makes learning a matter of adding variations than adding different motor programs. For example, if an athlete (like I did) has a different core position for skating with the puck, without the puck, and for shooting, each motor program is distinct and needs to be learned independently. Transitions between the three core positions also need to be practiced. All of this leads to the player requiring more time for practice. If instead, the player has the same core positioning for all three skills, the additions of skills are variations of the main motor program, and not distinct motor programs. Also, transitions between the skills are more subtle and require less or no practice…making skill acquisition more efficient.
This fits into what I wrote about the proximal to distal gradient. Subtle movements should take place at the proximal joint (the spine), while gross movements should occur at the distal joints (hips, knees, ankles, shoulder, elbows, wrists). Subtle movements should take place at the proximal joints because that is where stability and tension is best held. If stability and tension is not held there, then they will be held in joints and limbs that are supposed to be fluid. For me, I didn’t hold tension as much as I should in core, and instead held it in my shoulders.
Core Training: What to do
Situps, planks, bear crawls, boss balls, crunches, ab rollers, leg lifts, ab belts, etc, etc, are absolutely useless if they are not respecting what the core’s function actually is. After working with Sergey Nazarov of Fitnastika in Vancouver, he explained to me that the core’s purpose is to minimize the distance from the ribs to the pelvic. [Lightlbulb] Didn’t take me long to see that in about 9/10 of my movements occurred with my ribcage flaring.
I’m not afraid to go back and blame this on 1) my hockey and 2) Story #2. Due to position required in hockey (knees bent, hips back, torso leaning forward), and the instruction from this power skating (or should I say core power eliminating skating) had me flaring my ribcage to get my torso upright. Unfortunately, this habit somehow stuck with me. I’d also say that the forward arm swing that they preached also led me to develop a dysfunctional core while skating. Obviously, this isn’t anyone’s fault…the power skating camp wasn’t intentionally trying to make this happen, and I obviously didn’t know the consequence…regardless, it occurred. I’m writing this article so that it might not occur to you and your youngster.
In hockey players, here are a few things you can do to improve core function:
- Do not have a forward arm swing. Let your arms drive naturally.
- Do not force an upright torso. Teach/learn a hip hinge instead which will lead to a modest forward lean angle.
- Focus on keeping the ribcage down and hips back in all exercises and movements. Skating, stick handling, shooting, lifting, running.
Of course this little three bullet point list won’t give you all the answers. Stay tuned for some video instructions or come out to beautiful Vancouver Island for some coaching. Make comments below if you have specific questions.
How people who can benefit from this post:
Whether you have great core function in all movement, or just a few, you can probably improve your library of movements with solid core positioning. You might have great core positioning and function in 9/10 movements, but not notice that that last movement that you’re having trouble with is due to improper core positioning. As I started to be more aware of my core positioning, I started rooting out movements that I thought “I’m just not good at”, as movements where I moved my core incorrectly.
Good luck stabilizing that core.
May 8, 2015
Yesterday, I volunteered at my old high school to instruct some PE classes. Then I went to the gym and instructed our elite hockey players.
In both situations, I found myself explaining the same thing: cardio and interval training does not improve strength & power.
I found this odd. In my mind, it is ridiculously obvious that fatiguing your body is not the best way to increase speed and power. But obviously there is a disconnect between what I think is obvious, and what a younger generation thinks is obvious. This post is to address that disconnect:
In my mind, I have constructed a logic chain on how to develop strength and power that looks something like this:
- Teach athletes to move with proper movement patterns. These proper movement patterns should:
- Use the muscles as they are designed to be used: Hips – Movement, Core Musculature – Stability
- Teach the athlete to be able to handle more load with proper movement patterns
- Teach athletes to move loads at higher speed, maintaining correct movement patterns
- Develop an athlete’s capacity to handle high loads, at high speed, while under fatigue
I find that athletes and parents associate fatigue, intensity and volume with workout value. Here’s the thing: anybody who can yell at athletes is capable of making people fatigued and sweaty. And yes, there is a chance that said person is going to develop the strength and power of their athlete. If they are really lucky, they’ll inherit an athlete with great movement mechanics and great work capacity, and that athlete will respond to that training, and will then go on to do well in fitness testing…thus “proving” the efficacy of the fatiguing, high intensity workout. The huge problem with this (and I know, because I’ve previously been the coach to prescribe high-intensity, fatiguing workout after high-intensity, fatiguing workout), is that the players who don’t move well and are not able to adapt to the increased workload, well, they get left behind. They just “aren’t working as hard as those other guys”.
If we go back and look at point #1 (Teach athletes to move with proper movement patterns), there is a new challenge for coaches with today’s athletes. I have noticed that there are less and less multi-sport, natural athletes. As a result, I’m inheriting athletes who might be excellent hockey players, but lack BASIC HUMAN MOVEMENT. The main problems I see with young hockey players is that their hips are so tight, that they have to use their knees and spine to generate their movement. Of course, the hips are capable of generating much more power than both the knee joint and the spinal muscles combined, so players with tight hips are leaving a lot of strength and power generation on the table if they are not correctly moving their hips. And simply put, we cannot train the athletes to properly move their hips if they do not have the mobility to do so.
Someone might tell me that by doing squats, deadlifts and lunges you can fix this problem. I’d agree, but only if the athletes are doing squats, deadlifts and lunges like they are meant to be performed by the body. Again, the tight hips often prevent squats, deadlifts and lunges from being performed properly, so the body learns and reinforces sloppy movement mechanics. Under fatigue, this problem gets even worse because the body is already not using its most effective and efficient muscles, so now those muscles start failing and recruiting even less effective and efficient muscles.
For me, I cannot, in any sort of good faith condone or prescribe consistent workouts that do not first address movement quality. I believe it would be negligent of me to do so. Of course, I believe that athletes should still be placed in challenging and fatiguing situations to prepare them for camps. But this type of work should be done with conscious attention towards minimizing risk, and it does not need to be done all the time. Furthermore, I of course believe in developing a high aerobic and anaerobic capacity in our athletes, but there are more effective ways of improving that specific capacity than running them into the ground every day.
Measurement and Value
Like I mentioned, fatigue is often associated with the value of a workout. Let’s please change that.
I can understand that void of any other metric, valuing a workout by the amount of fatigue it generates is a very reasonable thing to do. And I can also imagine that if a trainer is not actually wanting to put a lot of thought into how their workouts make on ice contributions, then they’ll want you to think that fatigue is a useful value measuring stick.
What metrics actually matter? Some will say that a strength and conditioning coach should only worry about the fitness variables they can effect. So they will tell you they have improved the athlete if they improved their squat weight, their bench weight, their clean weight, their broad jump, and some measure of aerobic capacity. Others use those metrics as well, but also consider their role to be to help the athlete in their sport. They may take a bit of emphasis off of the bench, squat, clean, jump and VO2, and spend a bit more time and effort trying to translate or transfer the skills to the sport.
I fall into the second camp. But, not radically so. I believe that improvements in athletic movement principles (needed for hockey) will manifest themselves in improved lifts, jumps, sprints, and aerobic tests. Therefore, those tests may provide an indicator as a proxy for improved sport performance. The reason that I fall into the second camp is because I am in (what I think is) a fairly unique position of having almost amassed my 10,000 coaching hours (I’ve been coaching for about the last 9 years consistently) and also having amassed my 10,000 hockey playing hours, meanwhile I’ve studied Kinesiology. Because I am also continuing to play while doing all this, I’d say that I am very in touch with the process of what it takes to get better. I’ve made committed almost every mistake by enthusiastically following every person who has a claim that they can help improve my game. I have ruthlessly thrown aside any and every method that does not provide immediate and lasting results. I’m also 100% in touch with the demands of the athlete, and the psychology of the athlete. So I remember the days when I crushed a fatiguing workout, went to the farm to work and pushed a lawn mower and carried a weed whacker and didn’t have time or energy to develop my skills. I remember dropping 400lbs on my back in a back squat with incorrectly adjusted spot arms and no spotter. I remember lunging around my backyard with a friend (who never worked out with me again), for 2 hours, and then not being able to walk for a week (my mom literally carried me up and down the stairs…embarrassing for a 12 year old).
After almost 20 years of hockey, I’ve realized that the most valuable physical skills I learned were actually very different than what a strength & conditioning coach might suggest. They are:
- Not to tense up in pressure situations.
- Not to “try” too hard. Give 100% intensity instead.
- Not to tense muscles that are not immediately involved in performing the skill.
- Generate and receive contact through the core.
- Learn to generate elasticity through the core on shots and passes.
- Don’t bend your knees too much, use your hips to generate power.
- Under fatigue, stay calm, breathe deeply.
- Correct posture (shoulders, pelvic alignment, ribcage alignment) matters as much to physical performance as it does to psychological performance.
All of these things are movement quality related. They were sprinkled throughout my career, with many of them only coming into crystal clear focus very recently. Disappointing, then, that all the fatiguing workouts I did never taught me those things. Some I learned when I used to play the violin, others I learned through martial arts, golf and soccer. A few teammates have given me pointers on others. The rest I learned by researching information from the best minds in sports and strength and conditioning.
Of course, I’m now also blessed with great aerobic capacity, strength and power. While these occurred as a result of my training, I still believe that my training was NOT the most efficient way of improving all of those things. For example, I learned that I didn’t actually need to lift as much volume as I thought I did. I also wish I had adopted a different running style when I was back racing, as that would have made running so much more enjoyable. In any case, all of this was a valuable learning experience because I can now do a lot more with a lot less time and energy.
So what are we doing this summer? We are trying to boil down 20 years of my enthusiastic pursuit of excellence through training…into one summer. We are drawing the straightest line through the sand. I’m hoping it can help everyone we are training get better faster.
If you liked this article because it was different than most Drone Coach advice, and you’d like to get to work on becoming a Hockey Wizard, then click here to check out the benefits of becoming a Train 2.0 Member.