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What should dryland training accomplish?

07/22/2019, 8:45am CDT
By Jack Blatherwick, Let's Play Hockey Columnist

Workouts should focus on speed of hands, speed of feet and speed of mind.

For 150 years, North American hockey coaches have NOT met to outline the purpose of dryland training. Instead, it was left to strength coaches, scientists and fitness instructors to tell hockey what to do.  

On the other hand, in 1947, the Soviet Union assigned Anatoli Tarasov to develop players at the start of their program. He came to North America to study our game (and also studied NBA basketball, by the way). He concluded that dryland and on-ice workouts should focus on “speed of hands, speed of feet, speed of mind.” In other words, dryland training was designed to improve hockey abilities.  

Imagine that. North American coaches could have said dryland training should improve hockey abilities. Give strength coaches some direction as to what matters in a game. But strength experts decided on their own that hockey should train for strength in the same way football was training nose tackles.   

Furthermore, lab scientists thought hockey players should train for endurance like marathoners or bicyclists – long, slow distances. “Cardio” it was called. No doubt, cardiovascular fitness is very important, and fitness centers were having their adult couch-potato athletes do long, slow aerobic training, because anything explosive might have caused a heart attack. But they (unwisely) told young hockey players that “cardio” should be long and slow. What is needed in a game, of course, is speed – not slow repetitions permanently imprinted into the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Along the way, "core training" became the rage, because couch potatoes wanted six-pack abs to look great at the beach. Side note – Having watched this fad evolve over the decades, I have to tell you: Looking great without a shirt on was a real challenge for some couch potatoes.  

So we isolated core muscles lying on mats to challenge six-pack abs that were hidden under a layer of fat. But research shows that isolating muscles (rectus abdominis or ANY muscle) has little to do with increasing dynamic athleticism, the kind we see in the NBA, NFL or NHL (Google: Stuart McGill’s research). Athleticism requires that all core muscles work together with muscles that move limbs. Read that sentence again before you send a young athlete to do “core training.”

How can core workouts help young players develop athleticism, and improve skating power and efficiency? By putting it all together in dynamic whole-body movements where the core muscles work in concert with others. Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe had it right 70 years ago. As kids, they chopped wood, baled hay and lifted heavy logs with their whole body. They ran hills and played other sports. That way, the CNS was learning how to create synergy between core muscles and all others in the body.  

Had hockey coaches been asked, they would have said – as Tarasov did – “An ideal dryland program should help young athletes build speed, quickness, agility and explosive strength, along with skating efficiency, power and endurance.” The word “slow” would not have come up. Then strength coaches and scientists would have used their expertise to train young kids differently than adults – even differently than elite older hockey players.

The CNS is involved at all times – except perhaps in Washington D.C. It observes and memorizes every repetition as we train, not just the reps we’d like to remember. We become what we repeat most often. Given that, why would we ever practice slowness or isolate core muscles if we had 150 years to think about it? 

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  News  Jack Blatherwick