Ultimate Hockey Training

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You know how all the major movie studios wait until the end of the year to release their “passion” projects, or those films they deem will do well when it comes to awards season?  Well, it seems as though this is THE week for fitness products to be released.  Fittingly, my good friend, Kevin Neeld, just released his own manual, Ultimate Hockey Training, and I asked if he’d take a few moments to answer a few questions on it.

Now, admittedly, I don’t train a lot of hockey players; nor do a watch hockey (sorry Kevin). But, I did attend a Mercyhurst College women’s hockey game back in the day, so that should count for something!  I had a crush on one of the players, and she never really knew I existed other than the fact that I said hi to her once.

That notwithstanding, Kevin is one of the brightest guys I know, and he’s gone out of his way to provide a HUGELY insightful resource for anyone who, regardless of whether or not they train hockey players, is involved with training athletes and increasing the degree of their badassery.

With that, enjoy the interview!

TG:  Kevin, here’s the part where you tell us a little about yourself – school, training career, whether or not you like walks on the beach?  Tell my readers a little about yourself – and if you could include how 2-legit-2-quit it was when you interned at Cressey Performance (back in the summer of 2008) that would be awesome .

KN:  My introduction to the training world started because of my passion for the game of hockey. As a player, I was always told that I was as skilled as anyone, but that I was too fat, slow, and generally unathletic to compete at a high level. That wasn’t exactly what they said, but that’s what they meant. When I was 14, I was fortunate to be “given a chance” by a coach that was ahead of his time on the training side of things. I completely overhauled my athleticism in an off-season and knew then that I wanted to make a career out of helping other hockey players to do the same.

Since then, I moved on to do my undergrad work at the University of Delaware, where through one of my internships I first came across Mike Boyle’s work. I moved on to study Exercise Neuroscience at UMass Amherst (a Top 5 ranked kinesiology program at the time). To be honest, as much as I learned in my 6 years of college, I learned infinitely more through my internships and outside reading. Over the last 5 years I’ve read dozens of books on everything from manual therapy techniques to neuromechanics, and have read through a stack of research articles about as tall as I am. The key for me was listening to what my mentors suggested as quality information and really diving in to that material.

As you know, in the Summer of 2008 I did an internship with you guys at Cressey Performance. At the time, I had planned to go back to Delaware to teach my own power skating and puck handling clinics all Summer. Instead I decided to pay my way through a Functional Anatomy class that was part of BU’s DPT program and spend the remainder of my time with you guys. To this day, that was the smartest career decision I’ve ever made. Not only did I learn a lot that Summer, but you, Eric, and Brian are still great resources for me now.

I learned a lot of that “functional anatomy” stuff from Eric, but it was you, Tony, that taught me that it’s not worth lifting weights, if you can’t do it to techno music. You’d be proud to know that we now have “Techno Tuesday” at Endeavor…which has pretty much become “Techno Weekdays”.

TG:  Duuuuuuuuude.  You have no idea how happy that makes me!  Since then, you’ve gone on to a successful career, being featured in the likes of t-nation.com, elitefts.com, and I even saw one of your articles featured on the homepage of Yahoo not too long ago.  Congrats! 

(And lest we forget that you just released a pretty kick-ass training manual:  Ultimate Hockey Training).

Even more impressive, is that you’ve gone on to specialize in a niche market (hockey) and help run one of the premiere hockey training facilities in the country (Endeavor Sports Performance, located in Sewell, NJ) – how’s that working out?  What prompted you to focus on hockey?

KN:  Thanks man. Being featured on well-respected sites is flattering, but I’m more proud of what we’ve been doing at Endeavor than anything else. There are a lot of people that write well that don’t actually train anyone. That will never go away; it is what it is. But we’ve really created something special with our training programs at Endeavor. We follow a similar model as CP, but instead of having a primarily baseball market, ours is hockey.

In the last few years, we’ve helped a few dozen kids move on to compete at the D1 Prep, Junior A (EJHL, USHL, OHL, BCHL), and professional levels (CHL, IHL, ECHL, AHL, NHL). This is probably commonplace in Boston, or in certain areas of Michigan or Minnesota, but our facility is in South Jersey, which is far from regarded as a hockey hotbed, and almost all of our players are local.

I’m not one to take credit for their accomplishments. We’ve had a handful of kids that were on that path before they came to us, but the kids I’m especially proud of were the ones that were deemed D3 material that caught the eyes of D1 scouts and eventually committed D1 because of how prepared they were at the beginning of their season and the kids that were “too small”, but dominated anyway because of their speed and strength. These are the cases that I can hang my hat on and realize that what we’re doing is really working.

On a personal level, my passion for this field grew out of wanting to help hockey players fulfill their potential. A lot of my background is in on-ice skill development. As my career continues to progress, I’ve moved deeper into the athletic development/training side of things and further from on-ice work. While I’ve developed an appreciation for training athletes in all sports, and genuinely enjoy taking part of the process of their development, nothing lights my lamp more than training hockey players.

TG:  I can definitely relate there.  As a former collegiate baseball player, I LOVE the fact that my job entails showing kids what NOT to do with their training. To that end, I have to assume, much like what we come across with the baseball players we train at CP, hockey has its fair share of overuse injuries, weaknesses, and “red flags” that permeate the sport.  Can you elaborate on what you typically come across with your athletes?

 KN:  Yea, you could say that. Hockey is as bad as any sport in pushing year-round participation and early specialization. Hip flexor and adductor strains are not only common, but they’re accepted as part of the sport. It’s insane. Our players from last off-season have started to trickle back in and so far not a single one had any adductor or hip flexor problem that caused them to miss time. Not one. And that’s despite the fact that these players left late August or early September to go play for their teams and haven’t done much training since. It’s amazing how effective a few simple strategies can be in preventing these injuries.

The problem with these injuries is that players still operate under the old paradigm that more hip flexor/adductor flexibility is always better and if something gets hurt it’s because it wasn’t flexible enough. In dealing with players with these injuries, I’ve found that the overwhelming majority of them are excessively flexible in the injured structure.

I’ve found that about 3 weeks of focused stretching for the antagonist and strengthening the injured tissue results in a complete cessation of symptoms with no reoccurrence. I think the message needs to permeate that flexibility isn’t inherently good; it must be put within the context of structural balance in terms of antagonistic levels of stiffness and strength. Unfortunately, the predispositions to these injuries are what leads to more severe problems like hip labral tears and sports hernias further down the line. At the risk of being overly simplistic, maintaining soft-tissue quality and structural balance, and recognizing bony ROM limitations is key to reducing the occurrence of these injuries, and in restoring health when a player starts to venture down this path.

 The other big thing is that almost every hockey player has an overly kyphotic thoracic posture. Glenohumeral dislocations and acromioclavicular separations are common in hockey. While traumatic contact-driven injuries are somewhat unpreventable, players need to understand that an overly kyphotic posture is going to cause scapular abduction, which is going to position the glenohumeral joint anterior to the midaxillary line.

In other words, the shoulder will be positioned more in front of the torso then directly on the side of it. When a player gets hit from the side, the force is now driven either through the anterior glenohumeral ligaments and/or the AC joint and a subluxation occurs at the weakest link. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but postural restoration isn’t a foo-foo training goal; it can have severe implications for force generation, transfer, and absorption.

TG:  Here, here!!  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  We deal with PLENTY of sacred cows in the baseball world (namely, distance running and those archaic band exercises pitchers like to do), so I can definitely commiserate with you there.

Lets discuss a little program design shenanigans.  When assessing a new athlete, what are some things you’re looking at?  Are there any exercises in particular that you try avoid with your hockey athletes?

 KN:  We spend a lot of time looking at the hips. I’ll assess:

  • Hip internal and external rotation in a hips flexed and hips extended position (to help dissociate capsular restrictions)
  • Femoral ante/retro torsion using Craig’s test
  • Hip extension ROM using a modified Thomas Test
  • Hip adduction ROM using the Postural Restoration Institute’s Adduction Drop Test
  • Hip flexion ROM using a quadruped rocking test
  • Hip flexion ROM using the active straight leg raise

Collectively, the results of these tests paint a pretty clear picture of the player’s hips and what limitations are bony and what can be modified. We’ll also take a look at thoracic rotation to see if there is a severe imbalance one way or another.

From an exercise selection standpoint, we place a high priority on horizontal/rotational power as the off-season progresses. We’ll use med ball shotput and scoop progressions from a side-standing and front-standing position to help groove and improve proper mechanics and power in these positions.

Early in the off-season we build in a disproportionate amount of rotational work in the athlete’s non-shooting direction. In exercises like belly presses, chops, and lifts, they’ll do 1 set in their shooting direction and 3 sets in their non-shooting side. The goal is to help restore balance in these patterns, both from a neural and structural standpoint, following a long-season of thousands of single-sided rotations.

Note from TG:  EXACTLY!!!  We do much of the same with our baseball guys, as to better offset any “predictive” imbalances that accumulate over a loooooooong season.

And, because I love hate mail, I’ll mention that we also use a primarily single-leg lower body training system.

We still include double-leg exercises like back squats, front squats, trap bar deadlifts, stiff-legged deadlifts, slideboard hamstring curls, cable pullthroughs, etc., but our lower body training model is an “inverted” version of the norm.

In other words, most people use exercises like squats and deadlifts as the “main” exercise and then use single leg squat and deadlift variations and lunges as “assistance” work. In our model, the single-leg exercises are primary; the bilateral exercises are secondary (or tertiary).

TG:  Okay, lets get to the meat and potatoes.  Tell us a little about Ultimate Hockey Training – I’ve been working my way through it, and to say you’ve covered all your bases would be an understatement!  What distinguishes this from any other similar product out there?

KN:  Thanks Tony. Ultimate Hockey Training basically outlines my entire hockey training system. It includes age-specific guidelines, an excessive presentation of our linear and parallel exercise progressions, year-round program design strategies, and injury prevention considerations. My goal was to lay it all out, but pick topics and use language that would be of interest to the whole spectrum of the hockey development community, from players, parents, and coaches, to those that train or rehab hockey players for a living.


Many of the hockey training resources out there today are either severely out-dated, overly theoretical, really watered down to appeal to young players, or just complete garbage. That’s not to say they’re all bad; I support what Maria Mountain and Kim McCullough, and a couple others have done. I think what allows UHT to appeal to such a wide audience is that I’ve included theoretical and research-driven discussions on all the topics for the training and sports medicine professional, but included a ton of sample routines and progressions for those without the academic background.

Ultimate Hockey Training isn’t a generic/canned training program; it’s a system. In other words, it’s not designed to help a player (or to help a coach help a player) improve for 8-weeks; it’s designed to help them improve for their entire career, however long that may be and wherever that may end. Hockey is one of the most rapidly growing sports in the U.S., but preparatory training is still poorly understood on a wide scale. Hopefully this will help provide those that want the information most with a framework from which to start building programs that actually work.

Awesome stuff Kevin!  For those interested in checking out the manual, and for more information, click below:

====> Ultimate Hockey Training <====

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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