Introducing the Problem
- Matt Price is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the LA Kings in the National Hockey League.
- Soccer and Hockey may at first glance appear very different (one plays on ice, the other on grass), but the one thing they do share is the match congestion problem.
- The Match Congestion Problem: In sports like Soccer and Hockey, where you play a game every 2–4 days on average, how do you determine the content of the training program? More specifically to Matt’s role in Performance — Where does Strength Training fit in? And, what does it look like?
PhD Understanding of Your Sport
- Dan Pfaff, the legendary Track & Field Coach working at ALTIS told Matt that you need to have a PhD Understanding of Your Sport.
- While Matt played Hockey his entire life — playing isn’t coaching.
- This is a hard for fans and young coaches to understand. As Arrigo Sacchi, the legendary Italian Soccer Coach put it, “Being a good horse doesn’t make you a good jockey.”
- With that in mind, it wasn’t until Matt started working in Hockey as a Strength coach that he realized something — he didn’t really understand Hockey.
- As coaches, we need to go beyond the implicit things we picked up about our sport through playing and the explicit things we learned from the various coaches we played for. Those things have their purpose, but to truly acquire a PhD Understanding of Your Sport requires years of diligent study.
Would you see the Gorilla?
- Team sports take place in a complex domain. And in complex domains, we need a greater increase in scanning to truly capture the gravity of a particular situation.
- However, there is something called Expert Bias that impacts our ability to scan in a complex domain, like team sports.
- Expert Bias can be seen with people that have spent a long time playing their particular sport. Due the number of years they spent playing the sport, they will form large narratives about how the game is played, won, and coached.
- Unfortunately, a study on Expert Bias showed that “Experts” operating in their domain of expertise are prone to a phenomena called Inattentional Blindness. You may be familiar with the famous video of two teams passing a basketball around while a Gorilla walks through the middle of them. The video shows that we can bias ourselves to look for selective pieces of information — leading us to completely ignore novel and potentially important information.
- In a similar fashion, people that played a particular sport for a long time, or even have coached for a long time, are more prone to developing Expert Bias where you become less able to “see your sport with fresh eyes.” Have you every played, or worked for a coach that you consider “old school”? These are usually coaches suffering from Expert Bias — their expertise developed through their years of exposure to the sport has actually made them less sensitive to changes in the sport, changes in methodology, and other relevant novel information.
- To counter-act this, it is important to expose yourself to a wide range of differing expertise (different coaches, devils advocates, etc.) or, like Matt did — force yourself to look at your sport with fresh eyes! You can do this by coaching another sport, forcing yourself to read something you don’t agree with, hiring someone from a different sport to work with you, or speaking with someone that has a different set of facts than you do.
Wait, but Why?
- This process of looking at his sport with fresh eyes allowed Matt to challenge one of Hockey’s most orthodox practices — the post game strength training session.
- “Traditionally, strength work was done post-game — the logic being that you would load the players after the game so they had the maximum time to recover (36–48 hours) from that workout before the next game. Believe it or not, that was how things were done for the longest time!”
- It might seem obvious now that the logic doesn’t follow because the players have already produced a tremendous amount of muscle damage and fatigue during the game, but it makes me wonder what things are common practice now in soccer that if we were able to zoom-out and look at our sport with fresh eyes — we may begin to question their validity.
“Okay, so…when do we lift?
- It’s one thing to point out the obvious problem that lifting weights immediately after the game makes very little sense. But, what’s the solution?
Matt has developed a couple strategies to help him introduce strength training in a sport where they are playing 82 games in 170 days.
- Microdosing — “We would use small doses of high intensity strength work, or high intensity speed work when the players have had at least 12–16 hours to recover and replenish some fuel stores. They are also in a better psycho-emotional state to handle the workout and feel good about it. Also, because it’s been dosed appropriately (small dose) they aren’t all beat up from the workout.”
Derek Hansen coined this idea of microdosing and the logic is pretty simple, “Instead of working for 1 hour twice a week, why not do 15 minutes of work everyday to accumulate the work you need? The combination of high intensity and low volume provides the necessary stimulus for improvement without creating excessive fatigue.”
In other words, microdosing allows you to reap the upside (benefits) from lifting weights while minimizing the downside (creating fatigue).
Matt likes to think of their strength training “workouts” as nothing more than a “very thorough warm-up”.
“We bring the players in and have them go through a workout with an extremely low volume, but very high intensity, so that it almost acts like a very thorough high-intensity warm up prior to going on the ice.”
Here is an example of how that might look in a soccer microcycle:
You will notice a couple of things here. I chose to micro-dose speed. It is obviously possible to microdose max effort or dynamic effort style strength training, or even plyometrics, but you want to be careful. As Derek Hansen says, “When you are choosing a stressor in-season, you want to make sure that the stressor you are choosing is something that you has been trained over the off-season.”
For example, if you have never done speed work, strength work, or plyometrics with your players before — you don’t want to just drop it in randomly in a microdose fashion. “If you haven’t done it in the off-season, it may be too risky to introduce it.”
Therefore, I chose to micro-dose speed work because I think that is the one consistently trained thing across global soccer. It seems that most teams allocate some percentage of time to max speed work like Damian Roden mentioned in our episode on the periodization of the Seattle Sounders.
You will also notice that the volume is extremely low (2–4 sprints), which means that this is something that can be easily added to the end of a warm up when the players have maximal freshness, so that the quality of the sprints are very high.
Lastly, as it pertains to microdosing — Be Smart! Err on the side of small volume and see how your players respond. If it seems to be making them cranky or producing small issues in soreness, back off, remove the stressors on certain days, etc.
- “I like to do something literally every day. We have 6 days of the week to work with (1 day off), game days are off-limits, which leaves us with 2–4 days of work where something will be done every day.”
- Matt doesn’t even dedicate one day to max speed, the next to max power, and the 3rd day to max strength. “We try to layer in the elements so a little bit of everything is done every day.”
- The microdose work is performed prior to the team training session with the goal being to, “have them leave the workout much more prepared to perform the tasks demanded of them in the sport practice.”
“Okay…And what do we do?”
- Concentric-Only Primary Lifts — “In order to minimize soreness, we would do concentric-only primary lifts.”
For those coaches unfamiliar with the 3 main muscle actions:
- Concentric — in layman terms, these are muscle actions associated with producing force — think raising a weight, or accelerating.
- Isometric — These are muscle actions where force is generated without changes in muscle length (holding a specific position)
- Eccentric — these are muscle actions associated with reducing force — think lowering a weight, or decelerating.
The Eccentric muscle actions produce the most amount of soreness, so that is why Matt uses Concentric-Only Primary Lifts. As an example, an athlete may perform a deadlift from the floor and then drop the weight once they achieve the upright position.
- Isokinetic Loading — Fortunately, Matt has access to the 1080 Quantum which allows him to program isokinetic loading. “It uses robotic resistance which allows us to control load in both concentric and eccentric actions. We use it for high force concentric-only lifts in a unilateral stance (single leg, split squat).”
- High Velocity Movements — Matt will also expose his players to High Velocity movements to work up and down the force velocity curve. He uses simple things like vertical jumps or max speed sprints on a Watt bike.
Other examples of this could be medicine ball throws, trap bar jumps, jump squats, and other various unloaded and loaded movements where the load is minimal, but the velocity is maximal.
Putting it all together
This is a standard template Matt will use for his team’s microdose sessions.
- Tissue Preparation — foam rolling, lacrosse balls, big band stretches to open up hips
- Dynamic Mobility — moving through ranges with control
Theme — Strength
High Force Movements (1080 machine)
- Unilateral exercise — split squat, lateral push
- Bilateral exercise — Concentric-Only Deadlift
- 2 sets of 3–5 repetitions per leg
- 2–3 times per week
“That’s all we do. But, the stimulus is so high that we are getting good strength maintenance without fatigue and without soreness.”
- If you don’t have the ability to use a weight room, or the 1080 quantum machine, Matt recommends the use of isometrics
- “Another great tool that is underutilized is isometrics. Pair an isometric with a high velocity movement. For example, hold a split squat position for time, or use some partner resistance work in a fixed position. You can use isometrics to create some high forces and then pair them with a more dynamic/athletic movement.”
- “It’s more about a thought process than the actual exercises themselves!”
- We want to introduce the athletes to high intensity work, high forces, in small doses, but quite frequently to help them maintain strength, speed, and power to make them robust to injuries, recover more efficiently from game to game, and to prepare them for the high intensity forces of their sport.