In this article, I’m going to break down why utilizing the FRESH FACTOR™ System is the most complete approach a hockey player can take toward feeling fresh all game long, so they can dominate every time they step out on the ice.
Most people think feeling “fresh” is simply a result of elite conditioning levels—and although that’s true, there is much more to feeling fresh, including the following:
- Having the hockey-specific mobility to move freely in and out of technical edgework positions in a game setting.
- Not being held back by nagging injuries, pain, joint inflammation, or discomfort.
- Feeling maximally explosive from your first shift all the way to your last.
- Remaining mentally energized for offensive awareness, defensive awareness, positional pattern recognition, and all-around “Hockey IQ” output.
- Relentless conditioning that totally removes the “heavy” feeling in your legs during the intense games.
- Completely owning what sport psychology refers to as a state of “flow,” where you’re confident, stimulated, and strategic (as opposed to nervous, reactive, and impatient).
As you can see, feeling fresh has a lot to do with your muscular ability to remain conditioned and explosive all game long; however, it wouldn’t be a complete approach if we left out your hockey-specific mobility, structural integrity, and mindset, as I think you and I can both agree that you wouldn’t feel so fresh if these weren’t accounted for.
The FRESH FACTOR™ System addresses all of these concerns, as well as several others in a functional, hockey-specific manner.
However, I should warn you that this is definitely not for everybody. The FRESH FACTOR™ System simultaneously utilizes five advanced training methods within a single in-season program design. So, if you’re somebody who isn’t serious about becoming a better hockey player, then this is definitely not for you and you shouldn’t read any further.
But for those of you who are ready to finally take what’s yours and make this season the best one of your life, keep reading, and I’ll break down each of those five components so you can see what a real NHL-caliber approach to hockey training looks like.
The FRESH FACTOR™ System: An Overview
It has always baffled me how so many hockey players dream about making it to the next level and becoming the best hockey player they can be—yet at the same time, they discontinue all training during the in-season.
This is wrong on so many levels. The average season is roughly six months long, so if you take the in-season off from training, you’re literally shaving off 50% of your training time per year.
Who do you think is going to be the better hockey player: the one that trains and makes progress year-round, or the one who trains for half the year but then decides to skip all of their training until they become bored enough with their time off the following off-season to start it up again?
Obviously, the more dedicated hockey player is going to perform better. This becomes especially true as the years add up and the gap between them gets larger.
If you think taking the in-season off from training is the right thing to do for your performance, consider this: why does every NHL team have a full-time, well-paid strength and conditioning coach train the team all in-season long?
Do you think every single NHL organization is simultaneously making a giant mistake? Or do you think that the best athletes and coaches in the world know what they’re doing to stay in top physical condition on a year-round basis?
The moment you decide to take control of your in-season training is the moment you will unlock your potential in this game.
I don’t want you to suffer the fate of an unproductive season. I want you to be the best player you can possibly be, and the only way to do this is to first understand the primary goals of the in-season:
- Maximize hockey-specific physical performance output (functional strength, speed, conditioning, and agility)
- Focus training on peaking technical skill expression
- Optimize recovery from games, practices, and training
- Emphasize Specific Physical Preparation (SPP) within dryland training program design
- Eliminate muscle loss during the in-season
- Eliminate fat gain during the in-season
- Prevent joint/connective tissue wear and tear
- Upgrade visual and “Hockey IQ” performance level
This is a lot to accomplish, especially during the in-season where scheduling demands are stricter due to the practices, games, and travelling—on top of your already existing normal life schedule.
This is why it’s more important than ever to understand sports science at a deep level so you can carefully select the best “bang for the buck” methods that you can consistently and comfortably perform every week to accomplish all of the above in a realistic schedule.
Here’s exactly how I’ve formulated the 2021 In-Season Programs here at Hockey Training this year:
Workout Type #1: Explosive Strength Sessions
Workout Type #2: Bullet-Proof Armor Circuits
Workout Type #3: XLR8 Performance Sessions
Workout Type #4: Hockey Yoga
Workout Type #5: Skills Sessions
Without any context, this may look like a ton of work. However, I can assure you that this is not only recoverable, but will actually enhance your recovery capacity each week.
- The highest intensity training sessions of the week are your Explosive Strength Sessions, which are a combination of plyometrics and resistance training. These are in place to keep your hockey-specific strength and explosiveness at peak levels all in-season long.
- The XLR8 Performance Sessions are considered moderate training intensity, as they train your conditioning and edgework in a unique way by utilizing the Cardio Acceleration Method (more on this below).
- The Hockey Yoga, Bullet-Proof Armor Circuit, and Skills Sessions are all performed at an active recovery intensity, which accelerates recovery at a faster pace on non-training days than no exercise at all.
- The ideal weekly split breaks down as two hard sessions, one moderate session, and four easy sessions each week—this is highly recoverable even during a tough in-season schedule.
- This program is 100% adaptable to any in-season schedule you have. Meaning, the training is designed in a manner where no matter what order you place these in, you will be getting 100% of the benefits, which puts the power in your hands every single week to guarantee you always recover and perform at your best.
Now let’s break down each section so you have a clear understanding on how this approach covers hockey players from every single angle so they leave no stone unturned when it comes to their performance optimization.
Explosive Strength Sessions
When setting up your in-season programming, it’s vital to keep in mind “fitness characteristic decay rates.” This refers to the minimum effective dose of training volume/intensity that is required to maintain what you gained during the off-season:
- How much do I have to lift to maintain my size during the season?
- How heavy should I go if I want to maintain my strength during the season?
- How should I maintain my explosive speed?
Luckily, with advancements in sports science knowledge, we can answer these questions quite confidently now (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
Here’s how it breaks down in a nutshell:
Hypertrophy: Muscle size can be conserved indefinitely with only strength training and zero hypertrophy work—that is, training with loads greater than 80% of your 1-Rep-Maximum.
Strength: Strength can also be held indefinitely with only strength training and zero hypertrophy work—that is, training with loads greater than 80% of your 1-Rep-Maximum.
Speed: Speed levels without speed training exposure will begin to decline after only two weeks.
Power: Power output rates without power training exposure will also begin to decline after only two weeks.
This means that if we incorporate loads with 80%+ of our 1-Rep-Maximum throughout the season, we can maintain both our strength and our size. This is incredible knowledge to apply immediately, because it plays a huge factor towards stride length, strength on the puck, shot power, and injury prevention.
But we also know that without frequent exposure to speed and power work, you can begin to lose those particular physical characteristic qualities within two weeks. These two qualities are the most “sensitive” to physical decay rates, and unless we program properly for that, you can begin to slow down even within the first month of the in-season.
Have you ever intuitively noticed that as a hockey player yourself? You train your butt off all summer and come into tryouts or camps like a blazing fire. Then, perhaps only a couple of months later, you just don’t feel like you’re at the same level of speed or strength.
You might think that this is just “feeling the grind” of the in-season, and although that’s partly true, the more accurate reason is that these are physical characteristic decay rates being played out in real life.
What’s funny to me is that many hockey players avoid training altogether during the season because they feel the grind too much—but the grind actually represents an athlete that isn’t training enough!
This is why, twice per week, I have hockey players performing Explosive Strength Sessions that begin with a multi-planar plyometric tri-set and finish with functional strength training movements.
This allows us to maintain (and usually gain) speed and power throughout the in-season due to the plyometric variants, as well as maintain (and again, usually gain) strength and hypertrophy through the functional strength training variants.
Bullet-Proof Armor Circuit
The Bullet-Proof Armor Circuits are in place to reduce total body injury risk, promote active recovery, eliminate joint pain, improve balance, mobilize ankles, and create fluid athletic movement out on the ice.
The structure of the session was inspired by the popular physical therapist Gray Cook, who formulated the joint-by-joint structure that I follow for these active recovery circuits. Here’s how it breaks down in simple format:
Lumbar Spine: Stability
Thoracic Spine: Mobility
Basically, from a biomechanical perspective, the body is just a stack of joints. Each joint series has a specific function and is prone to predictable levels of dysfunction. As a result, each joint has very specific and unique training needs for hockey performance.
What you should notice from the above breakdown is that the joints alternate from mobility to stability as you slowly work your way up the body. The ankle needs mobility, and the knee needs stability; this pattern continues in a predictable way through the entire kinetic chain.
Injuries relate very closely to proper joint function—or more accurately, to joint dysfunction. Problems at one joint typically show up as pain in the joint above or below.
For example, the knee joint is simply a “hinge joint”. It flexes and extends, that’s it. You can think about it like a door hinge.
So, if there’s not enough mobility at the ankle to perform a given movement to the point where your body has to achieve some mobility from the knee; you’re asking a “stable hinge” to do something that it’s not designed to do, which then turns into pain or injury even though the problem originated in the feet and not the knees.
Similarly, if there isn’t enough mobility in the hips then the body will force extra mobility to come out of the lumbar spine—something it’s not designed to do. Predictably, this converts into lower back pain even though it was the hips’ fault.
The process, although complicated in terms of anatomy and biomechanics, is quite simple to understand:
If you lose ankle mobility, you’ll get knee pain.
If you lose hip mobility, you’ll get back pain.
If you lose thoracic mobility, you’ll get neck, shoulder, or lower back pain, since it’s connected to so many movement patterns.
This pain is not only detrimental to performance for obvious reasons (nobody moves well when in pain), but also causes joints that were supposed to be stable to become unstable.
For example, the ankle is a joint that should be mobile. When it becomes immobile, the knee, a joint that should be stable, becomes unstable to try and make up for the immobility. But now that the knee is unstable, the hip (which is a mobility joint) tries to become more immobile to stabilize the knee, and since the hip lacks mobility, the lumbar (which is a stability) tries to make up for the lack in mobility and it loses its stability.
This chain continues upward until you have an entire kinetic chain that is compensating rather than optimizing its movement patterns. This discussion should illustrate clearly to you that one small chink in your armor can create a rippling effect across your entire athletic potential.
The Bullet-Proof Armor Circuits I have created use hockey-specific exercises to properly train each joint structure so you improve movement quality, and therefore reduce the risk of pain, injury, and performance reduction out on the ice.
Furthermore, these exercises are not executed at your typical physiotherapy pace, as I want to train your aerobic conditioning energy systems to create a flushing effect within your muscles to promote active recovery. This is why they are circuits, and not just exercises.
This active recovery session is what many hockey players need to unlock the athletic potential they never knew they had.
XLR8 Performance Sessions
The XLR8 Performance Sessions were designed to keep your hockey performance at an all-time high throughout the entire in-season.
XLR8, when spoken out loud, sounds identical to “accelerate,” because I have integrated what’s known as the Cardio Acceleration Method into every session.
Additionally, the “8” was chosen for another reason: you will be performing eight movements in each XLR8 session that break down the anatomy of hockey performance in every way you want during the season:
- Two exercises for the ankles
- Two exercises for the hips
- Two exercises for speed
- And two exercises for technique
Merging hockey-specific in-season movements with the Cardio Acceleration Method allows you to effectively train nearly every single hockey quality all in the same session: strength, speed, mobility, stability, stride length, stride frequency, conditioning, and everything else you can think of.
I know this may sound like a pie-in-the-sky dream, but the magic all lies within how you integrate Cardio Acceleration training into your allotted rest periods.
Cardio Acceleration refers to the amazing research that was discovered in 2008 (7), when test subjects were doing intervals of cardio during their “rest periods.” This is exactly what you’ll be doing in between your XLR8 supersets (two exercises for each category above represents the four supersets of each workout).
For example, let’s say your first superset is a combination of McDavid Crossover Shuffles with Slalom Hops (training ankle stability since mobility is already covered in the Bullet-Proof Armor Circuits), rest 60 seconds, and then repeat for two total rounds.
Instead of sitting down for a full 60 seconds doing nothing during the rest period, you perform 60 seconds of low intensity cardio. This allows the muscles you were working in your superset to fully recover while improving your conditioning at the same time with a hockey-specific cardio movement.
So now you have completed 60 seconds of cardio, while you would have normally been just sitting there staring at your phone or stopwatch. And you can multiply those 60 seconds by the number of sets you complete in each workout.
For example, an XLR8 workout will have you performing three rounds of cardio movements during the rest periods of all eight exercises. This adds up to a ton of additional hockey-specific cardio training during the workout you were already going to perform anyway.
Now you don’t have to spend extra time doing it after the workout is over. You can finish the session knowing you did both functional movement training AND cardio all in one shot.
This is particularly great during the in-season, because you don’t need to add more time to an already busy schedule. Not to mention, the added fat loss benefits are immense and will help keep your body composition optimal all in-season long.
The beauty of XLR8 Performance Sessions doesn’t end there though (even though we would be totally happy if it did); you can self-select the cardio exercise to be either exercise-focused or skills-focused.
For example, if I wanted to get shredded, I would perform exercise-focused movements during my rest periods (jumping jacks, mountain climbers, step ups, etc.). However, if I wanted to take my skills to the next level and effectively train my Hockey IQ while I was at it, I could implement the sports science principle of Fatigued Motor Control and select skills-focused exercises during my rest periods (figure 8s, narrow to wide, 5-point toe drags, etc.).
Whether you go with an exercise-focused or skill-focused option is completely up to you, and feel free to perform as many different movements as you like during the rest periods—you’re not confined to sticking to only one movement for your rest periods for the whole workout.
Keep the pace up. The only rest you get is in between supersets when you’re setting yourself up for the next round of movements.
Practicing yoga has become incredibly popular over the past couple of decades and shows no signs of slowing down—especially with hockey players.
For most, connecting the performancing-enhancing dots between yoga and in-season performance can be done quite quickly.
This type of exercise is most known for incorporating breathing techniques, encouraging meditative-like practices, promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and improving overall mobility, balance, and stability.
As a hockey player, there are a lot of positive benefits you can derive from yoga, but it’s important to know what we are getting into and how yoga actually lends itself towards benefitting hockey athletes.
Yoga has been scientifically demonstrated to:
- Decrease mental and emotional stress (8, 9)
- Reduce inflammation (10)
- Reduce joint pain (11, 12)
- Improve lung function and oxygen delivery (13, 14)
- Enhance sleep quality (15)
- Improve flexibility, balance, and mobility (16)
Hockey players can receive immense benefits from incorporating yoga sessions into their in-season periodization strategy.
With that said, although yoga is great for hockey players, I do recommend doing hockey yoga. You still want to be targeting the hockey-specific muscles and joint structures through your yoga movements. Put another way, you can use yoga to get good at yoga, or, you can use yoga to get good at hockey.
I program hockey-specific yoga as a form of in-season active recovery training so you can enhance your recovery capacity and improve multiple measures directly correlated to hockey performance.
I know what you may be thinking: “I’m already doing practices and games every single week—isn’t that enough skill work?”
Let me answer that question with another question: “Do you want to be like everyone else?”
If the answer is yes, then of course, games and practices are enough.
However, if you want to separate yourself from the pack with an undeniable level of skill development, then it’s just simple math.
The more recoverable skill practice you can do, the better you will become over time, and the larger the gap will be between you and everyone else.
The key word there being “recoverable,” and not just more practice. Too much training will just run you into the ground, which is the last thing we want during the in-season.
However, when you keep your skill sessions structured to be performed utilizing a volume and tempo that represents an active recovery session, that’s when you know you’ve hit the sweet spot.
Why? Because research has shown us multiple times that active recovery is superior to doing nothing at all. Meaning, you will actually recover at a faster rate by doing low-intensity activity compared to just laying on the couch.
The increased heart rate and blood flow to working muscle tissues during active recovery sessions creates a “flushing” effect that removes fatigue-based metabolites and allows the muscles to regulate their pH levels and reduce muscle soreness quicker. The reasoning runs parallel to why athletes perform cool-downs as well, as all of the same biological machinery is at play.
What’s unique and particularly relevant to in-season hockey players is that you can:
- Improve your stickhandling skills
- Improve your shooting skills
- Improve your hand-eye coordination
- And improve your Hockey IQ
…all while simultaneously improving the rate at which you recover from your games, practices, and in-season workouts.
This creates a beautiful intersection where you’re not just doing “active recovery,” but rather “hockey-specific active recovery” that helps you improve many metrics of performance all at once while not further taxing your recovery reserves.
These can be performed anytime during the week; however, most hockey players will often find it best placed the day before a game so they can fully recover their body while at the same time get the motor patterns/movements of skill execution dialed-in so there is no “feeling out” process when it’s time to hit the ice.
Adaptable Scheduling System
The in-season brings many unique challenges in terms of creating a realistic dryland training schedule you can stick to long-term.
In the off-season, where nothing major is going on, it’s pretty easy to take your weekly training schedule and have it “set in stone” for the entire program.
This approach doesn’t work for the in-season because games, practices, tournaments, and traveling can change your schedule in an instant and often alter what your entire life looks like on a week-to-week basis.
No problem: it’s 100% possible to include all of the above methods into an adaptable and customizable weekly schedule that every hockey player can follow no matter what their calendar looks like.
The above collection of methodologies are utilized in a very specific way so that no matter how you alter it, you won’t “miss out” on any progression. You can consider this type of approach a systemless system. You are not forced to fit within the confines of an exact schedule, but you get all of the benefits that come with being on one.
This is the best of both worlds for hockey players because it allows you to look at your upcoming schedule, then look at the workouts and simply plug in where it’s going to work best for you.
Within our In-Season ’21 System member’s area, we have a video showing you exactly how to schedule your in-season training sessions based on your weekly schedule. This gives our hockey players the best results possible each and every week because when you’re at the driver’s wheel for schedule design, nothing can stop you.
The Solution: FRESH FACTOR™ System
If you’re serious about becoming a better hockey player this year and you want to take your abilities to the next level, then pay very close attention here, because starting today, you can be one step closer to making your hockey dream a reality by utilizing the FRESH FACTOR™ System.
You don’t have to be a “natural talent” to instantly up your game and have the best season of your life this year—because you can get instant access to the exact on-ice and off-ice training you need to be doing this year during the in-season, so you can train just like your favorite NHL player.
Sure, you could go through all the research studies I have read and slowly piece everything together and you’d probably do just fine, but if you want to take all of the guesswork out of it and get access to a completely “done for you” high-level program to get the best possible results, then head on over to our In-Season ’21 System page and let’s get started today.
Lean on my experience of working with thousands of hockey players (including NHL players) and use the FRESH FACTOR™ System to be your absolute best on the ice and shock all of your teammates and impress the fans in the crowd with your newfound ability.
Unstoppable speed, edgework, conditioning, and agility are all a reality for you this year; join the team here and let’s crush this thing.
It was my intention with this article to unpack the FRESH FACTOR™ System in an easy-to-understand way and explain why it is mandatory for serious hockey players to take this type of approach if they want to reach their potential in this sport.
As a quick recap, here are those methods again:
- Explosive Strength Sessions
- XLR8 Performance Sessions
- Bullet-Proof Armor Circuits
- Hockey Yoga
- Skills Sessions
The FRESH FACTOR™ System encompasses all of the above in one easy-to-follow, synergistic system. If you want to join the team, I’ll see you on the inside.
You are way ahead of your time coach, this is great stuff.