Training should be integrated, rather than isolated

Words cannot define “hockey athleticism” as well as a picture of great athletes in competition. The ability to move your body quickly on the ice requires sprinting, jumping and skating-specific strength exercises integrated into each workout.

With no apologies to the on-again, off-again basketball superstars of today, I’d argue that Michael Jordan was the best player of all time. But what do I know about round-ball?

His most ardent fans say MJ’s combination of athleticism and skill will never be matched. I write because of the importance of the word “combination.” Jordan was not the best shooter of all-time, although he could really shoot. He wasn’t the best ball-handler, playmaker or defensive player if each of these skills is measured against the very best in history at that one skill. He didn’t have the highest vertical jump or fastest sprint of all-time, nor was his (laboratory) endurance the greatest.

However, Jordan was the best combination of all these attributes. If we asked a similar question about current hockey players, Sidney Crosby might be the best combination, but not necessarily the very best at any one piece of the puzzle.

So when will off-ice training emphasize the combination, rather than isolating each piece in separate workouts? When will we integrate sprint speed, explosive jumping, skating fundamentals and strength in the same off-ice session?

Why do we isolate instead of integrating? In physiology textbooks, aerobic endurance is taught separately from anaerobic qualities like speed or speed-endurance because: 1) the metabolic enzymes are different, 2) there are different muscle cells (fibers) activated and 3) the nerves recruit muscles in different patterns.

In laboratory tests, scientists isolate the various pieces in order to learn more about each part of the athlete’s makeup (heart, lungs, muscles, nerves, hormones, metabolism, etc.).  So has 60 years of laboratory testing this way improved our approach to developing better hockey players from the first day they put on skates?

The short answer is “no.” In fact, it made us look at athletes as the sum of the various pieces, when we should have been learning more about developing synergy among these pieces. Synergy is what made Michael Jordan’s game performance so much greater than the sum of his individual parts.

Sixty-five years ago, Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. To break this barrier, he became a brilliant student of physiology. His training was unique, and he concluded that if he was successful, it would depend on synergy. He expressed it this way: “The human body is centuries in advance of the physiologist, and can perform an integration of heart, lungs and muscles which is too complex for the scientist to analyze.”

His advice is sound today. Every young athlete should resist the dogmatic advice to ISOLATE each piece of one’s athletic makeup. Instead, learn how to INTEGRATE the pieces more often. Participate in dynamic sports like tennis, basketball, soccer, lacrosse or football. Then, incorporate explosive movement of your body into every workout. I’m not suggesting we find more ways to move the barbell explosively – I mean move your body.