Build strength outside the weight room with highly dynamic exercises that feature balance, flexibility, coordination and explosiveness

Cameron Champ hits the ball longer than anybody else because he uses his strength efficiently. Photo: James Woolridge/Deseret News

Force efficiency in skating or sprinting requires forward lean and Straight Line Extension (SLX) of the body during acceleration.

Strength, strength and more strength. That’s the mantra we’ve inherited from football strength & conditioning coaches, where 275-pound offensive linemen are too small – too weak to make a living. Because these S&C guys teach college conditioning classes and determine certifications, the weight room has become synonymous with the word “workout” for every sport.

The weight room is an easy sell to adolescent males who like to wear sleeveless shirts and compete for the heaviest bench press. Nothing wrong with either. But it’s naïve to think that athletes from every sport should lift weights like an offensive tackle, no matter what the stated purpose – whether it is to improve speed like Connor McDavid and Kendall Coyne Schofield, explosive agility like Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, or a powerful golf swing like Cameron Champ and Michelle Wie.

Lifting weights is certainly part of the plan to eventually play hockey at higher levels, but it is over-emphasized throughout adolescence and not practical, safe and effective at younger ages. To build skating efficiency from ages 5-22, strength training should include: 1) two-legged jumps with body weight or a sand bag, 2) explosiveness from one leg that simulates skating motion (combining knee extension with Abduction-Rotation-Extension from the hip), 3) muscular endurance in a skating range of motion – positions that are crucial for skating like lunges or slideboard reps, and 4) synergy of core muscles working together with those that move limbs (whole body exercises like jump throws with a light sand bag and swinging a heavy object like a sledgehammer or weighted hockey stick).

The above should be closely monitored for safe execution, and of course, some exercises are not added until successful completion of months or years of controlled body weight exercises and two-legged strength and jump activities. However, one-legged wide lunge steps should be started as soon as beginners can lace up their skates. Five minutes of repetitions after each skating practice or game will increase the comfort range (knee bend and stride width) at a time when lifetime skating habits are being imprinted into the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Strength-Efficiency is automatically built into each of the above. This means the CNS is learning to move the body in sync with physics and physiological reflexes. Read that definition again, because EFFICIENCY is the critical element of natural athleticism we’ve seen in the best athletes from Michael Jordan to Lebron James, from Randy Moss to Julian Edelman, from Sam Snead to Tiger Woods, or from Bobby Orr to Connor McDavid.

Advice from golf coaches or skating or strength coaches that fights physics or natural physiological reflex is not using strength efficiently, and will not be the most effective in the long run.

Building strength outside the weight room with highly dynamic exercises that feature balance, flexibility, coordination and explosiveness is a sure way to compete in later years with a solid base of athleticism. Add Herb Brooks’ thought about REACTIVITY: The best athletes react instantaneously to unforeseen hurdles (like opponents or unstable footing) with no apparent loss of speed or balance.

This implies that the best preparation for athleticism at a young age is to play dynamic, chaotic sports which require two elements: a) explosiveness, plus b) unplanned reactions.