Erik Karlsson Doesn’t Do Any Conditioning In The Summer? Think Again…
Posted by Dean Holden at October 30th, 2015
by Jack Blatherwick, 29 October 2015
Imagine an athletic development plan that marginalizes the paths taken by Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Michael Jordan, Adrian Peterson and almost EVERY great athlete who preceded them. What was their common pathway to elite athleticism?
They all participated in a variety of sports as children and adolescents. Of course, some lifted weights along the way, but some did not, and gained strength by sprinting, jumping, push-ups and pull-ups. Some did long, slow aerobic distances. Others thought it was better to skate for hours at the pond and play pick-up sports in the backyard – improving skills, quickness, rink sense and endurance at the same time.
The word “conditioning“ is the most misleading word in the strength-conditioning field, followed closely by the word “strength.” We can thank Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson and blogger David Rogers for exposing this common, but myopic view of “conditioning.” Karlsson is a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the best defenseman in the NHL. Recently he said he no longer does ANY conditioning during the summer, even though he did for several years when he was younger.
However, the hidden story (the important one for young athletes) is that Karlsson does his conditioning on the ice. Besides that, he likes tennis. Just because he enjoys playing a game doesn’t mean it isn’t great preparation for an NHL season. Like many sports, tennis requires quickness, strength, anticipation and agility for stopping and changing directions on a dime. Furthermore, core muscles are used in concert with those that move the arms and legs, twist the torso, and stabilize the spine.
When you play tennis or another sport, these athletic qualities are trained together, creating a synergy of movement in the same way an orchestra becomes greater than the sum of individual parts by practicing together. But this is not the norm today, as it was for athletes like Bobby Orr. Strength-fitness instructors, personal trainers and skill coaches have separated athleticism into isolated pieces. In many cases the instruction can be valuable, but we isolate too often.
Putting athletic factors together with hockey skills in a “play” environment is critical at every age, and children do less of this today than ever before. Nine minutes of ice time in a regulation game does not compare to hours on the pond. Using functional MRI technology, neuroscience shows that play (like pond hockey) is important in development of the brain. Further evidence is in the history of sport. It’s the way EVERY great athlete developed … until now.
Today, NFL coaches observe, “Quarterback schools teach kids to pass better than ever, but we have fewer quarterbacks who can read-react and deliver passes in random game situations.” Do we have hockey players who skate better than ever before? Our tests say, “Yes, definitely.” But do they think more creatively than players from previous decades? Does their speed make them more effective when a game situation calls for a change of pace or direction?
Literally dozens of NHLers shoot at least as hard and accurately as Alex Ovechkin, but he’s able to release the puck in tight-checking competition, and therefore, he scores more. Why does he have this ability? He was “conditioned’ (programmed) for this in competitive practices and games.
What do I mean by a “myopic view of conditioning?” It is the myth that strength comes only with barbells and dumbbells, and “conditioning” means slow “cardio” training. If your training doesn’t fit these stereotypes, are you not “conditioning” at all?
Karlsson says he likes tennis and does his conditioning on the ice. The blog by Rogers would have served a constructive purpose if young players saw that. In fact, there is no better way to develop hockey talent.
Several years ago I made a presentation to coaches and players in Boston. Afterwards, when I sat down for lunch, I heard the words, “It’s all academic BS,” as someone sat down next to me. It was Bobby Orr, and he continued, “All that training you showed in those slides doesn’t hold a candle to playing sports. If you want to be a good athlete, you have to react to unpredictable situations – or your strength and speed mean nothing.”
It’s difficult to name two defensemen who are better examples of skills, reactivity and athleticism packaged together than Karlsson and Orr. It’s also difficult to improve on their offseason training philosophy. They send an important message to young players who follow in their footsteps.
The wise will listen. After all, conditioning SMART is more productive than conditioning HARD.
Category: anticipation, Ask the Experts, athleticism, career counselling, creativity, decision training, defencemen, diversification, expertise, Fitness / Training, game intelligence, learning, LTAD, neuroplasticity, play, practices, quote, skill acquisition, Skills, talent, transfer, unstructured play