(by Sarah Applegarth MSc, CSCS, R.Kin, CSEP-CEP)
Whether it’s an NHL level hockey player, a teenage provincial lacrosse player or a Masters ski racer it’s not just about working out hard to achieve health and performance goals. Time needs to be spent “working in” and connecting the mind and body together to ensure everything is firing in the proper sequence when it should be in order to optimize workouts and stay injury free. When new clients come through your door they will have a sense of why they are coming to you but not necessarily a plan of how to achieve their goals and avoid injuries. As conditioning coaches it is our job to educate them on what their strengths and weaknesses are in order to create a game plan and ensure client buy-in. There are many facets to building a strong athlete or client. As a strength coach you don’t need to be an expert in all of them. Look to build a network of professionals around you and work together to do the best job for your clients.
In our community we work with elite athletes, weekend warriors, seniors looking to keep up their strength and mobility and youth athletes who are focusing on building their physical literacy. Regardless of the client, we utilize a multidisciplinary approach to help them find success. Being a former varsity team athlete, and someone who was long listed for the women’s national hockey team program, I know the importance and power of working as a group to achieve great things. No one part of the team is more important than the other and when each piece works together amazing things can happen. My area of expertise is youth and athlete speed and strength development. Over the years I have been developing my assessment skills but I work with people who have greater expertise in the area of assessments, as such I focus on my specialty, and defer to others when it comes to assessments. Such is also the case when it comes to other aspects of training.
We are fortunate to have a very skilled strength coach who is also an RMT. Gavin Buehler takes new clients through a thorough movement and functional assessments. The unique and interesting part about the tools in his toolbox is that he is able to feel muscle fibres as well as watch the way muscles are functioning within the body as a unit. Gavin is able to make a connection between the two parts to figure out what is causing things to breakdown. Once Gavin completes his assessment he passes along his findings and recommendations to the other coaches that will be working with the clients. A typical assessment includes exercise movement patterns of squat and lunges progressions, paying particular attention to pelvic and core stability throughout, along with mobility tests for hip range of motion and scapular movements looking for symmetry between right and left and front to back of the body. If any red flags appear Gavin will delve deeper to figure out what specifically is causing them. If necessary he will recommend some hands on therapy to realign muscle fibres or breakdown scar tissue.
If there are any major concerns we bring in a critical part of our team: the movement experts. Lisa Rennie and Anne Baker are veterans at retraining improper movements into lasting patterns utilizing neural plasticity. Their work allows clients to slow things down and focus on one thing at a time to ensure muscles that are not working optimally regain functionality. As we work toward this, we keep communication up between the movement experts and our Strength Coaches that are working with the client. This link and relationship has been life changing for many of the professional hockey players, and most recently a nationally renowned rock climber who we work with.
Once the assessment has taken place and the information has been relayed, the overall game plan is then created by our Strength Coaches. A periodized program is created for each client working backwards from the camp/ race/ event/ competition. Movement preps that were recommended by the team members then become a staple in the client warm up to focus on consistent movement patterns. Depending upon the client’s schedule, level of competition and goals, the week may be divided between specific agility, quickness and conditioning sessions and Strength focussed workouts. Movement sessions and hands on therapy are also staples in the week if necessary.
There is much to be learned from other coaches and practitioners. Don’t be afraid to foster these relationships to help build your own knowledge base and see things from another vantage point to become the most skilled coach you can.
Sarah is an S&C Coach, Exercise Physiologist and owner of Active Life Conditioning, a 5000 sq ft multidisciplinary training centre in Collingwood Ontario. She has been working with youth and elite athletes for over 20 years and works with provincial sport bodies such as Alpine and Snowboarding Ontario, and is the lead strength and conditioning expert for the Grey Bruce Highlanders AAA Hockey Organization. Her clients include KHL All star Hockey players, AHL Hockey Players and many aspiring developmental, Provincial and Varsity calibre athletes. Check out Active Life at www.activelifeconditioning.com