An Interview with Hockey Trainer Kevin Neeld

Kevin Neeld

One of my favourite things about the fitness industry is that there is always more to learn. And one of the best way to do that is to read the work of the top people in the areas that interest you . One of those people in the hockey training industry is Kevin Neeld.

I never played hockey at a high level growing up, but hockey-related training and fitness interest me greatly. It only made sense to reach out to Kevin with some questions.

In addition to his position as Director of Athletic Development at Endeavor Sports Performance in New Jersey, Kevin runs a fantastic blog (which you can check out here), and his track record in the industry is impressive.

Kevin Neeld is the Director of Athletic Development for Endeavor Sports Performance.  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) holding a Master’s degree in Kinesiology & Exercise Neuroscience (University of Massachusetts Amherst), a Bachelor’s degree in Health Behavior Science & Fitness Management, and a minor in Strength and Conditioning (University of Delaware).

Kevin also played the sport at a high level, captaining the University of Delaware during his time there, and winning team MVP honors in 2005-06. We share an interesting similarity with regards to how we each got into the fitness industry. Kevin suffered a slew of injuries from over-training throughout his hockey career, and I had a few injuries in my late teens from sports and improper training as well. Learning how to recover from and prevent future injuries is what really got my passion for fitness started, and I’m sure Kevin would say the same thing.

Kevin, thanks for taking the time to talk. We often hear the term “sport-specific” with regards to training athletes. What is unique about training a hockey player compared to other athletes?

It really depends on the age of the athlete. From a psychological standpoint, the hockey players I’ve had an opportunity to work with, in general, are all hungry. They want to get better, are open to learning the best path to achieve their goals, and are willing to put in the work. Hockey has a unique culture this way. 

From a physical standpoint, hockey has several unique demands that must be increasingly considered as the player progresses in level and training age. Naturally, skating is a unique motion that necessitates a significant amount of hip mobility, single-leg stability, lower body strength and power, core strength and endurance, balance, and coordination. All of these qualities can be enhanced off the ice.

As players get older and accumulate more miles on their bodies, a significant effort must be made to reverse some of the structural adaptations that a season of hockey has caused. As a couple simple illustrations, hockey players tend to develop shortness or stiffness through the hip flexors and posterior neck as a result of the skating position, but also largely as a result of the amount of time players spend sitting (on the bench, in the locker room, on an exercise bike, on their couch, in their car, at a restaurant, etc.). These adaptations are largely negative and shift players closer to injury threshold for a number of injuries common in hockey (adductor or “groin” strains, hip flexor strains, so-called “sports hernias”, and concussion-like symptoms). We spend the initial phases of our off-season focusing on restoring optimal multiplanar mobility in the hips and thoracic spine, re-establishing neutral alignment of the pelvis and ribcage, and retraining low threshold “core” strength, all in an effort to give the player the most functional platform from which to develop peak levels of physical performance as the off-season progresses and they prepare for the next season.

What are some of the common hockey player training myths? Wrist curls to improve wrist shots, that sort of thing.

Where to start! The first few things that come to mind are:

  1. Strength training will result in a loss of flexibility, and as a consequence of this misguided thinking, that goalies shouldn’t be lifting weights with the intent of becoming stronger and more explosive
  2. In order to shoot harder, players need to develop stronger wrists/forearms or do resisted shooting motions with tubing attached to a stick
  3. That sit-ups, crunches, leg throw downs, Russian twists, and supermans are still relevant exercises to develop core strength
  4. Injuries like hip flexor and adductor strains are just “part of the game” and can’t be prevented
  5. Because the average shift in hockey lasts somewhere between 30-60s (depending on the level and position) that players should do off-ice intervals in this time range
  6. That having “big legs” means players don’t have to train their lower body, and maybe more fundamentally, that size and strength are tightly correlated
  7. That in-season training is too stressful and/or isn’t necessary

I could go on from here, but these are some of the big ones that jump out at me.

What supplements would you recommend for hockey players (assuming their diet is already in order)?

That is a pretty generous assumption in most cases, but if a player does in fact have a diet almost entirely constructed of REAL food (food that can be hunted or grown, NOT food products) from quality sources, understands the importance of nutrient timing pre- and post-practice and training, and hydrates themselves adequately, consistently, then these are all supplements that may be appropriate for a player depending on their level and background:

  1. Generation UCAN SuperStarch as a pre- or during-training/practice/game “sports drinks” (GenerationUCan.com; Save 10% with the code “competehard”)
  2. Biosteel’s Advanced Recovery for post-training/practice/game
  3. Creatine for improvements in muscular strength and/or size
  4. Beta-Alanine or Citrulline Malate to help buffer against the so-called “metabolic waste” products of prolonged high intensity activity, essentially allowing a player to go harder for longer Athletes Green
  5. Athletic Greens SuperFood Cocktail, Omega-3 and Vitamin D3 as a means of complimenting the athlete’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, restoring optimal blood pH levels, fighting against excessive inflammation, and combating against the cascade of negative consequences of vitamin D insufficiency (EXTREMELY common in hockey players because they spend so much time indoors and don’t get sufficient sunlight)

Sticking with eating – what level of nutritional guidance do you offer your clients?

It depends upon the client, but we provide all of our new clients with a nutrition packet that has a lot of information, including:

  1. Principles of successful nutrition
  2. Training nutrition guidelines
  3. Proper food choices
  4. Grocery shopping ideas and a sample list
  5. Meal and snack ideas
  6. Smoothie recipes
  7. Recommended supplement resources
  8. Meal preparation suggestions
  9. Advanced information on specific caloric and macronutrient intake recommendations for various body types and circumstances, body fat norms, fluid needs, and dietary recommendations during times of injury and rehabilitation

Beyond that, we’ll help individual clients troubleshoot their specific problems through more in-depth dietary analyses, and more individual-specific nutrition and supplementation recommendations. To be honest though, most clients come in with such terrible eating habits that these conversations are relatively simple; it’s all about getting them to start shifting toward more optimal food choices and eating habits. Most of these are familiar to the layperson; we need to create a foundation of eating real food from real sources, consistently. Eating fruits and vegetables isn’t optional; it’s absolutely necessary for survival. As a culture, we’ve shifted acceptable eating drastically too far toward convenience and comfort, and have completely overlooked the fact that the nutrients we consume are literally the building blocks through which EVERYTHING in our bodies are built and reconstructed.

The adage of “you are what you eat” isn’t just a catchy saying.

That makes a lot of sense. Switching gears a bit – tell me about Ultimate Hockey Training – your product designed to help hockey players reach their potential on the ice. 

Ultimate Hockey Training is a 210-page book that outlines my hockey training system. The book outlines the essential components of off-ice training programs, how these differ depending on the player’s stage of development and the time of year, and how the various components will influence on-ice performance. It also explains the scientific rationale for specific methods, and provides tons of real-world examples on how to implement each. In other words, the reader will appreciate that no component of the training system is “gimmicky”, that everything is backed by a strong scientific justification and years of real-world experience. The book also presents hundreds of exercises in various progressions so the reader knows how to progress and regress exercises with the same goal, depending on his or her level.

I’ve been humbled by the feedback I’ve gotten about Ultimate Hockey Training from readers ranging from youth players and coaches all the way up through some of the industry’s top training and rehab professionals working with junior, NCAA D1 and NHL players.

Give Kevin a follow on Twitter (@KevinNeeld), and stay tuned for the second part of our interview later this week.