An Interview with NHL Trainer Ben Prentiss

I was able to sit down last week and talk training with Ben Prentiss from Prentiss Hockey Performance. Ben trains a number of professional athletes, and over the past 14 years he has carved out a niche as one of the top hockey trainers on the planet.

His impressive client list includes Martin St. Louis, James van Riemsdyk, Max Pacioretty, Matt Moulson, Ryan Shannon, and Cam Atkinson, to name a few.

We talked hockey, nutrition, how he adjusted his training during the lockout, who his fittest clients are, and much more.

Angus: How did you get into training hockey players? 

Prentiss

I am going on 18 years of training athletes now. When I started I went to work for Charles Poloquin in Arizona at a facility there, and it was just him writing the programs and me being the trainer.

We trained Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Barret Jackman, Jeremy Roenick,  Jason Arnott, Al MacInnis, and I was training all of those guys for Charles.

And once Charles closed his gym up and went his own route, and he gave me Jason Arnott, who was my first NHL client.

From some of the other hockey trainers I have talked to, it seems like once you get the hook into one guy, others soon follow.

At the end of the day, if you don’t produce, they aren’t going to come back to you. If you produce, one athlete kind of leads to another.

It started with Arnott. Ryan Shannon was next. And then Marty St. Louis. And knock on wood, each summer, I have had more guys move down here to train.

Poloquin

Wow. There are so many. He is a brilliant guy in terms of the exercise world. I certainly have developed my own style over the years, but the main thing I learned from him was program design. Program design, with tempo and rest intervals, no one did that. Charles was the inventor of a lot of that stuff  – like pairing agonist and antagonist exercises within workouts.

How to write a correct workout, and how to structure an entire plan was probably the biggest thing.

What is your take on the term “sport specific training?”

In my eyes, there is no such thing as sport specificity. The only sport specific training there is in the world is weight lifting. Because that is the only thing where it is directly specific to what you are doing. It’s usually a gimmick and it is someone trying to sell something.

With different sports you definitely focus on certain things with training, but there is no such thing as a “hockey squat” or a “football squat.”

With your NHL guys that you train during the summer, what is your role with them during the season?

That all depends on who the player is. Somebody like St. Louis, Arnott, or Colton Orr, guys who have been around a while, they can follow my programs. A new guy has to do what his strength coach tells him to do during in season. That being said, there really isn’t a lot of in season training in the NHL. These guys are getting into “car accidents” every night.

For instance, I do everything with Max [Pacioretty], and he is lucky to get one workout in a week. [James] van Riemsdyk is kind of the same way. With travel and everything, it isn’t much.

I will give them two workouts to do, and I tell them to contact me every four weeks and we will change those up. And those are low volume high intensity in-season workouts.

And when they get to you for offseason training, how do you start the summer? Is there a focus on the corrective stuff? How do you screen them?

I use the hurdle and the overheat squat, but I have integrated my own together, based on Charles’ structural balance assessment, and we do body fat, and a lot of different stuff. 

It takes about an hour and a half. And after training 50+ athletes every summer, one percent of the time you are going to get somebody with different issues. Other than that, they all have the same stuff – especially for hockey players. No VMO [a muscle on the front of the leg], no glute firing, weak adductors, and so on.

I was looking at some of your workout clips on Youtube and I was floored by St. Louis doing a variation of the glute-ham raise. For the readers, can you explain how difficult an exercise this is?

It is a shame that people that don’t train don’t understand how difficult that is. And the way he does that without his butt sticking up.

Angus: I don’t even think a lot of gymnasts could do that.

Marty used to be a gymnast actually.

I didn’t know that.

Nobody else in our gym can do that, and I have some strong guys. Moulson has gotten pretty good at it. Shannon too. Pacioretty is a freak.

Without throwing anyone under the bus, who would you say is your fittest and/or strongest NHL client?

Based on absolute power and rate force development, Max by far is an absolute beast.

Angus: How did you work with him after the neck injury?

I did an entire presentation at Poloquin’s seminar basically about Max. He came to me pretty much three weeks after the season ended, and we did 18 weeks of training. We started off with as little as five minutes, and we would build up a little bit every day until we could get in to a full workout.

He had a bad concussion, a broken neck… I don’t think people had a complete understanding of how severe that actually was. I mean he literally almost died.

I think a big reason for that was when Max came back he didn’t really show any signs of rust or lingering effects from the injuries.

We don’t pump tires or anything, but it is a testament to him. He trains really hard. In terms of everything we do, he has all of the other guys chasing him.

Cam Atkinson is another guy. Max is 219 pounds, whereas Cam is 175 pounds. He squatted over 400 pounds last summer. He has so much power.

He was dominating in the AHL, and then he injured his ankle.

Each guy is different in what they do, but Max for sure.

What about Marty?

Marty is there too, but we are going on nine years together now, and we have had to change the way we train him. He plays 20 plus minutes a night and he hasn’t missed a game in years.

So you would change the volume compared to some of the younger guys.

Absolutely. Depending on where we are – I pick and choose. Maybe in certain phases I will amp it up, but then I will tail him back. With Marty, I peak and valley him. He is different than the other guys. He has four kids, and he is busy with them, driving them to hockey practice and picking them up, that sort of thing.

It’s not like some of my younger guys who train twice a day and then they go play Playstation all day long.

And with the guys you train – what is your role with their diet and nutrition?

Maybe it is through reputation, but my guys know that they have to adopt the proper way to eat.

Everbody is different. It is very specific. We body fat test guys before the first day of every phase so we can see where they are fluctuating and if they are going in the right direction.

One of the biggest things is that I have huge success with guys going gluten free. Dairy is another huge one. I took dairy out of a lot of guys – including whey protein. And they actually gained weight and muscle mass, and felt a lot better.

I have had similar experiences dropping dairy and gluten.

We have had guys going gluten free for seven years. Some guys eat more carbs than others. I give them a packet when they come in of how to eat every single day. Before, during, and after workouts. Before bed, supplement protocols, and it is subject to change based on how they are doing.

We do a lot of other stuff. Adrenal protocol, food sensitivity tests, cortisol tests, we do it all, just depending on if we need to or not.

This last summer was unique with the lockout. I imagine that put a bit of a wrench into your typical summer training schedule. Did you simply extend the phases?

First and foremost, these guys want to play hockey. They like working out, but…

They do it to play hockey.

Yeah. I scheduled it to just act like a normal offseason and we tapered it just like we were going to have a season. Even when we found out the season wasn’t going to start on time, we didn’t know when it would start, so I scaled everything back to full body lifts three times a week.

Just to maintain. And when we kind of got an idea of hockey returning, I ramped things up again.

For the guys that stayed with me the entire time, we had no problems. I actually found that with some guys, like Moulson, actually got stronger from scaling things back.

And would that be from more recovery?

Yeah. And you are introducing something different. Going from upper and lower body workouts to more full body lifting

With the success you have had with your NHL clients, where do you see your business headed in the next five or 10 years? Do you want to branch out to other sports?

It has become my passion. I have pigeon-holed myself as a hockey trainer, and that is fine. I get more and more draft picks and AHL and college guys each year. Whether we move into a bigger facility or offer more, that is yet to be determined. 

I have also taken on a Canadian Olympic hurdler, Jessica Zelinka. She was just here last hour. I am training her up until Rio. I made the commitment to her.

That sounds pretty cool.

I have trained a few track athletes before. She comes to a hockey gym and she is from Canada. And she doesn’t even like hockey.

One of the handful of Canadians that can say that I guess.

Yeah. I have developed a niche. This [hockey training] is what I spend all of my time doing research on. I want to get better and get smarter and create better systems and find ways to make my athletes better.

That is the beauty of this industry. There is always so much to learn.

It is funny. There is so much information changing, it is trial and error, and I have my own research lab right here, and I see what works and what doesn’t. It is the old saying – the more I read and research, the more I realize that I have a long way to go.

The more you learn, the less you know.

There is no way to stop and be complacent with what we have here. I just always want my guys to get better. Every summer I am trying to introduce something new. But not for the sake of novelty but more for the sake of getting them better.

 Definitely. Thanks for taking the time, Ben.

You can check out more information about Prentiss Hockey (located in Darien, Connecticut) right here.

And here are some more links to videos and articles talking about Ben and his athletes. The results speak for itself. St. Louis is once again having a phenomenal season (at the age of 37).

“If I didn’t train the way I do,” St. Louis said, “I could not do what I do on the ice.”

Moulson has proven that he can do a lot more than just ride shotgun with John Tavares on Long Island.

[Prentiss] re-shaped my whole training philosophy. It was a 180  degree turnaround for me. I met Ben the summer before I signed with the  Islanders and it changed my life. He’s a big part of my life and I owe him a lot.”

Moulson hasn’t forgotten what Prentiss told him early on in their friendship. “He said, ‘I’m going to transform you into a big NHL player,’” Moulson said with a  trace of a laugh. I remember telling him that I wanted to score 20 goals in one  season. That was my dream.”

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