The Los Angeles Kings were remarkably healthy during their recent Stanley Cup victory, and a large part of the credit for that goes to their strength and conditioning coach, Ryan Van Asten.
Previous to his time in Los Angeles, he was the strength and conditioning coach for Hockey Canada, and he helped Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team capture the Gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
He is the latest interview in my series with NHL strength and conditioning coaches. Read on to find out his thoughts on the industry, why this summer was different for him, and more.
Angus: You are involved with a wide variety of athletes. What is unique in terms of training a pro hockey player?
Ryan: There are some obvious differences such as skating mechanics and balance on skates and shooting mechanics. The energy systems of a hockey player also have to be very well rounded, and yes, the aerobic system of a hockey player is very important. Another key point is the competition schedule – they have to prepare for an 82 game schedule, whereas other national level athletes have a handful of World Cup events, but the main focus of the season is the World Championships, which is typically one or two runs in one day.
Ryan mentions a few other keys to training hockey players in this interview.
All hockey players should work on their single leg strength and stability in a low position. Along with this many of the hockey players I work with have inhibited glute max muscles partly due to tonic hip flexors – get these athletes off the bike in the summer and have them sprinting. Work diligently on mobilizing the anterior hip complex and subsequently activating the posterior chain. If the athlete is not using their posterior chain muscles adequately during skating it is likely that they will put too much volitional stress on their adductors/hipflexors putting them at risk of strain and improper stride mechanics may also lead to presentation of sports hernias and hip labial tears.
What have been the biggest changes in hockey training since you have been working with the Kings?
Since I have been working with the Kings my training philosophy has not changed much. That being said, I am continually trying to improve and progress my knowledge and program. Unfortunately I do see a lot of gimmicks in the hockey training industry and these are often appealing for the players. But my advice to them is to be great at the basics. It’s not sexy, but it gets results. That’s the bottom line.
This summer was unique for a few reasons. One – the Cup – congratulations on that. And two – the lockout. What changes did you make with such a short summer? How do you prepare the Kings players with less time to train and recover?
Unfortunately a short summer is a challenge (a challenge I gladly accepted). The bottom line is you cannot skip steps. I do structure things slightly different, but do not skip important progressions. When progressions are skipped risk of injury is increased. Fortunately, since we played two months longer than most other teams, the players don’t de-condition as much in terms of their on-ice and off-ice performance before they begin training again.
What is your level of involvement with players during a typical off-season? How much influence does the team have on their training program compared to their own coaches/trainers?
Several athletes stay with me in LA to train for the summer, however, many athletes go back to their home towns for the summer months and work with their particular trainers there. Every player leaves for the summer with an individualized program that they take home and give to their trainer. I keep an open line of communication with the individual trainers and have good relationships with all of them. They are typically very receptive to my input; since the main goal is to help the players improve and be healthy.
What is your athletic background? Has that helped you establish a relationship with the players you train?
I grew up playing hockey from the age of four. I played Junior A in Ontario, University hockey at Queen’s University in Kingston, and played over in Germany for one season in a lower league. The fact that I’ve played the game and have firsthand knowledge of the physical and psychological demands has been a key asset in my ability to connect with the players. I will run all of the on-ice conditioning and often participate in the skates with them, something that this organization has not had in a while, and I think that also goes a long way.
What level of nutritional guidance do you offer the players? This holds true for hockey players as well. How do you make sure they are eating properly?
In the player’s off-season manual I provide a section on nutrition for performance and hockey. In special cases these guidelines need to be modified. During the season we are fortunate enough to be at a level where we able to provide meals and supplementation for the athletes. During the off-season we don’t have that luxury, therefore, education throughout the season is key.
Generally, how does in-season training differ from off-season training?
During the season the number one priority is on-ice preparation and performance. Off-ice training should not take away from this. The game schedule generally guides the intensity and volume of training in a given week, whereas in the off-season this is not an issue. Various forms of fatigue are important for adaptation in the off-season, but need to be minimized in-season so on-ice performance does not decline.
In your time with the Kings, who have been some of the fittest players you have worked with?
To be perfectly honest I am proud of all of our players in their preparation and desire to improve. Sure some players are ‘fitter’ than others, but we have a culture in our room to want to continually improve and I feel like every one of our guys has embraced that. Our goal as a team this off-season was to improve on our team speed and quickness – which really plays into our on-ice system. We need to continue to improve in all areas if we want to have the chance of repeating as Stanley Cup Champions. Obviously there are individuals with specific needs that would be addressed on an individual basis.
What are your plans with the lockout? Do you work with the AHL affiliate in Manchester?
Currently I have been spending a significant amount of time in Manchester, New Hampshire with our AHL affiliate team the Monarchs. I’d like to have as much involvement with these players as possible so the transition from the AHL to NHL is seamless.
Thanks for the interview, Ryan. Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter @RyanVanAsten.
Ryan shares more of his thoughts on hockey and training in an interview with Matt Price from Meridian Athletic Development.
Interviews with NHL strength & conditioning coaches: