Talking Hockey & Training with Ben Prentiss

Marty. St. Louis – From last year’s ESPN Magazine ‘The Body’ Issue

Martin St. Louis. James van Riemsdyk. Matt Moulson. Max Pacioretty. Jonathan Quick. Brad Richards. Torey Krug. Ryan Shannon. Cam Atkinson. These guys train at Prentiss Hockey Performance each summer in order to get better. 

Why?

You would struggle to try and find a strength coach more passionate and knowledgeable about working with hockey players than Ben Prentiss.

Read on for a very extensive (and I’m a bit biased, but really interesting) interview.

I talked to Ben a few months ago, and he shared his back-story with me then. Ben got his start in the industry working under Charles Poloquin.  He’s not a guy who boasts about his revolutionary training programs or someone who is all over social media sharing videos – he is in the trenches working with his athletes every single day.

Ben.

He isn’t a guy to take any credit for his hard work, but you don’t have to look much further than his star pupil – Martin St. Louis – to see how impactful his training has been.

St. Louis is widely regarded as one of the strongest pound-for-pound players in the world, and he recently captured the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s scoring leader. At the age of 37. Torey Krug came into Prentiss Hockey Performance last summer, got himself into the best shape of his life, and had a breakout postseason for the Bruins.

Prentiss likes his athletes lean up top and Yellow Pages-thick in the legs and backside, the engine room of an NHL player’s explosive power.

Prentiss does not want his charges to resemble NFL running backs. Last summer, when Krug reported to Prentiss Hockey Performance in Darien, Conn., a football in his mitts would have completed the look.

And this summer he has started to train Brad Richards as well. Ben doesn’t advertise – he gets his clients through word of mouth, and Richards was referred by St. Louis. Richards is coming off of a very disappointing 2013 season with the Rangers, and he has a lot of motivation and hunger to prove he still has a lot of gas left in the tank.

And he couldn’t find a better training partner than St. Louis, who is known for his strength, power, and incredible work ethic.

The 37-year-old started with sumo deadlifts: four 300-pound reps. With no rest, St. Louis progressed to 10 walking lunges with 65-pound dumbbells tucked in each fist. To conclude the set, St. Louis dragged backward, for 50 yards, a sled stuffed with 14 45-pound plates. After a three-minute rest, St. Louis performed the three-exercise circuit again.

In total, St. Louis performs four sets. After that, a 50-second shift against the Eastern Conference’s big boys sounds like a vacation.

Let’s get to the interview.

Angus: Tell me some more about this charity tournament [The Big Assist V] you and your guys took part in last week.

Prentiss: Sure. Obie Harrington-Howes was Ryan Shannon’s and Jamie Sifers’ (he played in the NHL for the Leafs and Wild and now plays in Germany) hockey coach growing up. Obie broke his neck and he has been in a wheelchair ever since.

Ryan sets this event up each year. This is our fourth year I think we’ve done it. Its for a good cause. And this year, I think except for two guys, every single person in the whole game was from my gym [here is a link to the roster]. So that is pretty cool to have all of the boys out.

I coached one of the teams. Its fun. There are usually a couple thousand of people that come.

It’s probably a good break from the training for the guys too, no?

We were joking that I put a hurting on the guys who were on the other team that day as they all trained earlier that day.

Just bury their legs before.

Yeah exactly. And my team won – Reemer [Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk] actually had the game winner. And Quickie [Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick] played. So I chose my team wisely with Quicky in net.

I didn’t know Quick trained with you.

Yeah. The additions this year are Nathan Gerbe, Brad Richards, and Quick.

I imagine Richards has a lot of motivation this summer. 

A new client.

He does – and that motivates me. When you can take a guy who has been kicked around a bit, and work with him, I’m really excited for him to have a huge year and for him to show people that he has got a lot left in the tank. The Rangers were really wise in not buying him out.

We are just finishing the first phase with good results. Quickie’s body fat is already down. Its off and running. The guys playing in Europe have to leave in basically two weeks. I have a couple of guys in the KHL, Germany, and Shanny [Shannon] is in Switzerland.

As their seasons start earlier?

They have to be there by July 30th. Its’ good for me because otherwise I’d be training guys at four in the morning. It gives me good scheduling.

They leave as the training ramps up for your NHL guys.

Yeah, exactly.

Let’s get to some more of the training. Do you have to program your exercises differently for tall and short players?  

Everyone is specific in how they are trained. The only difference in terms of exercise is I look at each guy in terms of their mobility and flexibility.

Its not a matter of who is tall or short. I remember talking to Al Vermeil [the only strength coach with rings from the NBA and NFL] at a conference a couple of years ago. And he showed videos of Horace Grant and guys back from when the Chicago Bulls won all those Championships, and he had these guys front squatting and cleaning.

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For instance, van Riemsdyk has really, really long legs. And he’s not going to squat like Gerbe, or Cam [Atkinson], or Shanny, or Marty. But Max [Pacioretty, who is 6-2] can have his hamstrings covering his calves on a squat.

Colton Orr is another. Again, I don’t post training videos any more, but Orr just did a 52 inch box jump the other day. At 220 pounds.

Some context – that is really, really impressive. NFL linebacker sort of power. In fact, here is an NFL linebacker performing that height on a box jump:

220 – that’s pretty lean for him?

We are actually focusing on getting him a little heavier than he was last year. But like most of my guys he will be under 10 [percent body fat] when he gets out of here, and he’s already on his way.

Makes sense. How is cam Atkinson’s ankle sprain recovery going? 

Ankle is 100%.

I would say he is 100 percent. That has not been an issue whatsoever. We typically, in my programs anyway, I am an advocate on certain things that people leave out  -neck, ankle, we incorporate prehabilitative stuff at the end of each workout.

We have been doing that and he hasn’t had any issues.

He is one guy who full cleans, I think, 120 [kilograms] the other day. Full clean from the floor.

Again, context. 120kg is about 270 pounds. Atkinson weighs almost 100 pounds less than that.

Yeah, I think his time is coming in terms of getting his name out there in the hockey world. He’s been really good in Columbus.

Knock on wood, but if he didn’t get hurt last year…. I don’t like to jinx myself, but watch out for him. Let’s just say that.

And I imagine St. Louis winning the Art Ross had to make you guys feel pretty good.

Oh yea. This is my eighth summer with him. Certain times I have had to get him in a different gear.  But not this year. He just turned 38, and he cleaned 120[kg] as well. He is bouncing around, feeling unreal. I want to bottle it a bit, but as of right now he is doing well.

I’m biased but I think he doesn’t get enough attention because he is older and the league wants to market the young guys. He got absolutely robbed last Olympics by not making it.

Him and Stamkos. It is hard to fault the selections because Canada won, though.

Yeah. And I don’t want to name guys who shouldn’t have been there, but hopefully this Olympics he will be on it.

Especially with the bigger ice.

Well if you look at the numbers too, he led the entire World Championships in points that summer before the Olympics.

The guy led the NHL in points and people don’t talk about him like they talk about other players. And how does a guy lead the NHL in points and only make Second Team All-Star?

[On the Art Ross Win]: We get excited about it, we congratulate it, and then we don’t talk about it any more. We just get after it. And we like the 48 game schedule for Marty. It keeps him fresh.

Fresh indeed.

And the playoffs were pretty good to watch this year too.

Oh man. Unreal.

What is your focus during the season?

I have transitioned myself away from regular training, and all of my research, focus, energy, and program design is based soley on getting athletes – specifically hockey players – better.

We do 100 sessions a day in the summer. 1 hour 1-on-1 or 2-on-1 sessions. I have 14 trainers in the summer, and then during September to May I have seven. We do the local hockey teams. We train a girls lacrosse team, and the teams keep us busy.

I spend most of my time doing my research for the summer. Getting the programs better for the guys each and every year.

And your longer term end goal is more on the programming side things?

Yeah. Funny story. I usually have one intern during the summer with me, by my side, racking weights and stuff. And this summer, Quickie was laughing about it the other day, I have two interns. And he says, “Hey, what great service, I have three guys racking weights for me all day.”

I envision myself more of a lifeguard up in a chair – picking the right load for the guys.

Another new client with plenty of motivation.

I still love [training] right now, so maybe that is 10 years down the road. You get a guy like Richards or Gerbe who was just got bought out – you want to prove people wrong and show them that you are going to make a difference. You get in there, and you want to be there for every set and rep.

And that is the rewarding part of the job – the personal growth that you a a part of.

On the good side. And that is a big thing. People don’t ever talk about it, but as a trainer how do you quantify that you are doing a good job? It’s a difficult thing.

So if Marty didn’t win the Art Ross and he only had 20 points, does that mean I didn’t do a good job? If you take a Ferrari and you have a mediocre mechanic work on a Ferrari, and it will still work like a Ferrari. It’s a tough thing to quantify.

There is a lot of pressure. There is a lot of injuries. Guys are always hurt.

I don’t think people have any idea of how many injuries hockey players deal with on a regular basis.

People have no idea. Half the time you are working around injuries they obtained during the season.

That is why this summer, Marty, knock on wood, was injury free. Because of the shortened season. That is one of the reasons he is firing around.

Most of the time guys are so banged up. So you spend x amount of time on therapy and soft tissue work, and then we work around the injuries while trying to peak at the right time for training camp.

Say you get a new guy in, like Richards. Or with the young guys you work with. How do you go about making changes to the diet? 

Down body fat, up lean muscle mass in only a few weeks.

Without getting into specifics, Quickie told me yesterday that he, in five weeks, has lost eight pounds, gained two kilos of lean muscle mass, and his body fat percentage went down three percent. And he told me he has never been on a diet where he felt good and wasn’t starving all the time.

Richards, same thing. We got him a chef and we went over the whole diet with the chef. So everything is prepared for him. And he has all of the opportunities to really succeed.

Based on the body fat measurements we get, our guys get a meal-by-meal, day-by-day, month-by-month diet. Specific to that they get supplements, and specific to that we retest them after every phase. If there is an issue we address it. We never get to a point where we are like, “What is going on here?”

I saw an old video of Marty doing an exercise with a piece of equipment called a lumberjack. What is that?

On the videos I have posted with Marty in them, I never say his name. so they don’t have a ton of hits on them.

[Here is a link to the exercise I was asking Ben about]:

The lumberjack was invented was made by an Olympic strength coach, Pierre Roy. He was Charles Poloquin’s mentor. I had this one made. It’s a hybrid of a kettlebell swing and a power clean.

It’s a move where you are getting  into triple extension [ankles, knees, hips] and involving your hips and your glutes. But you are able to get a punch at the end rather then a swing.

Ill use it as an assistance exercise on a dynamic day or a power day.

Say you had your NHL guys coming in tomorrow. How would a typical training hour at PHP break down?

We do a warm-up. I don’t like it to be more than 15 minutes at max. without getting into that, I personally think that the workout should not be the warm-up. I don’t want their nervous systems shot before they even touch a weight.

We have three interns around so they will help with the warm-ups. Mobility stuff with bands, soft tissue work, active warm ups, whatever the case may be for that day. That takes typically 15 minutes.

Then we warm-up through whatever we are doing. My system is a modified conjugate system. We will do a dynamic day. We will do a strength day. Whatever the day is, we start with the big bang stuff first [squats, cleans, the power movements], and move down to assistance stuff at the end.

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And at the end of the workout we will typically do prehab stuff for groin, ankle, neck, grip, any of those kind of things.

And remember, as we are getting later into the summer, guys are doing two-a-days, whether it be sprints or skating.

Quick note:

Conjugate means “to couple” or “to link.” It’s a training system that focuses on utilizing different methods to achieve improvements. Power, endurance, strength – hockey players need all of these. You wouldn’t do a purely endurance-based program for an athlete, nor would you give them a program fit for an NFL running back (all power).

Yeah, and they are on the ice more, so you would scale back some of the other stuff.

Exactly. Hockey players always want to do more. And I try to teach them how to do it…

Smarter.

Yeah. I’m not against more, my whole thing is – I don’t want you in February feeling like you don’t have any juice in your legs. The idea is to be prepped for September, but not peaked. So that is the art of program design. Any trainer can make someone tired on one day. The idea, is to, on day one, know what you are going to give them on day 90.

And I imagine you have total buy-in from your returnees?

That is the only way I do survive. I chose four years ago to do no social media advertising. My whole thing is to do a great job with the guys that I have. Look at a guy like Torey Krug, who obviously has a breakout year, and then people find out where he trains.

Word of mouth:

And it helps when a client can win the Art Ross at the age of 37….

Marty was a beast and an animal before he came to me too. Im proud of the fact that I have guided and helped him, but he would be a tremendous player without me, too. You like to think you help, but…

You don’t let it go to your head.

Never. And that is a mantra that we have here. Walk softly and carry a big stick.

Ben, thanks for the interview. Read on for information about Ben, his gym, and some of the players he trains.

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