We love hearing success stories from endurance athletes in triathlon, cycling, and running here at TrainingPeaks, but when the No. 1 ranked NCAA Division I men's ice hockey team told us they'd been using TrainingPeaks too, we really had to know more.
Before this season, no one expected much out of the Ferris State University Bulldogs - they were slated to finish 9th out of 11 teams in their division in a pre-season poll. By the time they contacted us in February, FSU was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and was eying up a slot in the NCAA National Tournament. This Thursday, the Bulldogs will head to the Frozen Four national semifinals of the 2012 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championships - for the first time ever.
We caught up with Ferris State's Strength and Conditioning Coach Dave Cencer to talk about how the team has used TrainingPeaks to help them train for their most successful season ever.
How did Ferris State Hockey start using TrainingPeaks?
We began using TrainingPeaks in March of 2011, immediately following our 2010-2011 season. In addition to my coaching I compete as an elite triathlete during the summer months so I had been using TrainingPeaks for my own purposes for a couple years at that point. The more I used the program the more I began to see how it could help our team. We carry 26 student-athletes at any given time from all across the United States and Canada. I saw it as a tool we could use to work individually with each of our players regardless of where they spent their summer – whether they stayed on campus to train or decided to go home. It didn’t take long for us to integrate it into our entire training and nutrition program.
The majority of our user base consists of endurance athletes – triathletes, cyclists, runners, duathletes. We'd love to hear how TrainingPeaks was used to coach a collegiate hockey team.
TrainingPeaks is our tool for everything we do during the off-season. In hockey you have three different on-ice positions: forwards, defensemen and goaltenders. The demands of each position are unique, as is the basic idea of playing a high-speed contact sport on ice. As a result, it doesn’t make sense for us to train everyone the same way. Gone are the days when you could be successful using a “cookie-cutter” program, in a book that you gave the players to take home for the summer, then hoped for the best. Just the physical composition and abilities of our student-athletes are very different from one another. You might have a 140 lb. freshman who has never lifted a weight before. At the same time you will have a senior who is very experienced – maybe physically no different from an NHL player – who needs something more advanced. You might also have a bigger, slower player who needs to get leaner and faster. Every player has unique needs.
That is where TrainingPeaks helped us immediately. As a coach it allows you to set up an individual program for each player and then track it with immediate feedback. I can build each player’s calendar based on his needs and communicate with him every day. We can track metrics and together evaluate how the program is working. It’s so much better to make a program change in June when the player still has a couple of months to adapt, rather than waiting until they return to campus in September with just a couple of weeks before the season begins.
Can you give us some more details on your methods?
To make this work we had a video crew record all of the exercises we do - weight training, plyometrics, everything. We sent this DVD to TrainingPeaks and they helped us build an exercise library. As I plan each workout I can now include video and instruction for each individual exercise. Each set, each rep is spelled out for every workout. Strength training, circuit training, speed and agility workouts, conditioning on the ice/bike/track/treadmill...every session is laid out with video and easily explained. The players can check their calendar for the week or for the day, watch the workouts, and then either print them to take to the gym/rink, or access them on their mobile device. Once the workout is finished, they log their data and I have instant feedback on how their training is progressing. This data, along with tracking their metrics such as weight and body fat on TP, helped me keep a detailed log on each player’s account.
What kind of workouts are the players doing?
Periodization is huge for us so it depends a lot on the time of year. It also varies depending on the player’s individual needs.
As soon as our season ends we do a lot of base work, typically focusing on adding strength. This time of year [February] as we gear up for playoffs, we probably spend three to five days a week in the weight room. As we transition to early summer we begin adding interval training and a conditioning element to the program. This might include track workouts, agility work, plyometrics and weight training. We typically try to keep the players off the ice, with the exception of playing some pick-up hockey, until about late June or early July. They skate so much during the season we focus the spring and early summer on building the muscle groups necessary to avoid overuse injuries – especially in the groin and abdomen, which are very prevalent in hockey.
Later in the summer there will be on-ice workouts for the players to work on their conditioning and agility, along with a variety of running, biking, plyometrics, strength training and core work. We do a lot of interval work to simulate their on-ice shifts and we transition to training to be “hockey strong” as we say, as opposed to just “weight room strong”. During this time we might do something like a 30-minute conditioning skate in the morning and a 30-minute plyometric circuit in the afternoon.
During the season, we are on the ice six days a week for a combination of practice, games and conditioning. Because our season is so long (NCAA hockey games start the first weekend of October and go through early April) we continue training off-ice 2-3 times a week. These workouts include weight training, core work, and plyometrics through a great deal of circuit training.
What type of nutrition plan are the players on and how much of that is planned through TrainingPeaks?
The nutrition aspect is one of the most overlooked parts of training in my opinion, especially in college hockey. A few years back, coaches always told players they had to “put on 10 pounds this summer” if they were too small or “lose 10 pounds” if they thought the player was too big or too slow. The problem is that those cookie-cutter programs don’t work. And it’s too easy to gain 10 pounds and not be a better hockey player. I could eat a pizza every day, do some bench press and squats and easily gain 10 pounds over the summer – but would I be a better hockey player? No way. The nutrition aspect now eliminates all “mystery” from the training – it’s the missing link, so to speak.
If a player does the workouts and logs his meals, and his nutrition is where it should be, the results are going to follow. It’s just science at that point. The meal planning tool in TrainingPeaks allows us to help take the guesswork out for the players. The meal logging tool is great – it is easy to find or add any food, whether you eat out or eat at home. It has helped us teach our players how to treat their bodies. College hockey is tough in that during your season you typically play only Friday and Saturday nights. So learning how to recover and be ready to get the most from your body two nights in a row is very important.
How do you think TrainingPeaks has enabled your team to get where it is today?
We play NCAA Division I men’s hockey in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, which includes the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. It takes a lot of work by our players to be competitive in such a conference year after year. We were picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the conference pre-season poll but in February we won the regular season championship – our second in school history – finishing four points ahead of the University of Michigan. We also spent two weeks at No. 1 ranked spot for the first time in school history.
All of the credit goes to the players for their hard work, as they are the ones who put in the effort and do the training. They understand that for us to be successful we have to play a certain way, and this means we need to be a very strong and well-conditioned team all throughout the lineup. TrainingPeaks makes that possible.
One specific success story we had this season was a freshman defenseman who came to us after having a season-ending shoulder surgery last year. When he arrived here on campus he was too small and too weak to play. However, his talent level was extremely high – too high to be out of the lineup. He just physically could not play at first – he would have been manhandled on the ice and only would have wound up with another injury. While you can’t make a complete change in just a couple months time, TrainingPeaks helped us get him ready to play. By planning and logging every workout and meal, even during our playing season, we were able to get him big enough and strong enough to play every game the second half of the season. He has been a key player for us on our power-play. Without the tools we have through TrainingPeaks, he might have never been able to be a productive part of the team so quickly.
TrainingPeaks wishes the best of luck to the Ferris State University Men's Ice Hockey team this Thursday in their national semifinals game against Union. To learn more about the team, visit www.ferrisstatebulldogs.com/sports/mice/index.