Which players are hitting the gym to prepare for 2014-15

Ronnie Shuker
(Photo by Francois/Getty Images Sport)

As the calendar rolled into May, only 180 or so NHLers on eight teams were left standing after Round 1 concluded last night. The rest? They’re either on the links perfecting their golf game, or on the beach soaking up some sun, right?

Not quite.

Sure, the guys who were eliminated Wednesday will likely jet off soon for some well-earned R ’n’ R. But for those whose season ended mid-April, May means the start of off-season workouts to prepare for training camp.

Yeah, you read that right. The 2013-14 season isn’t even over, and players are already preparing for 2014-15.

Starting in May, James van Riemsdyk, Colton Orr, Mark Arcobello and Nathan Gerbe are among the pro players that will hit the gym under the watchful eye of strength and conditioning coach Ben Prentiss, owner of Prentiss Hockey Performance in Connecticut. His job? Take his beat-up, not-so-well nourished and nowhere near tip-top shape clients, and turn them into finely tuned NHL playing machines over the summer.

“After 82 games, every guy I get is skinny-fat, weak, toxic and injured,” Prentiss said. “Skinny-fat because they lose all their muscle during the season.”

“Because of travelling, guys are lucky to get three workouts in a month, so it’s very, very, very difficult to maintain muscle mass during the season.”

As his players’ seasons end, Prentiss’ ramps up. And there’s no one-size fits all approach in his area of work. He has to create tailored training and nutrition programs for each of his clients, which range from superstars like Martin St-Louis and Max Pacioretty to former NHLers like Ryan Shannon and Hugh Jessiman.

“I have 17 NHL guys and each one of them is completely different in their protocol,” Prentiss said. “The first thing we typically do – depending on how toxic they are or how fatigued their nutrition is – is a food sensitivity test, a food elimination test, and if those are issues, then we go into blood work. We’ll do that before we start, so then I’m able to give them a specific diet.”

Prentiss’ guys come in torn down after a long season, and his job is to build them back up. Since some players have more time to train than others, depending on when their seasons have finished, he has to adjust his custom-made regimens accordingly.

Typically, his guys go through three phases of training, called “blocs,” which last anywhere from three to four weeks and are adjusted to fit each player’s specific requirements. The first phase is called “structural,” the second is “strength” and the third “power.”

The first bloc prepares players for the strength and power training ahead. It includes cleaning up their diet and even putting them through a body cleanse or detox, which involves the elimination of all processed foods, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and grains.

“We do body fat testing at the first day of each bloc,” Prentiss said. “Guys don’t show up to training camp fat. That doesn’t happen with my guys because every phase works specifically, seeing where we’re at and where we need to be.”

Because guys are so broken down, Prentiss also puts many of them through a massage-like manual therapy called ART, which stands for Active Release Techniques. It targets tender areas, like groins and hip flexors, that often get injured during a season and can’t be worked on through standard stretches and exercises. Shoulders are another area.

“In my opinion, one of the biggest things now is not the hips, but the shoulders,” Prentiss said. “I’m seeing so many shoulder issues because guys are just getting slammed into the boards at high velocity that so many guys are coming back with shoulder injuries.

After he completes his testing, Prentiss doesn’t just throw his guys into the gym and have them do squats and deadlifts. And they definitely won’t be hitting the ice any time soon. The strength and power exercises come after about four weeks of preliminary work, and on-ice workouts won’t come until July or August.

One of the exercises Prentiss gets his guys to do in the first training bloc is called a “front foot elevated split squat.” It’s done on a wobble board to increase ankle stability and stretch out the legs.

For upper body, he uses an exercise called “incline prone Ws.” It helps with proper posture, which players need before moving on to exercises like chin-ups.

Neither exercise uses much weight. That’s because the first phase focuses on things like stability, mobility and posture. Only then will a player move on to exercises geared toward building strength and power.

Round 2 is about to hit the ice tonight, but Phase 1 is only just beginning at the gym.

Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.

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