Strength & Conditioning World Tour 2014 – Part 5: Darien, CT

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After hopping through Providence and Boston, I landed in a small town called Darien – about an hour away from New York near Stamford, Connecticut.

If I told you that for many NHL players Darien, CT – a tiny community of 20 000 people – is THE PLACE to be during the summer months, what would you say? I wouldn’t be surprised if you called bullshit on that statement.

But the reason NHL’ers flock to Darien in droves lies in the fact that it’s home to Prentiss Hockey Performance – a 2000 square foot training facility run by strength coach Ben Prentiss, situated inside a former gas station just off I-95 that Prentiss converted into a gym some 15 years ago.

Ben is a relatively unknown guy (at least in the Internetland of strength & conditioning) because unlike many other trainers more concerned with building a huge internet presence, he actually prefers working with his athletes in the gym day in, day out.

Ben’s client list includes such names as two-time Art Ross winner Martin St. Louis, Stanley Cup winners Brad Richards and Jonathan Quick, 30-goal scorers Max Pacioretty, James van Riemsdyk and Matt Moulson, and a whole bunch of other pro hockey players in the NHL and in Europe.

Needless to say, there are not many people in the business who can match that roster.

Furthermore, Ben does no advertising, relying strictly on his ability to produce results for his athletes and the ensuing word of mouth from players and agents to drive more clients his way.

I had the chance to talk shop with Ben as I spent a day at his facility observing his clients’ workouts and asking a bunch of questions related to his background story, business model, and of course his training philosophy and what he does with his guys in the weight room.

During the six or so hours that I spent at PHP watching guys train, such household NHL names as Nathan Gerbe, Kevin Shattenkirk, Torey Krug, Colton Orr, Cam Atkinson and Matt Moulson came in to get a lift in.

Ben and I - with #21 van Riemsdyk and #67 Pacioretty in the background

Ben and I – with #21 van Riemsdyk and #67 Pacioretty in the background

We had an interesting exchange with Ben at one point while discussing some of his clientele…

Ben Prentiss: One of my guys plays in the Finnish Elite League.

Yunus Barisik: Who’s that?

BP: Moses.

YB: Steve Moses? He plays for my hometown team Jokerit Helsinki. Guy is one of the fastest skaters in the league!

BP: Now you know where he gets all that speed from.

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Moses scores on a breakaway for Jokerit Helsinki

If you follow the NHL or otherwise possess an interest in how pro level athletes train, I believe this interview will be a total treat for you (yes, I’m biased – deal with it).

YB: Ben, what are some of the biggest issues you see with your NHL guys when they come to you at the start of the off-season?

BP: It’s pretty much the same story all across the board.

After the hockey season they’re basically weak and skinny-fat. Their bodies are toxic from all that traveling, and banged up or injured to some extent.

In addition, their adductors are weak, they’ve got no ankle mobility, no VMO [vastus medialis oblique – part of the quadriceps muscle], no hamstrings, glutes not firing, practically no range of motion in the upper body and so on.

YB: How do you start fixing them back to improved health, mobility and performance?

BP: In the beginning of the off-season, for the first two weeks or so, I have them do full-body training with short rest periods, for example barbell complexes. Think of this period sort of like a “phase before the phase”.

The goal here is to improve their work capacity. So the weights won’t be too heavy in this phase and the focus is more on volume. We also do some rotator cuff stuff and sled work to build them up for the upcoming phases where we start focusing more on developing their strength and power qualities.

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YB: Makes sense. How do the workouts progress over the summer?

BP: I generally have them do 4 weekly training sessions following an upper-lower split that looks like this:

Day 1 – Upper strength

Day 2 – Lower strength

Day 3 – Off

Day 4 – Upper dynamic

Day 5 – Lower dynamic

Without getting too specific, the system is a modified conjugate system, and I use wave loading, which gets them strong really fast.

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Martin St. Louis performing snatch pulls at PHP

YB: Interesting. How did you come up with this type of programming?

BP: I actually invented it myself. A lot of the principles and science behind it I learned from Yuri Verkhoshansky’s writings.

YB: Let’s switch gears for a moment. With the NHL players you have, what, all of three months to prepare them physically for the next season?

BP: Three months, if I’m lucky. With most guys it’s more like 10 weeks.

YB: Wow. Talk about working under pressure.

BP: Oh absolutely. And the thing is, if they don’t get results, no matter how short the time frame, they’re not coming back next year. So yes, there’s pressure to deliver.

YB: How much strength training do the athletes get in during the NHL season?

BP: They all have in-season strength programs but the reality with all the traveling and playing multiple games each week is that with some of the guys we’re lucky if they get in 3 or 4 training sessions a month. It’s just something we have to deal with.

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YB: What would you consider “good” strength standards for hockey players?

BP: I really don’t have any set strength standards because every athlete is different.

What I will say is that most guys in the NHL don’t bench press 300 pounds. With the squat, 300 pounds – which really is not a great lift – is above average in the NHL.

For reference, Nathan Gerbe [Ben’s client and the shortest player in the league] squats over 400 pounds.

This may surprise you but most college hockey guys are actually stronger than NHL guys.

[YB’s note: After observing and coaching several pretty strong college guys at Endeavor Sports Performance under Kevin Neeld’s guidance after talking to Ben, I can believe his statement.]

YB: This has been an interesting interview indeed. Thank you, Ben.

For more information on Prentiss Hockey Performance, go here.

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Thanks!

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Yunus Barisik
 

Yunus Barisik, CSCS, specializes in making hockey players strong, fast and explosive. He has trained 500+ hockey players at the junior, college and pro levels, including NHL Draft picks and World Champions. An accomplished author, Yunus has had articles published on top fitness and performance sites, including T Nation, STACK and Muscle & Strength. He also wrote Next Level Hockey Training, a comprehensive resource for ice hockey players on building athletic strength, size and power, while staying injury-free.

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