Aug 282011

Just a quick note to acknowledge and say thanks to Chris Poirier and the Perform Better staff for another exceptional Functional Training Summit.  It was a great weekend where I got to hook up with many people in the strength and conditioning field and see some amazing presentations.

I wish I could write up a longer review, but honestly, I saw so many outstanding talks that I would be here for days working on it.  Like always, I walked away from each talk with at least 1 idea that I can take action with either with myself or with programming for my athletes.

If you haven’t been to one of these conferences yet, you are totally missing out.

Aug 262011

Part 1 of this was the why I did the RKC cert and what I did to prepare for it.  Now I want to cover the weekend.

I drove down to La Jolla on Thursday night so that I could check into the hotel and check in for the RKC.  I checked in, got my book, and then looked to see which team I would be on.  As I was registering, I bumped into Jim Hooper, RKC.  He is the owner of Balboa Fitness in Newport Beach.  Earlier on in the summer when I was first getting started in my training, I went to Jim’s facility and spent some time with him so I could work on my technique.   Jim really helped me establish a solid foundation so I could move forward with my training.  When I saw Jim on Thursday, he informed me that I was on team Dan John.  I can’t tell you how fired up I was to hear that.  I have been a follower of Dan for a few years now.  From his book Never Let Go, to all of his articles on the internet about strength and conditioning, I have pretty much read all of his material.  There is something about the way that he writes that really keeps me interested as the reader.  I have never met him in person, but I was definitely hoping to at least bump into him over the weekend.  Now, considering the fact that there is over 120 people registered for this certification and I believe 8 or so teams, I was lucky and very fortunate to land on Dan’s team.  Instead of just bumping into him, I was going to spend 3 full days with him getting coached by him.  To me, that is just awesome.

To be honest, and I think many of the attendees would agree, I thought we were going to do the Snatch test on Friday morning.  I think many of us really wanted to get it out of the way so that it isn’t hovering over us during the weekend.  I think we were all pretty surprised when we found out that we were going to do it on Sunday morning.  My first thought was how the heck was I going to be able to do the snatch test on the last day?  I could only imagine how sore I would be at that point.  Oh well, what are you going to do?

The first thing that we did on Friday was perform the chin up/pull up test.  I don’t know if it was the momentum and excitement around the group, but it really felt easy.  Then we were instructed to grab specific kettlebells and bring them to the field.  That’s when the process and outline of the weekend started to unfold.

I really liked how the certification was laid out.  What would happen is one person would speak to the whole entire group, and then we would go back to our individual teams and work with our team leader and assistants. I recall on Friday morning it was mostly Pavel.  Pavel first started to talk about the Swing.  As the weekend went on, you definitely know why the Swing is addressed first and foremost.  I was really impressed with Pavel.  He was very direct in his overall communication with us.  He also appears to have a very open mind.  Although he founded this organization, he is very open to new ideas.  What also really impressed me was that when
he was talking about people who couldn’t get their hips extended all the way through during the Swing, he has them do Glute Bridges or the “RKC Shoulder Bridge” in Pavel’s terms.  He also said words like “Glute Amnesia”.  This really impressed me because he is talking about some of the things that I want to always teach and correct with my athletes.  We do a lot of glute bridging.  Also, what does he prescribe for those who can’t extend their hips all the way up during the glute bridge?  Hip flexor stretching.  I just wanted to write that because to me Pavel is someone who I really admire and respect because he has been there and done that.  He has the beginners mind and he just wants to make sure his students and more importantly, their clients can do the lifts safely.  He doesn’t have a negative, grumpy attitude and disregard terms like “glute amnesia” like some others in this profession.

All throughout the weekend, Brett Jones was the guy who was the one who was directing the order and flow of the whole entire group.  Although he prescribed many swings to us for disciplinary reasons, Brett was really funny.  This guy knows his stuff as well.

The weekend went on as we were instructed by many team leaders on the lifts.  From what I recall, Brett Jones spoke about the Get-Up, Dan John spoke about the Goblet Squat, Clean and Front Squat, Franz Snideman spoke on the Press, and Dave Whitley spoke on the Snatch.  These were the lifts that we are expected to know how to teach and also be able to do properly on Sunday morning (in addition to the Snatch test).  I really liked this format because we got the person who was known for being good at teaching those exercises.  For example, Dan John is very passionate about Goblet Squats, Cleans and Front Squats.  He would be the guy that I would go to right away if I wanted to learn to do them properly.

All weekend long, the main instructor would teach the lift and then we would go back to our team and practice.  This is where I think being on Dan’s team was unbelievable.  Dan is a great coach.  He made things simple for us.  What I really liked about his coaching was that we got Dan John’s coaching methods, not necessarily the “RKC” way or the way Pavel would coach it.  Although the methods are most likely pretty similar, Dan’s personality and coaching methods may be a little different.  This is just another reason that I was impressed with Pavel.  He empowers his team leaders to do their job as effectively as possible.

Sunday morning came real fast.  I can remember my hamstrings just being sore since Saturday morning.  I would imagine that we had performed at least 1500 swings at this point.  Also, my triceps were sore from pressing and my “abs” were sore from planks.  I wouldn’t say I was fresh for my strength testing.

First up was the Get Up.  I used a 24k kettlebell and it went very well.  Then it was double 24 kettlebells for the rest of the lifts up until the Snatch test.  I did 5 Cleans, then 5 Front Squats, and then 5 Presses (all with about
5-10 minutes rest in between).  Then it was on to the Snatch test.  At that point, the thought of being sore was long gone.  In the back of my mind, I knew I could get 100 reps in less than 5 minutes.  I was kind of nervous because on the day before, my grip was slipping a little on the decent in the Snatch technique section with Dave Whitley.  Would it slip during testing causing me to drop it and not pass?  When it was my turn to go, I just visualized myself being in my back yard at home which is where I did my Wednesday Snatch workouts.  10 reps each side followed by putting the bell down x5 was the plan as it was always done this way in my backyard.  I wouldn’t say that the Snatch test was easy, but it wasn’t as hard as the last time I did this.  The bell was flying up there for me and my grip wasn’t even an issue.  The reason is that my Swing got much better throughout the weekend. The last number that I heard before I put the bell down was 4:30.  I passed the Snatch test.

What I think is even better about this certification is that you need to show that you can teach the lifts to people.  They actually get local volunteers to come in and be taught how to use kettlebells appropriately by us the students.  I and fellow team member Taylor Lewis had an interesting person.  Our main issue was trying to get her from a squat style Swing to a hip hinge  type.  She learned the movement and Taylor and I passed.

The last part of the weekend was the Grad Workout.  This consisted of us finishing off the weekend with a really hard workout.   With 2 kettlebells (a 24k and a 16k) we did 5 presses followed by 10 swings.  When we were done, we took 5 big steps and then put them down.  We went for the length of a football field (probably more actually).

After the grad workout, it was back to our teams where were given our certificates in a little graduation ceremony with the other team members.  This is when I realized that I accomplished my goal.

This whole experience for me was life-changing.  I feel that I was pushed beyond limits in a real safe manner.  Also, Dan John is the real deal.  He is truly a great person and coach.  One of the first things that he said to us was that once you are a student of his, you are a student of his forever.

Dan John- A Strength Coach’s Strength Coach

Aug 232011

RKC Instructor- Get Certified

I am going to start this article back to when I first decided to attend the RKC.  Each off-season, I will always try to get to as many seminars that I possibly can so that I can continue my education and get better as a Strength and Conditioning Coach.  I really think it is important for your athletes and clients to know that you are always trying to improve on the way you do things so that you can help them perform better in their sport.  In this profession, it is important to always have a beginners mind.

Why the RKC?  Well, I knew that I would gain some additional knowledge and techniques that I could use right away with my guys.  Although I always take pride in knowing the athletes whom I work with are always performing good technique on all lifts, I guess I feel that I could always fine-tune some things on exercises like our swings and get-ups.  I have always looked at the RKC as the gold standard for Kettlebells.  Some of the people who I admire and respect in this industry such as Brett Jones, Gray Cook, Charlie Weingroff, and Dan John are all RKC.  These are guys who I think are smart leaders (and strong) in this profession.

What intrigued me more about attending this certification was that in addition to learning more so I can coach my athletes more effectively, I did this for myself and my physical well being.  Before embarking on this process, sometimes I had seen myself as just getting by in my training.  I would always try to just be in good enough shape so that I could look the part and just get by.  I wouldn’t say that I was either strong or weak.  I also wouldn’t say I was fat or ripped.   “Healthy” I guess is the word.  To me, this was starting to become unacceptable.  I needed to get un-comfortable.

What was also a limiting factor in deciding upon taking this challenge was my injury and surgery history.  I have 3 scars on me from different circumstances.  The oldest scar is on my left shoulder from a dislocated shoulder repair way back in 1994. The second is a nice little scar on my lower back from a bulging disk surgery in 1999.  Numbness and tingling going all the way down to my foot combined with excruciating pain was the reason for this surgery.  The last surgery was in 2005.  I was given the news that there was “something” in my spinal cord at the c-4 level.  This “something” was also causing severe pain in my neck as well as numbness and tingling that radiated down to my left hand.  What was the “something” I would ask the 4 neurosurgeons that I saw in a painful month long time.  The answer that I was given was that it was 50/50- malignant tumor or benign tumor.  What I had to do was decide if I was going to have a biopsy done which would be an incision in my neck where they would cut off a few of the spinous process’ of some cervical vertebrae to get to my spinal cord so that they could take out a piece of whatever was in there.  Obviously, I proceeded with the surgery and very luckily for me, it wasn’t a cancerous tumor.  It was actually diagnosed as a disease called Sarcoidosis.  The result was a nice scar on my neck and I was put on a very high dose of prednisone to treat the disease.  It is a medication that I still have to take.   I consider myself very fortunate to not have had some other kind of disease.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I am unappreciative.  This was definitely a wake-up call.

Ok, so what does that all have to do with deciding to go to a kettlebell certification?  Since I have had all of these ailments, I have always just trained around the injuries. Since my lower back surgery, back squats are in the rear view mirror.  Forget about dead lifting or any other exercises that could flare up my low back pain.  As a result, I looked at the kettlebell swing as an exercise that would really hurt my back even more.   For my posterior chain, glute ham raises and slideboard leg curls were good enough for me.  Then one day, I just decided to try the swing with proper form and a light weight.  I started with a 16k kettlebell for 2 handed swings.  I just focused on doing them correctly.  At that time, I also started working on my left shoulder mobility and then started to do Turkish Get Ups.  I then actually realized that my back pain was not only getting better, it was actually going away.   I also realized that my shoulder felt better.  My back pain was non-existent and my shoulder was feeling better.  So it was then when I decided to sign up for the RKC.

When I signed up for the RKC, I glanced at the physical requirements and then started to cringe.  Of course, the 100 repetition 1-arm snatches in 5 minutes with a 24k kettlebell just jumps out at you.  The 24k kettlebell had been sitting on my floor for a while now.  I haven’t even begun performing a two-handed swing yet with it and I was supposed to snatch it 100 times in 5 minutes in months?!  However, as challenging as that looked, I was equally concerned about the 5 pull up test.  I was significantly weaker at the pull up when I recovered from my neck surgery.  Five strict reps were going to be a challenge.

The training was actually pretty simple.  Here is what I did:

1- I purchased the book Enter the Kettebell by Pavel Tsatsouline, the founder of the RKC. I followed a variation of a program called the Right of Passage that consisted of pressing and chin up ladders every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

2- For my snatch test, I simply followed the program “RKC Snatch Test” by Brett Jones.

So, on Mondays it was Presses, Chin Ups and heavy 1-arm swings.  Wednesdays were presses, chin ups, and snatches with the 24k.  Fridays were presses, chin ups, and snatches with the 16k.  I did this every week for 3 months and got progressively stronger and in better condition.  It was 3 times per week of maybe 45 minute sessions when you take foam rolling, activation, and mobility work.  I followed this all summer long.  When I was 2 weeks away from the RKC weekend, I was on my Wednesday workout which was now consisting of 10 snatches each arm at the top of every minute for 7 minutes.  When I started my 4th minute, I realized that I had already done 80 reps.  All I had to do was 20 more and then I passed the snatch test on my own.  As for the chin ups, the ladders were the reason why I got my chin up strength back.

I am sure that there is another way to improve your snatch test or even get better at chin ups.  However, these workouts worked for me and were actually pretty simple.  Hard, but simple.

Part 2 will be up soon.  Thanks for reading.

Aug 192011

I am posting this on the morning of the first day of the RKC certification here in San Diego.  This has been on my calendar and a goal of mine for a few months now.  I am excited and nervous at the same time.  I plan on writing a blog post on my whole entire RKC/Kettlebell experience real soon.

Back up in Anaheim, we just capped off the first week of our final phase of the off-season.  I can’t believe how fast the off-season has gone by.

At HockeySC, we have had some good content put over the last 2 weeks or so.  Here is what was added:

Relative Age Effect by Darryl Nelson.  This is a really good, interesting piece submitted by Darryl.  It kind of reminds me of the chapter in the book Outliers that where Gladwell talks about all of the January birthdays on the Vancouver Memorial Cup team. I have actually have never given any thought to what is talked about in Darryl’s article, but there are some very interesting stats to say the least.

Phase 5 ACL Re-Conditioning by myself.  I added this to the previous 4 phases that are on the site.  If you have been following along, I would suggest printing up all of the phases so that you can see the progressions of all of the exercises involved from phase to phase.

Lateral Plyo’s: End of Summer Phases by Mike Potenza. These are some quality plyometric videos submitted by Mike.  I really like the box jump variation.

Please check out the forum and don’t be afraid to post a question if you have one.  We are always checking in to answer questions and continue discussions.

Thanks for the continued support!

Aug 082011

Here are five exercises that are effective for hockey players at any level.  They are also exercises that consist of using minimal equipment including barbells, dumbbells, and weights.  These are also 5 “staple exercises” in our program.  I would also classify these exercises as “Pareto Principle” exercises which are 20% of our exercises that give us 80% of our results in the weight room.

1- Front Squat- I really think that improving double leg strength is important for hockey players.  Although hockey players do actually skate on 1-leg at a time, there is also plenty of time during a game when a player is in the gliding phase of skating.  They may be gliding up the ice during a shift or may be battling in front of the net with 2 skates on the ice.

We front squat during the off-season once per week and will use it at the beginning of the in-season phase prior to transitioning to 1-leg variations.  With front squats, we are able to get better, consistent technique across the board with an adequate load on the bar.  In my view, this is unlike the back squat where you may see several variations being performed in a team setting.  Examples of back squat variations would be the bar positioning on the back, depth differences, and torso positioning.  With front squats, the bar is always held across the shoulders with the elbows up.  The torso position allows the athlete to squat deeper because it is upright.  If the torso isn’t upright, then the athlete will drop the bar.

One of the most important factors to consider is the load on the bar.  Proper technique in any exercise needs to be established first and foremost.  In my experience, what breaks technical proficiency down is too much load.  Injuries occur as a result of the load being too much which causes form to break down.

2- 1-Leg Squat- the 1-Leg Squat and its variations are key exercises in our program.  Although we still front squat (see number 1 above), we will always do 1-leg squats within our program during both of the off-season and in-season phases.

1-leg squats can be performed anywhere.  In-season, we actually perform them in the visiting team locker rooms on the road when we don’t have access to adequate facilities.  They are great exercises that really help us in the injury prevention process.

3- Hang Clean- Young hockey players need to be developing power.  For us, the best way that has worked over time is Olympic lift variations.  We will do cleans, snatches (both barbell and dumbbell), and jerks (also both barbell and dumbbell) from the hang position.  Simply, we ask our athletes to move the weight as fast as possible with great technique.

The reason why we do them from the hang position versus the floor is that like the front squats, I consistently see better Olympic lift variations from the hang position.  I have seen many different variations of pulls from the floor throughout the last 12 years or so.  I have unfortunately seen too many back injuries both acute and long term.  Too much can go wrong with pulls from the floor than with the hang position.  Please ensure that proper technique is established before progressing.  We are not training Olympic weightlifters.

In my coaching situation, I always need to look at what the perceived advantage of one exercise is versus another.  I really don’t see the necessary advantage of lifting from the floor versus the hang but I do see a much safer variation that can give the same results.

4- 1-Leg Dumbbell S.L.D.L.- This is another staple in our strength and conditioning program.  We call it a 1-leg DB S.L.D.L. when it may be more of a 1-leg slightly bent knee deadlift.  We are able to get a good exercise for the posterior chain while balancing on 1-leg.  The coaching cues for this exercise include having a flat back, sliding the dumbbell or kettlebell down the leg until either there is a stretch in the hamstring or the back can’t maintain its arch.  Then the athlete will proceed to come back up.

Like the 1-leg squat, this is another exercise that can be done

5- Pull up- Pull ups and vertical pulling variations have been in my programs ever since I started writing them.  I see absolutely no reason to
remove them.  Athletes need more upper back strength and pull ups have shown to give you the most bang for the buck.

The inability to do pull ups is an indicator of weak upper back strength.  People with weak upper backs are more prone to injury, especially at the shoulder joint(s) which is important for athletes in contact sports such as hockey. In my experience, the athletes who don’t (or in their mind can’t do pull ups) are the same athletes with bad shoulders.  They could also be
just plain lazy.

Pull ups need to be done correctly for the athlete to get the full
benefit.  Proper execution is when the athlete starts at full extension and proceeds to pull his/her chin up over the bar.  Then they need to lower themselves under control to full extension before doing the next rep.  Get off the lat pull down machines and do pull ups.

These are 5 basic exercises that have worked well for us over time.  Although we do plenty of other exercises and progressions, I don’t think we could conduct our program successfully without these 5.

Sean Skahan has been a Strength and Conditioning Coach since 1998. During that time he has worked with several athletes who are now playing in the NHL, NFL, and MLB. Sean received his Bachelor of Science degree (B.S.) from U-Mass Boston in 1998. After that, he received his Masters in Kinesiology (M.Ed.) from the University of Minnesota in 2000. He became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.) in 1999.  Sean was certified as a Russian Kettlebell Challenge Instructor- Level 1 (RKC) in August of 2011.  He was certified as a CK-FMS in 2012.  He also speaks throughout the world on Strength and Conditioning.

Sean has 2 DVD’s for sale: Kettlebell Lifting for Hockey and Slideboard Training for Hockey which you can purchase here

Aug 052011

I hope everyone has had a great week.  It is unbelievable to think that training camps will be starting in a little over a month now.

This week at HockeySC, we got some good contributions from different people other than me, Mike, Kevin, and Darryl.  I think it is great when other coaches and practitioners contribute to help make our site what it is.  Here is what we added this week:

The Hip Airplane by Jeff Cubos.  In this week’s video of the week, we have an excellent re-gression for the Single Leg Straight Leg Deadlift.  This is an important exercise to master as is has many benefits for any athlete, not just hockey players.  We use the 1-leg S.L.D.L. often with our players.  We are actually doing at least one form of it daily as either part of warm up or as a strength exercise with dumbbells or kettlebells.  Jeff’s videos
show simple ways to make some necessary corrections with athletes who may have difficulty in extending the back leg straight.


Choosing a Protein/Energy Bar Wisely by Chris Pietrzak-Wegner.  This is a great article which gives necessary tips on selecting the right protein/energy bar.  Choosing a good nutrition product can be quite confusing for any person.  There is a huge variety of protein bars on the market today and unfortunately, most aren’t much different from candy bars when you look closely at the ingredients involved.  Chris does a great job in explaining what to look for in simple terms.


Thanks again for all of your continued support!


Sean, Anthony, Mike, Kevin, and Darryl

Aug 012011

According to the website, the definition of Durable is “The ability to resist wear, decay, etc.  well; lasting; enduring.”

In team sports, the ability for athletes to be healthy on a game to game basis is sometimes what separates the good from the not so good.

In the NHL and NFL, statistics are kept on man games lost to injury (NHL) and starters games missed (NFL).  Over the course of the season, it is ideal
that those numbers are low to ensure that the team is healthy.  In professional sports, the athletes obviously possess enough talent to play their sport, but not so many have the durability to help them remain in the lineup.  Having the best players on the team available to play in each game gives a team the best chance for success.

Unfortunately, injuries do occur.  Broken bones, head injuries, and other
ailments are unfortunately unavoidable.  In hockey, the speed of the game combined with physical contact and a hard rubber puck that is shot around the ice and in the air at upwards of 90+mph can create plenty of opportunities for injury.  It is the soft tissue injuries such as strains/pulls to muscle groups such as the adductors, abdominals, and hip flexors that can be avoided.  Can we prevent all of them from happening?
Probably not, but we can do our best at implementing strategies to help
our athletes avoid them.

Creating and implementing strategies to help prevent these injuries from occurring needs to be part of the strength and conditioning coach’s responsibility.  We can’t continue to wait for these injuries to happen before we take action.  We need to be pro-active, not re-active.  I am not suggesting that we should be spending all of our time on “pre-hab” or “corrective” exercises instead of trying to get our players stronger at the basics.  Although we do what some would refer to as Pre-hab and/or corrective exercises daily in our program.  These are done with all of our athletes even if they have been identified as someone who doesn’t have any issue to “correct”.  However, we use our pre-hab or correctives in conjunction with more traditional exercises used to increase strength and power.  Some may refer to this as functional training.   I am not
sure what it should be called to be honest, but I don’t feel like it needs to be classified as a system of training.  It is what works for us and our players.

In the NFL, the youngest age a rookie may be is 21 years old.  Most of these players are already strong, fast, and powerful as a result of being involved in a structured collegiate strength and conditioning program.  In the NHL, the physical maturity of a young player is mostly different from the NFL.  First, the NHL drafts young men when they are 18-19 years old.  Also, NHL drafted players are not exposed to the similar training methods that collegiate football players are.  NHL drafted players are being selected at the same age that football players are when they begin a collegiate strength and conditioning program.

In my opinion, there are only a small number of college hockey programs with good strength and conditioning programs in place.  As for the junior players throughout Canada and the U.S., the off-season strength and conditioning programs provided by private strength and conditioning companies are probably the best option as the in-season strength and conditioning programs at the junior level are not as structured as the U.S. collegiate programs. The teams in the major junior leagues play double the amount of gamesthat college players do which doesn’t leave an adequate amount of time to train.

Unlike in the NFL, an 18 year old may have the talent to play in the NHL right away.  With these young players, it is crucial that they embrace the strength and conditioning process so that they can develop the durability necessary to play in 82 regular season hockey games at a pace that they have never played in before.  It may still take time for this development
to occur, but we must make it a priority. With the veteran NHL players, they are more like the NFL players who already possess the physical tools to play in the NHL.  These players need to continue to work on their durability in the off-season and the in-season so that they can play every game.  They may not need the overall hypertrophy that the younger player may need, but they still need to address some physical characteristics so that they can remain healthy.

How do you create or improve durability?  Methods to prevent the breakdown of the body have to be implemented.  It may be different for each player.  For one player, it might be gaining strength and lean body mass. For another player, it may be continuing to gain strength but also to
improve their overall mobility.  These are just some examples, but I think the point is made.  Identifying the weakness and trying to improve it so that it is good enough relative to the strengths is a huge component.

What I think is important in designing a strength and conditioning program is developing an all-encompassing program which takes everything into consideration.  Even though an athlete may have specific weaknesses versus strengths, we can still work on their strengths at the same time.  I don’t think that other areas need to take a back seat as we work on weaknesses.

Durability should also be the focus of the training for the average trainee.  The ability to resist wear and decay should be why we embark on exercising.  You don’t have to be a pro athlete to not want to decay.