Freelap Friday Five with Jordan Troester
Jordan Troester is the Performance Specialist for the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In this role, he crosses all areas of athletic performance with an emphasis on strength and conditioning, rehab, and integrated performance technology. Troester came to the Golden Knights after serving as an athletic performance coach with Rugby Australia in 2018. He worked with the Wallabies U20s squad leading into the 2018 Junior World Cup. He also served as a sports performance consultant in Sydney, Australia, where he provided education and coaching to teams, companies, and individuals.
Freelap USA: Can you share more details about your philosophy for in-season training? The length of the NHL competitive season is not short by any means, but is there room for periodization? How do you manage to keep guys fired up with travel and congested schedules?
Jordan Troester: My in-season training philosophy has evolved since moving into the NHL. When I previously worked in professional rugby overseas, where we played one game a week and had a pretty consistent training schedule, it was very realistic to periodize training and really pursue progress during the season. The NHL is very different in a number of ways.
First, players show up for camp and, three days later, we play our first pre-season game. So right away you realize that any real “preparatory” phase has already occurred while your athletes are away somewhere training over the summer. This makes coordination and collaboration of off-season training extremely important. Second, they play every second or third day for 7+ months, so it becomes difficult to organize the schedule into any sort of logical microcycle, let alone a more complete approach to periodization. And lastly, travel can really challenge training consistency with variable practice schedules and limited facilities and equipment.
Now, you won’t catch me complaining about any of these things because they are all just a part of the sport and, frankly, there are a lot of coaches facing much greater challenges than these. We just have to be adaptable to our environment and ensure we don’t lose sight of, or give up on, our core principles of athletic performance.
While my training philosophy has had to adapt, given the challenges of the NHL season, I would not say that my philosophy has fundamentally changed. My core principles remain largely the same:
- Assess, execute, reassess: The more challenging your environment, the more important it is to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish.
- Work on weaknesses: This relates to the core philosophy of any coach, whether they realize it or not. Do you build on strengths or work on weaknesses? I think it is unrealistic to do both at the same time (especially in-season), and if you do try to accomplish both at the same time, understand that the resources allocated to each (time and effort) cannot be the same. My approach is based on building more robust athletes by working on weaknesses. (If they are good enough to be at an elite level, then their strengths are unlikely to disappear overnight.)
- Balance demands: Similar to working on weaknesses, I think it is important to use the gym to counterbalance the demands of competition and training in-season (especially since the frequency of games in the NHL accounts for the majority of total load). For example, highly anaerobic sports will benefit much more from extra low-intensity aerobic work in the gym than they will from more anaerobic intervals. While a lot of coaches don’t want to admit it, I think the same goes for strength and power. Depending on the position and style of play, the game might actually be the primary power stimulus in-season, while gym work may be more beneficial if the focus is on general strength and maybe even hypertrophy.
Given the assessment and understanding of weaknesses alongside an understanding of the on-ice stimulus, the challenge becomes practically executing a plan focusing on one key outcome. I believe that general plans or plans with more than one goal are often less successful because they lack clarity, which drives execution. I like to think of my philosophy on in-season execution as “opportunistic consistency.” With this approach, I want to accomplish three things:
- Consistent stimulus: Maintain a common thread of movement stimulus as consistently as possible. I have heard the term “microdosing” thrown around, but it really comes down to maintaining a minimum dose of important physical qualities so that when the opportunity to ramp up intensity comes along, it won’t be accompanied by crippling soreness.
- Occasional intensity: Do a little bit of hard work sometimes. Look for the opportunities to include a significant training stimulus focused on improving the primary training goal. It might be the post-game lift before a day off or the rare practice day during a four-day turnaround. Try to target 3-4 opportunities a month.
- Ownership: Give the athlete ownership of the process by connecting the goal of the training program (focus) with their personal motivation (desire for mastery). From there, provide flexibility and autonomy on when and how to complete the process.
I know this is a long way from the nuts and bolts of “in-season periodization,” but periodization is just a fancy word for plan. Amid a hectic schedule, the plan will change a lot, so the principles behind the plan better be well-established. I am sure there are plenty who would disagree with a number of points here and I am always open to discussion, but this is the way I currently think through the process.
Freelap USA: Shifts are very intensive. How do you evaluate the fitness of players coming in from various programs? Any recommendations with technology and simple field testing?
Jordan Troester: This is a tough question. As mentioned earlier, assessment is really important because wherever players come from, they pretty much jump straight into the season. I think of the two factors of hockey “fitness” as physiological capacity and movement efficiency. I want to assess the physiological capacity so that I can identify potential weaknesses, but I also have to keep in mind that efficiency on-ice may be an equal contributor to the coach’s perception of a fit player.
For this reason, the openness of the coaching staff to on-ice fitness testing is a big factor. I think there are some great on-ice conditioning tests, but many coaches don’t want to allocate practice time, so the alternative is to use off-ice testing. In this regard, I have actually found the Wattbike to be a very effective piece of equipment.
I do think that on-ice testing will provide the most relevant measures because of the element of skating efficiency. However, I also think it is important to consider how you will train for improved conditioning based on your assessment. It is unlikely that extra conditioning will happen on the ice, so you have to question the transfer of your on-ice assessment and vice versa.
I like to sum up the physiological factors with aerobic capacity, aerobic power, and alactic power. Output-based tests can easily be performed to assess each of these qualities. For example, tests of submaximal aerobic average power, maximal aerobic average power, and repeat sprint average power can be used to assess, program targeted conditioning, and monitor progress.From an evaluation standpoint, I think profiling an athlete’s needs before they leave for the summer is almost more important than seeing where they’re at when they return. Click To Tweet
Finally, from an evaluation standpoint, I think profiling an athlete’s needs before they leave for the summer is almost more important than seeing where they are at when they return. While I think there is a lot of potential for aerobic capacity work in-season, most of the aerobic and alactic power really needs to be the focus of the off-season.
Furthermore, while I want to understand each athlete’s basic physiological capacity to ensure they have a chance of displaying that fitness on the ice, I have yet to come across a mode of off-ice conditioning that adequately prepares a hockey player for game demands. In this regard, working with coaches to fine-tune the intensity and density of practice drills has some of the greatest potential for ensuring fitness transfers to the game when it counts.
Freelap USA: Adductor strength and hip mobility are common needs for ice hockey. Is there anything you see with training and self-care that you think can make headway with reducing soreness and strain?
Jordan Troester: Strength and mobility are very important and things we screen for regularly. However, these qualities need to be available on the ice and not just in our testing environment. Two things that I think are important to consider are:
- Alignment/mechanics: Regardless of mobility, alignment and mechanics are going to dictate how stress is distributed across the tissues. Training lumbo-pelvic control is really important, and the PRI approach is very prevalent in hockey. However, I think we can be better about ensuring that this transfers to the ice. Fundamental movement skills and some on-ice edge work done with the intent of reinforcing lumbopelvic control are needed.
- Muscle firing: It is not just about strength. Athletes need the right amount of force or relaxation at the right time (coordination). I think this is where load management and the implications of neuromuscular fatigue are the most important. Further, when athletes are undoubtedly required to train or compete under suboptimal neuromuscular states, how can we optimize muscle firing and coordination through warm-ups?
These are questions that I am still thinking through and I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. The simplest place to start is with good training, regular soft tissue work, and appropriate load management.
Freelap USA: Recovery is a big need for pro athletes, but without capacity, much of the modalities are just fluff. What do you do to help athletes recover, and what do you see are necessary benchmarks in training and competition that merit external methods of regeneration?
Jordan Troester: My approach on this may contradict some of my experience as a researcher, but the more I work with athletes, the more I have come to believe that regeneration is less strategy and more mindset. Regeneration is about developing consistent habits of self-care that reflect your commitment as a professional. You would think this is a given in elite sport, but it is by far the area of most potential.The more I work with athletes, the more I have come to believe that regeneration is less strategy and more mindset… It is by far the area of most potential. Click To Tweet
When it comes to strategies, sleep and nutrition are king, but I have also come to place a very high value on aerobic capacity. Earlier in my career, I fell into the camp of dissing low-intensity aerobic exercise because it wasn’t specific to the demands of sport and it may interfere with strength and power adaptations, but I was misguided. Stress (from training or life) drives nervous system and psychological fatigue, and aerobic capacity is a great mediator for stress. Give me an athlete with great aerobic capacity and a low resting HR, and I will feel pretty confident in their ability to handle just about anything that gets thrown their way.
When it comes to recovery, the goal is really to combat fatigue. I think it is important to recognize that fatigue is often as much psychological as it is physiological. Before we ever start talking about recovery modalities, we can make a lot of progress by managing load (strain, monotony, training stress balance), as well as creating an environment and culture that is regenerative. This can be as simple as good music in the gym during warm-ups before practice, the connectedness and social support of a close-knit team, or opportunities for fun and enjoyment in the midst of a long road trip. I would also be remiss not to mention the tremendous value of good manual therapy.
Finally, the array of recovery modalities on the market may or may not be fluff, but I think it is important to challenge the underlying physiological rationale while also respecting the potential psychological benefits (or placebo effect). One example is an athlete who decides to invest in an expensive machine to provide electromagnetic wave therapy. I dig into the available research and, while there are some studies in clinical populations, the evidence for athletic applications is limited. However, this athlete who often has trouble with sleep quality after games starts getting the best rest of his life.
Regardless of the science, there is an obvious benefit. Ultimately, my approach is to provide athletes with the tools to evaluate what works well for them and then help them structure these modalities into a consistent routine. For example, taking the time to subjectively quantify recovery and the consistent effect of a modality in relation to load provides the basis for evaluating the efficacy of any technology.
Freelap USA: Monitoring is a popular topic in professional sport, as it is necessary to reduce injuries and overtraining. What are some potential pitfalls that young coaches may not be aware of?
Jordan Troester: The biggest pitfall is to monitor something that you can’t influence. I have been guilty of this on numerous occasions. While this may be an extreme example, if the coach is not interested in your input on the training schedule or practice intensity, then you might be wasting your time monitoring load.
As you said, we often start monitoring in order to try and reduce injuries or overtraining, and then try to educate the coach on why this is important and why they should listen to us. While I am certainly not bashing education, I think this is a relatively ineffective approach. Imagine an example from sales—would you rather try to educate the world about why they need your product or design a product that meets their most urgent needs?
I think this is the approach that we need to start taking with monitoring. Watch, ask questions, and really listen in order to understand your users’ (coaches and athletes) biggest needs. Then, design “products” (monitoring) with the user in mind. There are actually systems for creativity and innovation that can guide this process, and we will be much more effective when we start giving people what they want instead of trying to get them to “comply” with our monitoring agenda.Don’t monitor something you can’t influence. We will be much more effective when we start giving people what they want instead of trying to get them to “comply” with our monitoring agenda. Click To Tweet
This may have come off as a bit of a rant, but monitoring is an area where I have a lot of experience and have made a lot of mistakes. I am really excited by the potential to have a much greater impact by reverse engineering the process. As coaches, I think that our knowledge about principles comes from within our field, but the real difference maker is application, which often comes from outside our field.
Most of this is really just how I am thinking through things at the moment. I hope my approach has provided you all with a valuable perspective. I have to acknowledge everyone in our medical and performance team at the Golden Knights. We are always challenging each other to grow in our thinking, and my philosophies are greatly influenced by the knowledge and expertise of everyone with whom I work. In a long and hectic NHL season, it does not matter how good your program is if you don’t have the people to execute it consistently.