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I came across this blog on the Hockey News. Boucher is a sport scientst and he presents some interesting topics. It can be found at :

http://www.thehockeynews.com/blogs/204-Denis-Boucher.html


Dr. Denis Boucher holds a Ph.D. degree in experimental medicine. He manages an exercise physiology laboratory in Quebec and a human performance consulting company in the United States. He has conducted the pre-season on-ice fitness evaluation program for the Philadelphia Flyers. His clinical expertise is in the fields of exercise physiology, nutrition and sport performance. He currently hosts and produces a weekly radio show on XM172 entitled ‘The Little Scientific World of Doc Boucher’ (in French). He will blog for THN.com throughout the season.


I will post some of his articles here.

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Denis Boucher's Blog: Tips to get the most out of training


2010-09-10


Every athlete wants to get better…much better. However, for so many athletes and coaches, getting better involves training the body to the extreme, demanding it to give more than it can withstand. This antiquated approach to training has been passed down through the generations and many athletes continue to be pushed to exhaustion as they strive for better performance.

Sports science, however, has taught us much about this subject and it continues to evolve much faster than you might imagine. A better understanding of how the human body works changes our concept of “pushing the limits.” With this series of articles, my goal is to bring the latest developments from the world of science into your lives to help you reach your goals more effectively.

When we take a closer look at the physiology of an athlete, some interesting facts become clear:

• The body works on a limited, but renewable, amount of energy.

• The notion of “being fit” carries a different meaning from one sport to another.

• Training should normally aim to make an athlete’s physiology more efficient: i.e. to produce much more work using the same amount of available energy.

• Training should help the body adapt to the demands of the sport and not constantly deplete its limited resources.

• Physiological adaptation to training occurs at rest, not during the actual training.

• Training should target physiological zones that will bring out the best improvements with regard to a specific sport.

• These physiological zones are specific to each athlete.

• Nutrition plays a major role in optimizing aerobic and muscle performance.

• Rest allows for physiological adaptation to take place.

Now, you want to get much better, here’s the recipe:

1. Know what specific aerobic and muscular qualities your sport requires (endurance, power, strength, resistance, etc.).

2. Get a complete and personalized evaluation of your fitness level (physiological, muscular, nutritional and behavioral fitness evaluation).

3. From the results of the fitness evaluation, identify the gap between what your sport demands and what you can give. This gap will enable you to identify and target which aerobic and muscular qualities you should train.

4. From this overall analysis, a professional trainer will be able to establish a precise and personalized training program covering specific rather than vague or general goals.

5. Measure your fitness level regularly and see how fast you’re closing the gap.

6. Consume enough calories to meet your energy requirements.

7. Include rest in your training program. This will allow your body to adapt to your training. Also, you’ll prevent burnout and injuries.

Pushing the limits has nothing to do with killing yourself on the job. It’s about providing your body the right stimulation at the right moment. Sports science has come a long way and we now have a much clearer understanding of how the body works. Why not make that knowledge work for you?


Dean
M.Ed (Coaching)
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Game Intelligence Training

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Denis Boucher's Blog: The surprising factors of muscle fatigue

2010-09-24


For athletes, winning involves the notion of pushing past their limits. Their physical resources are limited, however, and pushing beyond these boundaries sometimes requires a major investment in terms of training. In too many cases, however, the additional volume of exercise only brings about minimal results that are relatively unstable over time. What few people realize is that fitness is not the only factor behind the achievement of athletic excellence. Muscle fatigue is the other dimension of athletic success. Obviously, fatigue is affected by the level of physical fitness, but several other fairly complex mechanisms also factor into the equation.

In order for an athlete to reach new levels of performance, it’s necessary to understand and effectively manage muscle fatigue mechanisms; all athletes inevitably reach their maximum capacity. At that point, they can no longer continue to maintain the same level of effort and this is what defines muscle fatigue. From this angle, we perceive fatigue as an absolute and unavoidable reality. It is important to realize, however, that fatigue always appears as a result of a specific task or performance. Thus, there are several types of muscle fatigue, each of which can present its own set of specific characteristics. In short, with an understanding of the specific context in which athletes deploy physical effort, the determinant factors of fatigue can be more accurately identified so they can in turn be “manipulated.”

First, let’s look at the definition of muscle fatigue in physiological terms. You will see it is not as easily explained as you might think. Obviously, the manner in which fatigue is expressed depends on the activity. Running a marathon, playing hockey or playing football involve completely different biomechanical, physiological and muscular mechanisms, even though these sports rely on the same fundamental components, i.e. muscles and their ability to produce energy.

In the case where two people practice the same sport with the same intensity of effort, we could logically predict the athlete who is the most physically fit will tire less quickly. But is this always the case? Consider, for example, endurance sports such as running, cycling, cross-country skiing, etc. With these sports, the level of physical fitness is determined by the maximum oxygen consumption capacity, referred to as the VO2 max. If we compare two cyclists, the first with a VO2 max of 75 (Rider 1) and the second with a VO2max of 72 (Rider 2), we can assume the fittest cyclist, with a VO2 max of 75, would tire less quickly for the same intensity of effort.

This conclusion, however, does not take into account other factors that determine physical fitness: the anaerobic threshold (beginning of the intense effort zone) and the critical power zone (beginning of the severe effort zone). It is actually possible that Rider 2 will reach his anaerobic threshold and his critical power threshold later than the other cyclist. Thus, for the same intensity of effort, Rider 1 will have reached his severe effort zone, which inevitably leads to exhaustion. The other cyclist, meanwhile, has reached an intense effort zone and can go on riding for a long time. Therefore, the level of physical fitness (VO2 max) alone cannot explain muscle fatigue.

In addition, Rider 1’s speed drops gradually and constantly throughout the race. So why then do we see marathon runners increase their speed over the last few kilometers of a race? Normally, muscle fatigue would make such a phenomenon technically impossible. This type of renewed energy, however, is commonly seen in all sports and disciplines. Let’s stay with endurance sports for a moment. How long do you think you can maintain your maximum effort while running or cycling? Most people would say two to five minutes at the most. But imagine if I set you up on a treadmill and asked you to run at a speed that would enable you to reach your maximum oxygen consumption level. Once you have reached your maximum level, I progressively reduce the treadmill speed. You will then be able to keep running at maximum capacity for another 30 minutes. Here, the notion of fatigue at high intensity takes another hit.

In short, the physiological dimension only sheds partial light on the nature of muscle fatigue. What about the psychological aspect? Could the way we think explain the end-of-race renewal of energy mentioned above?

In our laboratory, we look at several perceptual, sensory and cognitive factors related to athletic performance. We manipulate several variables that affect human and motor behavior: fear, stress, anticipation, expectations, sensory perceptions, perception of time and perceived pain. In terms of endurance, our observations indicate that in doing so, we do not directly improve an athlete’s physical fitness (VO2 max).

We do, however, manage to delay the onset of fatigue or alter its significance for the athletes, which considerably increases their performance. Fear, worry, stress, anticipation, negative emotions and interpretation of sensory information have a significant impact on the physiological and biomechanical reactions of athletes. Thus, as the brains of athletes are “hijacked” by information they perceive as threatening, they will experience fatigue prematurely.

Although this may seem strange to you, I believe there is a huge difference between a 1000 meter runner who fears the pain he will suffer after 600 meters and a 1000 meter runner who is asked to be sure to run at a level of intensity so that the onset of fatigue occurs at the 800th meter. In the first case, the fear of pain is constantly on the athlete’s mind, which will hinder his performance. In the second case, fear is not a factor, since the problem has been addressed and incorporated into the race plan. In addition, the “perceived” time of onset of fatigue has been “delayed.” Therefore, fatigue is experienced differently by these two athletes.

Let’s play some more with your perceptions. I take you into my laboratory and place weights into a crate and ask you to lift it. We repeat this exercise until you have reached your maximum lifting capacity - let’s say 120 pounds. One of my assistants a little further away places a 120-pound weight in another crate of the same size and color. I ask you to give me a hand to move this crate that contains the same load you just lifted, because my assistant is not strong enough to lift it by himself. You go over to the crate, pick it up and place it where my assistant asks you to. But I omitted to tell you the crate itself weighs 15 pounds. You therefore lifted 135 pounds rather than the 120 pounds you had just identified as your maximum physical lifting capacity.

Indeed, what your mind thinks, or what it doesn’t know, affects your muscle capacity. Most athletes spend enormous amounts of time planning their training, nutrition and recovery period, which is obviously essential. Rarely, however, do we meet athletes who “plan their thoughts and their physiological reactions” to enable their bodies to react with maximum efficiency.

In our laboratory, we consider fatigue as a relative rather than an absolute concept. We thus seek to define fatigue on the basis of the task to be performed. As a result, the type of fatigue felt, its onset, duration and intensity become variables that can be manipulated to enable athletes to take full control of them. From this perspective, muscle fatigue is based on tangible notions that are quantifiable and measurable for the athlete and which can be incorporated into the athlete’s performance plan. Muscle fatigue is no longer an abstract idea; this vision transforms physical, physiological and psychological reactions related to fatigue.

By looking at muscle fatigue as a resource that can be managed and manipulated, rather than a detrimental consequence, surprising possibilities can suddenly come within our reach.

Yes. Human beings are fascinating.


Dean
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Game Intelligence Training

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Denis Boucher's Blog: The development of on-ice testing

2010-10-08


Imagine a laboratory built into a chest band that would allow us scientists to capture a huge amount of data while hockey players are skating. To go even further, consider the possibility of using mathematical models that enable us to correlate physiological and biomechanical data in such a way that a whole new world is revealed before our very eyes. A dream come true…

Variables such as power output, aerobic capacity, speed, acceleration, deceleration, fatigue profile, heart rate, heat storage, energy depletion, biomechanical efficiency, breathing frequency and body motion are integrated and reveal the player’s capacities under a powerful new microscope. Strengths and weaknesses no longer hold any secrets. Now, armed with this new technology, instead of using variation in training duration and intensity hoping for an improvement in your athlete’s aerobic and physical capacity, you have access to information that allows you to train specific aerobic and muscular qualities with surgical accuracy. As a result, you will see a much higher rate of improvement, in less time and with less effort.

In addition, this technology can be used to monitor an athlete’s recovery from an injury. Let’s say, for example, a hockey player hurts a leg. You can determine the effectiveness of rehab by comparing both legs while the player is skating. Indeed, you can now measure the smallest difference in efficiency and see the impact on the athlete’s physiology and overall fatigue in real time.

Science is so awesome!

Working in collaboration with the Zephyr Technology company, my team and I have been extending the possibilities of their lab by using strap technology. So what I described above is not science fiction, it’s actually the result of a great collaboration between a bunch of weird scientists. On Oct. 26th, players with the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec League will be the first to be tested on the ice with our new physiological profiling method.

We’re now in an era where data rules. The more you know about your physical capacities the more you will be able to improve your skills and abilities. Furthermore, no matter what sport you practice, a fraction of a second often means the difference between winning and losing. What adds this fraction of a second is all that matters and not knowing leaves you behind.

Today, athletes don’t need to train hard; they need to train strategically. Training hard relates to nothing specific or strategic, it’s just an old way of thinking that leads to something that many times is not “it.” I often test athletes who train hard, but, sadly, they never reach their maximum performance level because there’s no valid data or strategy behind their training.

Science is awesome. Take advantage of it!


Dean
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Game Intelligence Training

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Denis Boucher's Blog: The quest for speed

2010-11-05


In most sports, speed is the gold standard of performance. Speed gives you the edge. However, to get faster, athletes mainly train their muscle mass, as if being fast is only a matter of muscle power. Well, it’s not that simple. In fact, speed should be considered as the physical, neurological, behavioral and psychological reaction of an athlete to a specific context.

Let me illustrate my point. As a scientist, I test the speed of athlete “X” in my lab. The test reveals he’s amongst the best in his discipline. However, reality appears quite different - he doesn’t even rank in the top 10 in his sport. Why not? Because speed isn’t only the result of training, it’s the reaction to a situation. In the lab, an athlete can feel secure (not too much pressure is put on him), so his body can function at an optimal level.

In competition, pressure to perform becomes part of the reality of the athlete. When this pressure exceeds his capacity to cope, his brain starts focusing on details and thus loses its ability to analyze the situation from an overall perspective. Under pressure, the athlete’s mind also resorts to its more analytical side. As a result, he starts to mentally talk to himself, doubt invades his brain - he is thinking rather than reacting instinctively. At this point, it’s too late; this rational interpretation of his world slows him down.

The brain generates the electrical stimulation that allows your muscles to contract. Many factors affect an athlete’s ability to reach full speed:

• Pressure felt
• What is at stake
• Doubt
• Fear
• Inability to detect information in the environment
• Internal language
• Inability to predict the actions of the opponents

All this destabilizes optimal brain activity. The speed at which muscle contraction can be generated is dampened by your mental activity. The brain-muscle connection isn’t as direct as it can be. You’re wasting a lot of time.

What we call an “open loop” refers to a state where your body reacts on its own. You’ve trained for so many years that movements have become natural, you don’t have to think and you adjust naturally to any situation. It’s what many call “the zone.” There’s nothing weird about this - it’s the result of a brain state. The more you control this state, the faster you will be.

The brain is our interface with the world. It represents no more than a huge amount of electrical activity to which we personally give meaning. Once your muscle mass has been trained to full power, managing your mental activity is what will allow you to reach top speed.

Remember, speed starts with your mind…


Dean
M.Ed (Coaching)
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Game Intelligence Training

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Denis Boucher's Blog: Are nutritional supplements necessary?

2011-01-21


In sports, performance matters. As athletes and coaches hear about new supplements that can provide a competitive edge, they are easily tempted to try them. Since the power of perception is more persuasive than the pure and perhaps less exciting logic of science, if you think a product can help improve your performance, you will try it, even though science may have a different point of view.

In fact, some nutritional supplements are necessary, others are useful, but many of them are a complete waste of money. In this confusing world, the “basic rationale” is sometimes forgotten too quickly. And what is this “basic rationale?” Simply this: you need to eat enough calories, meaning you must eat as many calories as your basal metabolic rate and your daily energy expenditure (including training and competition) require if you want to perform. If you don’t give your body the energy it needs, your performance will decline, recovery will slow down, fatigue becomes chronic and you’ll never be able to improve your fitness level.

Here are some numbers that can help illustrate this “basic rationale.” Imagine that you spend 5,000 calories per day, but you eat only 2,500 calories (a situation I often see with young athletes). Do you really think nutritional supplements will help you improve your performance if you don’t fuel your body with enough energy? Absolutely not! Before thinking about taking nutritional supplements, you must accurately evaluate the number of calories you need to consume each day. Then, with regard to the sport you practice, you must identify the amount of proteins, carbohydrates and lipids you need to consume.

For example, let’s say you need to eat 5,000 calories per day. If you play hockey, you need to build muscle mass, but you also need good cardio. So let’s assume that 20 percent of your energy must come from proteins, 60 percent from carbohydrates and 20 percent from lipids. You must then know that one gram of protein provides four calories, one gram of carbohydrates provides four calories and one gram of lipids provides nine calories. Therefore, if you distribute your 5,000 calories among these three categories (20 percent proteins; 60 percent carbohydrates and 20 percent lipids), you will need to eat 250 grams of protein, 750 grams of carbohydrates and 111 grams of lipids.

When a sport requires the development of cardiopulmonary endurance, eating a large amount of protein (25 to 30 percent of your total caloric intake) does not appear to be a good idea since it takes more energy to digest proteins. Each sport has its particular requirements…

Now that you’ve done the math, give your body what it really needs to perform. Only then should you think about taking nutritional supplements. But which ones? For what type of performance? In what quantity? And, since timing can be important in some cases, at what moment should you take the supplement?

Glucose supplementation has been studied extensively and represents one type of supplement I would consider necessary. Creatine can be useful, but not for all sports. Antioxidants are useful, but not in all cases and taking large quantities will actually impede your performance. Too much of a good thing always ends up having the opposite effect.

One thing is certain, when it comes to nutrition (your most important asset in terms of performance) and nutritional supplements, talk to a professional who can provide you with proper guidance. Please don’t believe everything you hear. And, coaches, when you’re talking nutrition and nutritional supplements to the athletes you are working with, make sure you know what you’re talking about. If you’re not sure, once again, ask a professional. Performance is important, but the health of our athletes is far more important…just keep that in mind.

If you follow this “basic rationale,” you’ve done 99 percent of the work.


Dean
M.Ed (Coaching)
Ch.P.C. (Chartered Professional Coach)
Game Intelligence Training

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Denis Boucher's Blog: How training your brain helps performance

2011-02-21



As an athlete, you spend many hours a week training to improve your fitness level and, hopefully, your performance. Even if you’re one of the fittest athletes in your field, you may find you’re no match for the athlete next to you if you don’t have a capacity that is very under-recognized, but highly valuable: attention.

Your brain rules everything from reaction time to motor control. Without attention, you’re always a tiny fraction of a second too late. Worse yet, no standard physical training can help you. Why not? Because attention is a limited capacity.

Because of the overwhelming amount of information your brain receives, for you to send a precise motor command to your body, you have to choose where to focus your attention, decide if it’s a good choice and make the decision to ignore information you find irrelevant. More amazingly, you must do it in real time and constantly change your focus of attention in order to adapt to an ongoing and ever-changing reality.

Now, imagine the following situations:

• You focus your attention at the wrong place;
• You focus your attention at the right place, but a fraction of a second too late;
• You focus your attention at the right place and at the right moment, but your attention shifts away because other information suddenly appears relevant to you;
• You focus your attention at the right place and at the right moment, but get distracted just when it is time to score.

You may be on the ice, but you’re out of synch. How can you train yourself to get “in synch” in such a fast and constantly changing reality? Here’s what you can do.

Master every possible move a hockey player has to perform on the ice and repeat them so often they become automatic in every situation you can encounter. Thus, you don’t have to think about them anymore. When you don’t have to think about your body on the ice, your brain has more freedom and can process more information coming from your surroundings.

Learn from failure: analyze situations where you were “out of synch” as often as possible. You will then build “experience” and your brain will learn how to react automatically to a wide variety of situations. If you think or get distracted, it’s already too late.

Your eyes are the primary source of focus of attention. But the sounds that surround you allow you to get a kind of 3D picture in your brain of what’s going on. Can you “see” in your mind’s eye where your teammates and opponents are on the ice? If you look at the net, can you keep its exact location in your mind if you stop looking at it?

As strange as it may seem, being an athlete involves not only training your body, but your brain as well. When you’re in excellent shape, as all athletes should be, your body allows you to keep up with other athletes. But your brain is the only tool that can keep you “in synch.” In other words your brain gives you the power to do the right thing, at the right moment…and that can be the toughest thing on Earth to do.

So, don’t forget to train your brain.


Dean
M.Ed (Coaching)
Ch.P.C. (Chartered Professional Coach)
Game Intelligence Training

"Great education depends on great teaching."

   
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Registered: 08/05/09
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Denis Boucher's Blog: How to harness the power of team cohesion

2011-04-01


Team cohesion: What does it really mean? Where does it come from? How do we build it? How do we keep it over time in an ever-changing environment?

I should perhaps address the basic question: What is a team? A team is a group of individuals (players) working together to reach a common goal. This sounds simple, but in fact “goals” are understood differently from one player to another. Even if a coach provides a clear goal, if he doesn’t evaluate what the goal means for each player, it is likely the goal will only be clear to the coach.

If the goal is to win a game, shouldn’t this goal be clear enough for every player? In fact, it’s not as easy as it may seem. Every player has an idea of “how” he should behave to reach the goal. Thus, for one player it may be to stay serious and focused in the hours preceding the game. For another player it may be to make jokes and laugh in order to get rid of the pressure. So, you get a bunch of different behaviours. Teammates interact with each other according to their own individual behaviours and they will inevitably develop an opinion about the ability of their other teammates to succeed based on their own opinion of what it takes to succeed. Thus, the player who believes in taking the time to concentrate before the game may see the player making jokes as an idiot who doesn’t see the importance of what is at stake.

How a player perceives his teammates and how his teammates perceive him determine team cohesion. This perception among the team leaves strong impressions in the minds of the players and the coach, but, sadly, how a player behaves is too often perceived as his actual ability and a reflection of his determination to achieve the team’s goal.

If you want team cohesion, leaving behind your judgments and impressions is of utmost importance, because every player will try to achieve the goal with his own knowledge and personality. If you judge a player on his personality, you will destroy team cohesion. If you want team cohesion, don’t judge a player on his personality, judge him on the results. Why ask a player to change his personality if he has good results? No reason at all. Why ask a player to change his personality if he has bad results? If you don’t like his jokes, forget about it. He doesn’t have bad results because he makes jokes before the game. There’s another reason for it, so find it. Don’t be blinded by your impressions. See behind the curtain.

Some behaviours obviously impede performance: drinking alcohol before a game, partying until 3:00 a.m., etc. We all know these kinds of behaviours will lead to failure. You know those are not the kinds of behaviours I’m taking about.

If you want your team to bond together, show a little bit of maturity and don’t judge on personality. Judge on results, then you’ll make more efficient comments that will lead to success and you won’t destroy team cohesion.

Sounds simple, but it’s one of the hardest things to achieve. Work on it and you’ll see.

Hostility is the consequence of judgment; success is the consequence of team cohesion.


Dean
M.Ed (Coaching)
Ch.P.C. (Chartered Professional Coach)
Game Intelligence Training

"Great education depends on great teaching."

   
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Dr. Boucher: The reality of time pressure

2011-05-21

(I posted this one under another forum but wanted to include it here to keep Boucher's blog as a complete body of work... I will update this if / as new articles are released. - Dean)



Time is running out fast. If your team doesn’t win the game, you’re done, eliminated. The skills you have mastered, such as passing the puck, shooting at the net, being in the right position at the right time, anticipating the opponent - all those “little things” you normally do with ease are suddenly much more difficult to do. Why? You are experiencing the effects of time pressure.

Every action on the ice takes place in a specific context. These actions or movements exist in relation to the manner in which your brain analyzes the environment. When time pressure builds up, you are still a hockey player skating on the ice trying to win. On the ice, nothing has changed. But in your brain, it’s a completely different world. You’re not only playing to win, you’re playing not to be eliminated and you must win before the end of this seventh game. Things have changed. Your brain feels time pressure. Instead of staying focused on mastering your game, you try to accomplish everything faster because time is slipping away.

Obviously, time passes at the same rate (60 seconds per minute), but in your brain, time goes by much more quickly; you’re facing the relativity of time. Since your brain perceives everything as moving faster, you will move faster. In this case, faster doesn’t mean better, because in this context, you’re losing your coordination, precision and ability to analyze the game. You make more and more mistakes, so pressure increases exponentially. You don’t master anything anymore. You’re moving on the ice and your only purpose is to get rid of the pressure. You don’t do what is necessary to win anymore.

Worst of all, your brain starts to lose its ability to analyze the situation from an overall perspective. It now focuses on insignificant details, which suddenly become the focus of your actions. For some players, negative emotions get so intense that all their attention is focused on trying to forget about them or to make them fade away. Such demands are unsustainable for your brain.

Your body may be on the ice, but your brain isn’t quite there with you. Can you regain “consciousness” when you’re in this kind of trouble? The answer is yes, if you can mentally separate your actions from time pressure. Before the game, a plan must be clearly set, the pace well-defined, the purpose of each action properly explained, etc., and all this in a context where the players set the pace. If you think of doing all this to avoid losing the game at the end of the third period, time pressure will take over your brain and you will lose.

Events on the ice happen fast, you can’t change that, but your brain must stay calm, focused on taking the right actions at the right moment, without the influence of the time running low. Even though victory is won in real time (60 seconds per minute), the subjective experience of time (time pressure) must never take control of your brain.


Dean
M.Ed (Coaching)
Ch.P.C. (Chartered Professional Coach)
Game Intelligence Training

"Great education depends on great teaching."

   
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Dr. Boucher: Learning to train properly

The Hockey News Dennis Boucher 2011-08-27


The goal of training is to increase your fitness level enough to respond to an effort on the ice with the lowest possible energy expenditure. The more fit you are, the less demanding the effort will be and the longer you will be able to skate under high intensity effort.

To reach a higher fitness level, many athletes have a tendency to almost always train at high intensity levels. This kind of thinking has both a positive and negative side. The positive side is high intensity interval training helps improve your VO2max (maximal aerobic capacity) and your anaerobic reserves. On the negative side, you create a mismatch between the mechanical demand of skating and the ability of the cardiopulmonary system to adapt. In other words, if you skate at your maximum speed, your lungs, heart and leg muscle cells won’t be able to adapt fast enough to bring enough oxygen to your legs and the muscle cells won’t be able to use the oxygen fast enough to adapt to the demand. You’re skating so fast (mechanical demand) that your legs can’t physiologically respond to the effort. You empty your anaerobic reserves quickly, build up blood lactate, lose muscle control and your body tires within a few seconds.

Training this way on a regular basis will inevitably impose stress on your body. When this stress occurs too frequently you will find that your fitness level will actually begin to decrease. At this point, training becomes a waste of time.

Every hockey player should be aware of this relationship between mechanical demand and physiological adaptation. Evaluating a player’s fitness level should focus on identifying the physiological zones that determine his actual fitness level.

The moderate zone is related to your aerobic capacity, a training zone easy enough for you that your muscle cells use lipids to produce energy. At this level, you can skate for a long time before feeling fatigue. The intense zone is between your anaerobic threshold and your critical power. At this level, you produce blood lactate, but your body can reuse it to produce energy and there is no lactate build-up. Fatigue increases more quickly, but you can sustain that level of effort for a reasonable period of time. The severe zone is above your critical power. When you reach the severe zone, your body accumulates blood lactate, which leads to exhaustion (in a few seconds or minutes). The extreme zone is when you produce an effort that is above your VO2max. Since at this level you drain your anaerobic reserves quickly, you can only skate for a few seconds. It is in the severe and extreme zones that you will find this mismatch between mechanical demand and physiological adaptation.

How many of you almost always train in the severe or extreme zones? Too many of you, I’m sure.

The goal of training is to help you improve your aerobic capacity and your anaerobic energy reserves. This way, you can sustain more intense effort for longer periods of time. But remember, exhaustion is inevitable.

My philosophy of training is: “Train less, train strategically and get much better results.” You can never know too much about your own body.

And please, don’t waste any more time on bad training.


Dr. Denis Boucher holds a Ph.D. degree in experimental medicine. He manages an exercise physiology laboratory in Quebec and a human performance consulting company in the United States. He has conducted the pre-season on-ice fitness evaluation program for the Philadelphia Flyers. His clinical expertise is in the fields of exercise physiology, nutrition and sport performance. He currently hosts and produces a weekly radio show on XM172 entitled ‘The Little Scientific World of Doc Boucher’ (in French). He will blog for THN.com throughout the season.


Dean
M.Ed (Coaching)
Ch.P.C. (Chartered Professional Coach)
Game Intelligence Training

"Great education depends on great teaching."

   
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Dr. Boucher: On-ice testing with the Philadelphia Flyers

Dr. Denis Boucher, The Hockey News, 2012-01-21



Over the past few months, my associate François Ruel and I have been working on the development of a new on-ice testing protocol for hockey players, using biosensors and accelerometers (you can read a little bit more about the subject in my article: The Development of On-Ice Testing, published here on thn.com).

This year, we brought the new technology to the Philadelphia Flyers training camp. Since all players arrive at camp in good shape, our goal is not to repeat what is being done, but to find ways to help the team move from general to surgical training strategies.

To do this, we brought in a portable lab of our own, strapped a sensor-loaded chest band onto the players to be tested, and asked them to skate as fast as they could for up to three minutes. From that simple test, we obtained approximately 25,000 samples of physiological data, which could then be analyzed to extract the following information:

• Power (rated in watts) that the player generated on the ice throughout the test.
• Maximal power generated.
• Power generated by each leg.
• Speed profile throughout the test.
• Length of time the player could sustain his maximal power.
• Critical Power (also known as the maximal lactate steady state).
• Biomechanic efficiency of the skating technique.
• Body posture (upper body inclination).
• Lateral, vertical and sagittal body movements.
• Breathing rate and breathing amplitude (for oxygen delivery efficiency measurement)
• Depletion of bioenergetic reserves

Indeed, we obtained a wealth of information from these tests. I’ve been testing athletes for many years now and one thing is sure, at the physiological level, hockey has nothing to do with other sports. Its nature is complex. Players need power, good aerobic capacity and amazing anaerobic reserves. This combination of qualities is quite difficult to achieve.

But once you have what it takes to play with the pros, what makes the difference? More training time? More training intensity? Not at all. You need to take a closer look at very specific details, so let’s consider some of the findings from our tests with the Flyers.

But just before that, I would like you to do a little test. Climb on a bike, set it at 300 watts and then start pedaling. Most of you will have a hard time reaching an honest 65 revolutions per minute and hold that pace for a few seconds. At the “go” signal, most hockey players can instantly generate around 300 watts without even thinking about it, and keep generating this blistering power for longer periods than a sport scientist like me could ever imagine. And remember, on the ice, you can’t use inertia as you would on a bike. We’re talking about pure power - raw and mean, these guys are really in shape.

Let’s get back to some of our findings:

• The breathing pattern matters. At high intensity, when pain increases, some players engage in a disrupted breathing pattern without even noticing it. Breathing amplitude decreases, while the breathing rate increases, to compensate for the reduced capacity of the respiratory muscles to inflate the torso and bring oxygen to the muscles. Since the breathing rate compensation is not enough, exhaustion occurs faster. In this situation, train the player to breathe effectively and you increase his fitness level immediately.

• If a player has not fully recovered from a lower extremity injury, the injured leg obviously generates less power than the other one. At some point, the injured leg can’t keep up with the increasing demands of the test and the maximal capacity occurs before we would normally expect. Train that leg in order to recover the proper balance of power generated by each leg, and you get your guy back at full speed.

• A player can generate amazing instant power, but only for a few seconds. Test results reveal that the anaerobic reserves are low. With proper training and nutritional strategies, you can increase the anaerobic reserves quickly, and thus help your player sustain high levels of power for longer periods of time.

• When fatigue and pain increase, the player adopts an almost upright position, rather than keeping the upper body inclined. As a result, his biomechanic efficiency drops, fatigue and pain increase exponentially and exhaustion occurs quickly. Correct this problem and you increase the player’s efficiency in no time.

These are some of our findings and recommendations given to Mr. Jim McCrossin, athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach for the Philadelphia Flyers. As a sport scientist, to help professionals like him, it is not necessary to explain how to train players, because they have extensive expertise in this area. We just need to help them find new ways to bring to light specific physiological and biomechanical details, for each player, that can make a difference - fast.

More interestingly, the Flyers don’t really need us to do the tests. They have our portable lab, some chest bands (loaded with biosensors and accelerometers) and they can use our protocol and do as many tests as they want, over and over, throughout the season. When a test is done, data is collected automatically, analyzed through our algorithms, and I then look at the report to make sure it is correct before it is sent back to the Flyers.

The combination of science and technology: a great thing, don’t you think?

Dr. Denis Boucher holds a Ph.D. degree in experimental medicine. He manages an exercise physiology laboratory in Quebec and a human performance consulting company in the United States. He has conducted the pre-season on-ice fitness evaluation program for the Philadelphia Flyers. His clinical expertise is in the fields of exercise physiology, nutrition and sport performance. He currently hosts and produces a weekly radio show on XM172 entitled ‘The Little Scientific World of Doc Boucher’ (in French). He will blog for THN.com throughout the season.


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Dr. Boucher: The myth of mental toughness

Denis Boucher, The Hockey News, 2012-04-06



We often hear the term “mental toughness.” This expression has a certain “ring” to it, but when it is used in contrast to other concepts in sport psychology, such as stress, thought and emotion management, the notion of “weakness” is somehow introduced. The underlying message being conveyed here is that athletes must only learn to be tough. They can never acknowledge or show any weakness. Any demonstration of stress or emotional disturbance is viewed as taboo.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as mental toughness. If you don’t learn to manage your thoughts and emotions and strictly focus on being mentally tough, you’re putting yourself in a perpetual state of denial. This is not at all helpful, because you’re just trying to hide the fact that you don’t know what to do with your negative thoughts and emotions.

We can’t ignore the fact that stress and negative thoughts and emotions are part of being an athlete. Trying not to think about it by being mentally tough brings us back to the White Bear Syndrome. If I say to you, “don’t think about a white bear” what are you going to do? Think about a white bear. Since it is impossible to get rid of stress, negative thoughts and emotions, why not train athletes to deal with them and take control of their brain activity?

There are two approaches in sport psychology. One is more static, where questionnaires are used to evaluate the level of stress or the emotional state of the athlete in order to help him find his optimal arousal level. This approach holds many positive aspects, but it is not always as effective as I would like to see on the field. I prefer the dynamic testing approach.

We recently worked with a player from the Victoriaville Tigres (Québec League) whose performance had slipped in recent weeks. We wired the player to an EEG (electroencephalograph) and biosensors (heart rate, breathing rate, breathing frequency, body temperature, motion analysis). I then asked him some questions and used a questionnaire to measure the pressure he felt as he faced his goals in order to identify what was going on. When I hit the right button, I could see his brain activity, heart rate and breathing frequency go up. We were quickly (in 20 minutes) able to identify the problem that was affecting him. In order to evaluate the impact on the ice, I asked the coach to design a sequence of plays the player was subsequently asked to go through. However, I made sure to design a little scenario that would induce the same kind of stress we had just identified. Under that kind of pressure, the player’s performance was, as you might expect, disastrous. However, this is what we were after and we collected physiological data about what was going on.

I went back to the locker room with the player and asked him what he thought about his performance. Using the EEG, I gave him some quick lessons about thought and emotion management. I then asked him to put them into practice. In only about 15 minutes, he was able to manage his own brain activity. I then gave him a step-by-step brain management procedure he would have to repeat on the ice as he faced the same sequence of plays once again. He did great on 60 percent of the plays. However, fatigue quickly set in and his performance dropped once again. When I looked at the physiological data afterwards, I noted that his breathing pattern didn’t allow for sufficient oxygen uptake, which is what led to the premature onset of fatigue.

As a result of this dynamic testing process, the player must now use a step-by-step procedure to manage his brain activity (through thought and emotion management) and incorporate strategies to better deal with his breathing pattern on the ice.

Had we only used questionnaires (a static approach), it would have been impossible to explain the sudden onset of fatigue. Since a player cannot sustain a positive mental state when fatigue impedes performance, it was critical for us to be able to identify this physiological limitation for our intervention to be successful.

Will all this help him improve his performance over time? It all depends on the effort he puts into mastering those two aspects of his game (brain activity and breathing pattern). If he’s serious about it and willing to learn, his performance will improve. This is similar to what happens when a young hockey player first learns how to pass the puck. He initially has to think about every move he makes and this requires a lot of mental energy. After years of practice, however, he doesn’t have to think about it anymore and the action becomes automatic. Over time, and after putting the right kind of effort into it, our player will naturally become capable of managing his own brain activity.

Since our intervention, our player has had five excellent games. It is important for him to continue this mental training, however, in order to further improve his performance. Be sure to read my follow-ups on my blog!


Dean
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Player fitness in the playoffs

Denis Boucher, The Hockey News, 2012-05-28



As intensity rises during the playoffs, players with the highest fitness levels will have the best performance and recovery process. The higher their fitness levels, the better their chances of exhausting the opponent and winning.

We all have a general idea of what a good fitness level is: pushing harder than the opponent and leaving him behind without exhausting yourself. But how can this be explained physiologically?

The table below presents the on-ice testing results of three different hockey players. I will use these results to explain their different performance levels. First, I want to emphasize that hockey players are neither cyclists nor runners and that their physiological reactions are very different. So, even if you conduct the same kinds of tests with runners, cyclists and hockey players, the patterns on the ice are very different from those you would see on a bike or treadmill. In my opinion, hockey is the most physiologically complex of all sports and this is why we see such unusual results.

Let’s start with some definitions. The anaerobic threshold (AT) is the power at which a player begins to produce blood lactate. Below this level, he could skate for hours. But, as you know, hockey players rarely skate for long periods because of the high intensity of the game. Above the anaerobic threshold and below the maximal lactate steady state (MLSS), the body reuses blood lactate to produce energy. So, when a player skates at a power level between these two margins (AT- MLSS), the player can skate for a few minutes. The maximal lactate steady state (MLSS) is the point at which the body starts building up blood lactate, so keeping the pace above this threshold will inevitably lead to exhaustion. The closer a player skates to his maximal power (MAX), the faster exhaustion will occur.

PLAYER TESTS

PLAYER 1,2,3

ANAEROBIC THRESHOLD (watts) 110, 145, 300

MAXIMAL LACTATE STEADY STATE (watts) 124, 162, 296

MAXIMAL POWER (watts) 105, 122, 307


We’ll now look at the on-ice testing results of our three players.

Player 1 is a versatile, but incomplete player. He is powerful (reaching a max power of 300 watts). His AT at 110 watts and his MLSS at 145 watts indicate that his fitness level is quite good, but there is still room for improvement. This player can be intense for 20 to 25 seconds, after that he has to deal with fatigue. However, he will recover much better than Player 3.

Player 2 presents the best physiological profile you can find. He is not the most powerful player in the league (reaching a max power of 296 watts). However, he presents some advantages. He starts to use his anaerobic reserves much later than the other players (AT appearing at 124 watts) and he also builds up blood lactate much later as well (MLSS appearing at 162 watts). He can push hard and can keep pushing hard for longer periods of time (one to two minutes). He’s also highly resistant to fatigue and recovers quickly. At high intensity over long periods of time on the ice, he will leave every other player behind.

Then there’s Player 3. With a maximal power of 307 watts, he is the most powerful skater. However, as you can see, he starts to use his anaerobic reserves sooner (reaching AT at 105 watts) than the two other players. We see similar results with the maximal lactate steady state (MLSS at 122 watts). What does this mean? Player 3 has powerful legs, but the same muscle cells that generate high power quickly reach fatigue. Our player can be explosive, but he can’t sustain the distance. Twelve seconds of maximal effort is what he can give.

After that, he has to considerably reduce his pace if he wants to “stay alive.” Fatigue leaves him falling behind really fast.

This is a quick physiological overview of what can happen with three different players on the ice and how these processes affect their performance. I hope this will help you see players from a different angle during the Stanley Cup final and recognize how many amazing athletes are performing on the ice.


Dean
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I follow him on Twitter and use his quotes for my org. Very insightful

   
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