Recently I have visited Augsburg in Germany and used this opportunity to improve my knowledge about sports science support and strength and conditioning practice in high-level sport.
Augsburg has a team in German ice-hockey premier division — Augsburger Panther.
The team is currently on a 5-th place in the championship.
Besides German nationals, it has American, Canadian and Eastern European players.
I met with Sven Herzog who has been team’s Strength and Conditioning coach for four years. He was a former sub-elite runner and got his Degree In Germany and Canada.
In German championship games are played two times per week—on Friday and Sunday. This pattern demands short tactical training and recovery procedures on Saturday whereas Monday is a day off.
Hockey match consists of three 20 min periods. Usually player has approximately ten 45-sec shifts on the ice during one period. Work to rest ratio approximates 1:2. During single 45-sec shift players are involved in tackles, collisions, short sprints, accelerations, and decelerations. However a significant part of the 45-sec bout they spend in “tactical” skating.
It is necessary to note that every player is wearing special sensor during the game which allows Sven to collect information about a physical load. This includes overall time and distance on ice, sprints, accelerations and decelerations, impacts and power output.
Sven builds his conditioning training mostly on bikes. These sessions typically mimic game load with respect to time intervals and power output.
He does not like machines and uses mostly free weights for strength training. Sven prefers small repetitions numbers: not more than 5 and around 80% of RM. He considers this pattern of strength training as more useful for ice-hockey.
Sven pays considerable attention to the speed of lifting. For that, he measures bar velocity and uses velocity based training methods in weightlifting (for velocity-based training information look here).
Different variations of squats, lunges, pulls and deadlifts are used. Though Sven doesn’t chase high absolute values for lifting, he considers achieving personal best of 1.5 bodyweight in the back squat and 2 bodyweight in deadlift as a norm.
A specific training programme is designed to tackle typical for hockey players misbalances. For example, players have a disproportional development of muscles on a side where they hold a hockey stick and excessive anterior pelvic tilt due to a specificity of skating.
Sven actively uses elastic bands for these exercises.
Significant attention is paid to posture, deep muscles activation, and pelvic floor muscles.
Breathing technic is used as a method of relaxation after the game and a method for deep muscles activation (e.g.diaphragm).
Sven tries to include a plyometric session at least once a week.
He considers training principles for designing Strength and Conditioning programme simple:
Identify sport-specific demands.
Identify potential problems.
Try to compensate disbalances.
As is customary in an elite team, players receive meal immediately after training and games. Athletes commonly use cold bath after games (15 degrees 5 min ).
Sven differentiates recovery procedure for players depending on the game’s load:
Players who did not play or played small part of the game perform match-imitation exercise on a bike.
Players who played a full game have a cold bath followed by rolling foam massage and stretching. Additionally, Sven gives breathing exercises for relaxation. “Hockey game is a real battle, breathing helps to recover player’s body and mind.”
Monitoring can be divided on three categories: External, physiological and psychological.
Sven collected information about rolling average workload for few weeks from wearable sensors, and he tries that acute training load do not to exceed significantly this average values. Especially it is essential for players who are coming back from the injuries. He uses special software which warns him about excessive training load for a particular player.
Physiological measures include HR variability and morning HR. Players report these to Sven every morning before the session. Though he is a bit skeptical about HR variability robustness, he uses its abnormality as a warning signal and may refer player for further medical examination.
Psychological monitoring consists of Borg scale assessment 15 min after the session and short readiness assessment in the morning.
In sports science literature countermovement jump is considered as a valuable assessment of neuromuscular fatigue. Sven uses this assessment bimonthly, and if player’s result drops by 10-15 %, he may release athlete from training and give him a rest.
Sven considers his role as a provider of advice and reasonable guidance rather than indisputable orders. He is trying to build trustful and honest relations with the athletes. “At the end of the day, they are professionals and have to take care of their regime, health, and training. I am here to help them, but I am not their boss.”
During training sessions, Sven draws session training plan on the school board and players follow this plan by themselves. “ I am not blowing a whistle during a training, players follow the plan without commands. This allows me to pay attention to the individual athlete, correct his mistakes and work on his weaknesses. Basically, it allows me coaching”.
Sven thinks that in German sports education system exists a gap between sports science and practical coaching. Many young university graduates although have good theoretical knowledge in sports science cannot put this into practice due to lack of coaching skills. They do not understand the psychology of elite athletes and many practical aspects of sports training.
Sven has great respect to the former Soviet Union school of sports science. He thinks that ideas of Yuri Verkhoshansky and Robert Roman are still in use in elite sport. “ Many so-called “new” methods in western training methodology are basically the same ideas that were developed in the Soviet Union many years ago.”
Strength and conditioning training In Augsburger Panther is an excellent example of contemporary ideas and tendencies in sports training. It combines a scientific approach with practical nuances of high-level competition. Importantly, Sven tries to make his training individual as much as it is possible in a team sport. He identifies athlete’s problems and monitors his training status and readiness. It is not an easy task when you have 25 players in the gym! With the relatively limited budget, Sven achieves a really good result. I think his work during four years in Augsburg made a crucial contribution to the team’s performance and relatively low level of “non-collision” injuries.
I really appreciate Sven openness and readiness to share his time and ideas. Unfortunately, some coaches try to keep in secret their training. In my opinion, those sports practitioners who try to hide their training methods, actually, have nothing valuable to hide.
Photo: From Augsburger Panther with permission.