We recently had the pleasure of interviewing a sports scientist, Ian Mack, who works with many NHL players and was recently featured on ESPN for his work with Patrick Kane this past off-season.
Below you can read the interview (with our questions in the bolded text) and get some insight into how Patrick Kane and other NHL players are training during the off-season. Enoy!
Hey Ian, thanks for doing this interview with us. I’ve been following and enjoying your Instagram content (@ianjmack) for at least a year now since discovering you through NHL’er Connor Carrick.
More recently you were featured in an ESPN column on Patrick Kane’s success this season (which we will get into a little bit more shortly).
First, if you’d just like to introduce yourself, where you live, how you got started in the fitness industry, and what type of athletes you work with?
Excited to connect with you. Thank you again for doing this Q&A with me.
I’m a sports scientist who works on the performance side and am currently based in the US in Chicago, IL. I wanted to be a trainer for as long as I can remember.
My earliest memory of this was in 8th grade when I wrote a book report on Michael Jordan’s trainer Tim Grover. I’ve been fascinated with human performance my entire life.
I was born and raised in Syracuse, NY in Onondaga County, where poverty and obesity rates are high, and my environment further inspired me to work with people to improve their health.
I got my first opportunity to work with athletes with the Syracuse Men’s Basketball team, and to mentor under their head strength coach, Ryan Cabiles. I’ve been working with athletes for over a decade, from all four major North American sports leagues.
Awesome, sounds like you have a solid background training with some high-level athletes. One of the things that drew me towards your work with hockey players was your movement based and mobility type drills you use quite a bit by looks of things.
In the ESPN article about Patrick Kane that I mentioned earlier, it talked about how Kane’s workouts were all “body-movement based” and “focused on muscle elasticity and getting his body to move in consort”. And it also mentioned that Kane started to feel more agile and a bit quicker (which has shown on the ice, as he is in the running for the Hart trophy).
Can you talk a little bit about what these type of “movement based” workouts look like, why they are good for hockey players, and how you got into incorporating them with your athletes?
Yeah, for sure. When guys come in we take them through a full movement assessment and then formulate a plan from there.
All athletes have different imbalances, limiting factors, overall attitudes etc. Because of that, it would be hard to put together a generic plan and expect a high-level result.
That being said, we usually take our guys through a combination of lunge series, hip open ups, and activations for an extended period of time. It could almost look like an extended warm-up and activation session – except it could take anywhere between 90-120 minutes.
These workouts can be good for high-level hockey players or guys that are on skates a lot because they seem to be very restricted in their lower bodies and hips.
Spending some time teaching proper movement pattern before jumping into heavy weights can be immensely beneficial for a hockey player, an athlete, or pretty much any person who is learning from the ground up.
We want to spend as much time on this basic movement pattern learning as needed because we use these simple movements to build out the foundation of an athlete.
The wider we build out that foundation, the higher we can build the house.
Mastering the basics SAVAGELY well is what we are going for with our guys.
Everyone seems to want to move a lot of weight. We want our guys to be able to move their bodies well and that is our focus way before we ever decide to load them up with heavy – or any – weight.
To me, heavy weight is just one tool in the toolbox, and I think that in a lot of cases, it is an overused tool. It’s not a bad tool or a good tool – just a tool – and it depends on what you use it for and how you leverage it in conjunction with the rest of the current protocols and workload on the athlete.
My background is in exercise physiology and biomechanics and I have been working with athletes of all sports for the last 14 years or so.
Keeping my eyes open to what the body responds to, being willing to change my mind about things I was previously taught, and keeping an open mind and searching for better answers that may challenge the current status quo is the best way I can describe how I decided to incorporate this workout style with some of my athletes.
Ultimately, each person is different and will require a different protocol for their body and their sport, and having open communication with the athlete is invaluable.
A professional hockey player often has a fairly short off-season, with some players going on deep playoff runs and often needing to rehab injuries before getting into training as well.
What would a standard off-season look like for one of your high-level hockey players? Do you break things into phases or how do you work with these guys with your limited time?
There’s an amazing amount of progress to be had in a short amount of time. I think traditionally rehab, pre-hab, performance training, strength and conditioning, recovery, tissue work etc. were all segmented out.
Now I believe if you want to give your athletes the best opportunity to succeed, there needs to be a more integrative approach. From my perspective, rehab and training shouldn’t be segmented.
Treatment guys, and performance guys should be working together as much as possible, and I don’t think those processes should be approached as different phases.
As for the off-season training, it is highly specific to each individual athlete and where their body is at. But in general, we would build the foundational movement up before incorporating more advanced variations of the base movements throughout the summer.
As the summer progresses we taper the off-ice load as we increase the on ice load. From there we try our best to manage their overall stress and track their recovery.
Are you able to break down an example workout that you would put a player like Patrick Kane through during the off-season? How long would the workout last?
We spend about two hours a day with our high-level pro guys and then 30-45 minutes of treatment or recovery or whatever else they need.
A general outline of a week in the off-season might include:
- 3 days a week working on movement, activation, foundational core, strength
- 2 days a week working on speed + agility
- 2 days a week doing recovery and tissue work
- 1-2 days on ice (early in summer)
A sample outline of an athlete without any specific large issues for a daily workout might be:
- Foam roll
- Warmup movements on the Power Plate
- Band warmup to activate the glutes
- Bodyweight mobility movements such as fire hydrants, bear crawls, lunges
- Cool down – body weight movements on the Power Plate
- Foam roll
What type of work ethic do you see from these higher level hockey players in the gym and with their nutrition that others might not see from the outside?
The high-level hockey players are great to work with and incredibly inspiring athletes. The amount of time, effort, passion, and dedication the players put into their craft is unparalleled. The top athletes are on 24-hours a day.
They’re on top of their sleep, record and get proper nutrition, stay hydrated, get ice time in and always prioritize hitting the pillars that matter.
It’s not just about getting a great workout in. It’s an entire ecosystem of factors that need to be hit to succeed – from seemingly mundane details like getting enough water and sleep, to more obvious pieces like making time for recovery and getting proper nutrition.
A guy like Connor Carrick of the New Jersey Devils can tell you what he’s eating on the first Tuesday of June and at what time he’s eating it and how much of it he will plan to consume.
Connor’s commitment to giving himself every edge possible is inspirational to a large number of other hockey players and is a great example of the high level of discipline and attention to detail I see in other pros.
Thanks a lot for this Q&A style interview Ian – I think the hockey players are going to really enjoy this. Where can they follow you to learn more about your training methods?
Thank you for this interview! I hope it’s useful to some readers for sure. If anyone is interested in learning more, they should check out YouTube where I have a number of instructional exercises and Instagram at @ianjmack.