Washington Capitals Strength Coach Mark Nemish
Mark is renowned by the Capitals players as being one of the reasons that they have had so much success and personal accomplishment over the past few seasons. Most often, Capitals players cite post-exercise recovery as one particular area where Mark excels above all others.
Now that we are in the off-season, Mark has generously agreed to share a few of his theories on strength and conditioning for hockey players. If you’re a parent, player, or coach – be prepared to take notes!
Thank you very much for the interview. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, your training business and position with the Capitals?
I am originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. I left Winnipeg in ’93 to complete my Masters Degree work at the University of North Dakota while working as a strength coach for the Athletic department.
After completing my degree, I left North Dakota and had stints as a strength coach at the University of Richmond, Middle Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt.
In 1998 I was hired by the Nashville Predators as their first strength coach and held that position for 6 years before moving to Northern Virginia to open my own training business known as Dynamic Sports Performance. A couple years ago I became the Washington Capitals strength & conditioning coach and hold that position today along with still owning and running my training business.
When players come to you for training, what’s the first thing you do with them?
The first thing we do is test them whether with my business or with the Caps. We hold testing with the Caps at our summer conditioning camp in July held for draft picks and prospects and then again at the main training camp in September where we test all of our players, including veterans.
Could you list the 3 top tips you could give to a hockey player that is just beginning an off-ice conditioning program?
1. Make sure that you are being coached in performing the exercises in the program correctly…
2. Make the clear distinction between activity and accomplishment…too many athletes perform the activity of training but don’t progress at the rate they should because they don’t train hard or smart enough.
3. Nutrition plays a huge role in training gains or adaptations…your composition and timing of nutrition is very important.
What are the most common mistakes that you see hockey players make with regard to strength and conditioning?
Players don’t train hard enough at times and also don’t know when to listen to their bodies and back off at the right times. Also, many players do not pay enough attention to some very important, but overlooked, training variables such as length of rest periods, speed of the repetition, and restoration techniques.
What tips and tricks can you share that will improve a hockey player’s off-season conditioning program?
I don’t know if there are any tricks, but one very important variable for improving power is to intend to move loads as quickly as possible especially with regards to training the legs. Speed kills in this sport and taking advantage of sound training principles to enhance leg power is important. In addition to intending to move loads quickly, regardless of whether they are light or very heavy loads, improving one’s off-ice sprint speed is important as well. Sprinting for 10-30 yards while pulling loads on a sled will help accomplish that. Finally, don’t do too much on-ice training or conditioning too soon in the summer. I don’t like to see players get on the ice much sooner than the beginning of August.
What are the most glaring weaknesses you find when training hockey players?
Abdominal strength and balance about the core and hips (ie flexibility and strength). This leads to trouble down the road in the form of lower abdominal tears and frequent groin tears.
Are there any exercises that you feel every athlete, regardless of sport, should do?
All athletes need to be doing sound abdominal training that is functional in nature. Too many athletes of all sports seem to think that performing crunches and sit ups at nauseum will help build their core strength & endurance. What they need to do is learn to recruit or fire their abs and glutes together and then perform many different exercises that groove the motor patterns of abdominal recruitment. This will help stabilize their spine and keep their pelvis correct position so other larger muscles can work together to perform the gross motors skills such as running, skating, etc. efficiently.
How do you explain your system/program to your athletes so that they understand why they are following your program?
My system is not too complex. Everything is written down on workout cards along with the speed to perform each repetition and rest periods. It’s all in how you coach the program. For the summer conditioning manual, I accompany the training book with a couple DVD’s that shows every exercise so the players can see what they are supposed to do.
Can you give us some insight on nutrition advice for the typical hockey player (pre-game/post game meals etc.)?
Pre game meal should not be too large…some lean protein like chicken, fish or steak (fillet or very lean strip) that is grilled or broiled, some carbohydrates (brown rice, pasta, baked potatoes) and vegetables (greens or other colorful veggies). If you eat too much at pre-game, your legs may feel heavy in the first period because you are still digesting a big meal. Eat enough to satisfy but not feel full. For post game you want to get in about 0.7 – 1.0 grams of carbs/kg bodyweight along with some protein within 30 minutes of your last shift. This will help build up the glycogen (muscle fuel) that you burned during the game. About 1-1.5 hours later have a good sit down meal with a lean protein and more carbohydrates. Drink plenty of water as well.
What post game recovery techniques are most important for hockey players?
See above for post-game shake or meal. In addition, players need to sit in a cold tub for 10-15 minutes after a game, especially if they played a lot of minutes. This does several things with the main goal of starting the recovery process going by slowing down the player’s metabolism and reducing the heat that was built up in the body during the game.
How do you monitor training intensity – specifically with regard to in-season vs. off-season training?
Training intensity is correctly defined as the % of 1 rep max lifted for a particular exercise. Since I test bench press, I express their training loads as percentages of their 1RM be it in season or off…of course they are lifting much bigger %’s of their 1RM’s in the off-season. I also have devices which measure the power produced with any given load so I can see what sort of power they are producing on a particular exercise.
What is the biggest obstacle you have to face as a strength coach or trainer?
At the professional level it is the control I don’t have during the off season when the players are on their own to lift, especially those who are overseas. The other one would be striking the balance between the right amount of training and rest during the in-season.
How do you deal with hesitant and/or stubborn players/coaches that don’t agree with your program?
At the NHL level, you must approach each player as if you are working with him, not against him. You first need to listen to what the player is complaining about and properly explain your rationale for doing things. Allowing the player direct feedback and perceived control can do wonders in reaching compromises regarding training obstacles. Trust is a big thing…they need to feel as though they can trust you…results is the biggest motivator…if others on the team are getting great results, then you hope some of the other stubborn players will jump on the band wagon.
News was released at the end of the season making accusations that some Capitals players have used performance enhancing substances – what’s your take on that?
Since we were tested 3 times this year and 4 times the previous year (random), I can say with 100% confidence that the Washington Capitals are 100% drug free. Also, with the type of weights our guys lift, the zero signs of side effects that accompany illegal performance drugs, no one on our team is on anything.
Is there somewhere that readers can learn more about your theories and programs?
On my business website www.dspashburn.com, I have numerous articles posted that they can read in addition to my training philosophies.