Circuit Training With Shawn Horcoff

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Getting hit with a season-ending injury in the midst of a career year is beyond frustrating--but out of a hockey player's control. Within his control, however, is how he responds to the adversity, and his dedication and work ethic.

Unfortunately, some elite athletes never regain their physical or mental dominance after returning from an injury. It can be difficult and career-threatening, with a lot resting on your attitude and mental toughness.

That wasn't always the case for Edmonton Oilers All-Star center Shawn Horcoff. During the '07-'08 season, Horcoff was electrifying NHL fanatics with the makings of a career season, netting 21 goals and dishing out 29 assists in just 53 games. But then, with just 29 games left, a wear-and-tear injury required him to undergo shoulder surgery.

Not surprisingly [and like many athletes entering their first season after surgery], Horcoff believes he is better and stronger than ever, able to build on last year's successes. "At the time I got injured, I was having my best year, [so] it was very frustrating that I wasn't able to finish off the year," he says. "I had big aspirations of having the best year of my career, and our team making the playoffs and being successful."

While many teams distance themselves from recuperating players—waiting to see how they respond to surgery and rehab when they come back—the Oilers did just the opposite. Last July, they inked a six-year contract extension with their hardworking center, demonstrating that Horcoff isn't the only one who believes in his ability to regain last season's dominance.

Having worked with a sports psychologist for the past four years, Horcoff has learned how to deal with adversity through mental training, visualization and focus—all helpful tools in making the reality of an injury less stressful. "I think when you get an injury and all of a sudden you're faced with season-ending surgery, that's a big step back," Horcoff says. "I think if it happened earlier in my career, it would have derailed me . . . it would maybe [have] frustrated me a lot more than it did. But because of the training that I've done mentally, I was just able to accept it and realize that this happens."

The ability to rationalize his injury has been a key to Horcoff's approach to getting back on the ice. He has been able to understand and use the fact that there are no more limitations on his shoulder. Now, he can shoot and battle opponents even harder. "I was actually able to flip [the injury] around and use it as . . . a motivator [and] confidence-builder, knowing I was going to come back and [my shoulder] was going to be stronger than ever," Horcoff says.

Circuit Training

With help from Dr. Chad Moreau, the Oilers' strength and conditioning consultant, Horcoff began rehabbing last spring. The work required countless hours in the weight room, not the training room. "One of the things I find with shoulder injuries, like the one Shawn had, is that the full-body training that we do—where we incorporate a lot of hips, legs and core work—really translates well into shoulder recovery and shoulder rehab," Moreau says. "We just fit his rehab program into his summer workouts, because the shoulder is linked to the rest of the body—[so] a total-body workout is the perfect rehab."

Looking ahead to a summer full of training and feeling the pressure to perform this season, Horcoff relied on his hardcore work ethic, formed during his days growing up on a farm in Trail, British Columbia. "Of all the guys I train, he might be the one with the hardest work ethic," Moreau says. "He's always looking for a way to do things better. He's always making sure that what we're doing training-wise is going to be the best for him at that time, depending on where we are in the off-season program."

Circuit training is a staple of Moreau's offseason programs. The total-body movements ensure that Horcoff's shoulder is in good shape, while also developing aerobic endurance and mental toughness, both of which are required for a hockey player to survive in this tough-man sport. "The second half of the season is usually a pretty successful time for me, because I know that I've done the work and that I'm going to be in better shape than 90 to 95 percent of the guys on the ice," Horcoff says.

NHL training camps include many tests that require speed and endurance. So that he could report in tip-top shape, ready to perform at a high level, Horcoff started his endurance circuit training three weeks before camp opened. "Hockey is a power and speed sport with an endurance component, so that's how we train," Moreau explains. "Training camp is an unusual situation, because [the players] get more ice time than they normally receive in season. So we need to make sure, from an endurance standpoint, that their bodies are able to withstand the higher ice time and load."

Because hockey is multi-directional and lower-body dominant, Moreau incorporates sport-specific exercises into the circuit. These help his athletes change direction as quickly as possible. Putting them in a circuit format mimics game situations. "Most of the shifts in hockey last 35 to 45 seconds, where they're moving really quickly on the ice," Moreau says. "Performing the exercises in a circuit format makes them exert power in short time spans."

Horcoff's off-season training had him prepped and ready to go. Moreover, he got the necessary boost in confidence to put together a true career year.

Circuit Training

Dr. Moreau's Circuit Training Rules

1. Set up all the exercises before you begin the circuit, so you can go through it without interruption.
2. Your walk from one exercise to another is your rest time.
3. Perform the circuit three times.
4. Rest no more than two minutes between each rep.

1. Front Squat

• Hold bar across front of shoulders with elbows high
• Begin in athletic stance, toes pointing slightly out
• Focus on high point on wall in front of you
• Squat with control and good posture until thighs are just below parallel
• Keep weight back on heels
• Drive out of squat into starting position, keeping eyes up and chest out

Reps: 12
Coaching Points: Keep core tight, back straight and squat as low as possible // Keep elbows horizontal to the bar throughout the exercise // Keep chest wide // Explode out of squat as quickly as possible
Dr. Moreau: This helps build leg strength, which is essential to developing a powerful hockey stride. Every stride that Shawn takes, he's pushing out of the front squat position.

2. Walking Dumbbell Curl-to-Press

Stand beside bench holding dumbbells at sides. Staying face-forward, walk around perimeter of bench while performing the exercise below in continuous fashion.

• Perform Dumbbell Curl until weights are shoulder-level
• Rotate palms so they face away from body as you perform Overhead Shoulder Press
• Lower dumbbells through same motion with control; repeat for specified reps

Reps: 12
Coaching Points: Continue walking around bench while performing exercise until you complete 12 reps // Maintain a slight bend in your knees // Keep abs tight and back straight throughout the exercise // Extend arms fully overhead when performing press
Dr. Moreau: The Walking Curl-to-Press is more of an upper-body exercise. Keeping feet, arms and hands busy at the same time helps make core muscles work harder than just standing around.

3. Box Toe Touches

• Begin in athletic stance with secure box in front of you
• Drive right knee up and touch bottom of forefoot on box
• Simultaneously, return right foot to ground and bring left forefoot to top of box
• Repeat in continuous fashion for specified duration

Time: 30 seconds
Coaching Points: The box height should be high enough so that thigh is parallel to floor when toes are on the box // Drive with your knees // Touch box as lightly as possible with toes // As soon as toes touch the box, switch position of legs as quickly as possible
Dr. Moreau: This exercise is for acceleration, quickness and foot speed. It's teaching him to really pull his knee up, which mimics the hockey stride and increases speed.

4. Jump Rope Variation

• Begin jumping rope with two feet
• After 20 seconds and without stopping, switch to jogging in place
• After 20 seconds and without stopping, switch to side-to-side skiers

Time: 60 seconds
Coaching Points: Maintain good, fluid rhythm // Go as fast as possible while staying controlled // Use any foot variation you want, but change them every 20 seconds
Dr. Moreau: Jumping rope is great for foot speed and aerobic endurance. The variations Shawn performs bring plyometric and agility aspects into it.

5. Clean Sequence

• Grip bar just outside athletic stance with shins touching bar
• Assume Deadlift position with back locked, shoulders up and abs and chest flexed
• Begin initial pull by extending hips and knees
• When bar is just above knees, explode upward by shrugging forcefully with straight arms; fully extend hips, knees and ankles
• Pull bar up, keeping it close to chest
• Drop underneath bar, then catch it along front of shoulders with knees bent
• Lower bar to Hang Clean position [just above knees]; perform Hang Clean
• Return bar to ground; repeat Clean Sequence for specified reps

Reps: 5 [Power Clean + Hang Clean = 1 rep]
Coaching Points: Be as explosive as possible // Keep your chest up, abs tight and back straight // Catch bar with elbows bent 90 degrees
Dr. Moreau: The Clean Sequence is a total-body workout. Hockey players are all about power—how much power can they develop on the ice—so the Clean Sequence must be performed in any workout.

6. Woodchoppers

• With cable machine to your right and rope attachment set at eye level, assume athletic stance, holding rope with arms extended right
• Explosively rotate hips and drive rope left and down until outside left thigh
• Return to start position with control; immediately rotate body so cable machine is to your left
• Perform rep to right
• Repeat continuously for specified reps

Reps: 10 on each side
Coaching Points: Maintain a solid base with feet shoulder-width apart // Keep your arms straight and core tight // Perform exercise quickly while maintaining control
Dr. Moreau: He's going to see benefits in his core strength and shooting velocity. There is a lot of rotation in hockey, and we want to make sure he's doing some sort of torso work during his circuit.

7. Dumbbell Bench

• Lie with back on bench, holding dumbbells near front of shoulders
• Drive dumbbells to ceiling until arms are fully extended
• Lower dumbbells to start position; repeat for specified reps

Reps: 20
Coaching Points: Bring dumbbells down as deep as possible with control // Bring dumbbells together at the top of the movement // Keep core tight // Inhale on the way down; exhale on the way up
Dr. Moreau: There is a lot of pushing and shoving in hockey, battling for position and the puck on the ice. Upper-body strength will come into play then.

8. Lateral Box Jumps

• From athletic stance on left side of box, jump up and right
• Land on box; jump right off box
• Repeat in opposite direction; perform for specified time

Time: 30 seconds
Coaching Points: Perform back and forth as quickly as possible // Maintain a good, athletic position throughout exercise // Keep core tight and a slight bend in knees
Dr. Moreau: There is a lot of explosion in the game of hockey. By performing this exercise, he's going to increase the power and strength in his legs.

9. Jump Rope Variation

Repeat exercise 4.

10. Skater Lunge

• Hold dumbbells at shoulder level with elbows high
• Step forward and 45 degrees right with right foot; lower into lunge
• Explode back out of lunge and step back and left 45 degrees with right foot; lower into reverse lunge
• Drive forward out of reverse lunge; repeat continuously for specified reps
• Perform set with left leg

Reps: 5 on each leg
Coaching Points: Maintain good balance and a tight core // Don't let knee extend past your toes // Avoid letting foot touch the ground between lunges // Reach as far back as possible on reverse lunge
Dr. Moreau: By performing this exercise, Shawn's feeling the same muscles work [as] he feels when he's skating, and he's really digging into the ice and skating hard with a lot of speed. It's working his hips through his core.

11. Side Plank

• Lie on side with elbow tucked under body
• Rise into side plank position so only elbow and side of foot touch ground
• Hold for specified time; switch sides

Time: 30 seconds, each side
Coaching Points: Keep body as straight as possible // Pull shoulders back // Keep core tight // Thrust upper hip toward ceiling
Dr. Moreau: He's just [building] core endurance with the Side Plank. A hockey player's core endurance is good for injury prevention to protect his spine.

12. Push-Up Clock

• Assume push-up position
• Lower chest to just above floor
• In continuous motion, explode up so both hands and feet are off ground, landing so body has turned clockwise slightly
• Continue performing sequence clockwise until body is in start position
• Perform sequence counter-clockwise, back to start position

Coaching Points: Maintain a solid core and straight back // Use arms and legs to create a solid base // Keep body as straight as possible
Dr. Moreau: We want to make any ground-based exercise explosive and ballistic for the upper body. He's [gaining] upper body strength and core strength. Even when we're doing push-ups, we try to make them as functional as possible.

13. Landmine Rotation

• Place barbell on ground with one end against wall
• Assume Deadlift position, then grasp end of bar so wall is to right
• In one continuous motion, explode through hips, knees and ankles to bring barbell up to shoulder level while rotating right to face wall
• Bring barbell down to ground on right side, then quickly assume start position with wall to left
• Perform exercise to left
• Repeat continuously for specified reps

Reps: 10 on each side
Coaching Points: Bend knees when picking up weight // Explode up using core and legs // Thrust up using arms and try to fully extend arms at top of movement before switching sides
Dr. Moreau: This is a great core power and upperbody exercise. It helps develop the necessary strength Shawn needs for all the battling hockey players do when they make contact with other players.

14. Jump Rope Variation

Repeat exercise 4.

15. Burpees

• Begin in squat position with hands on floor in front of you
• Kick feet back into push-up position
• Return feet to squat position
• Jump up as high as possible and reach arms overhead
• Return to start position; repeat for specified time

Time: 60 seconds
Coaching Points: Keep core tight and back straight // Push legs out and bring them back in as quickly as possible // Explosively jump as high as possible, fully extending arms toward ceiling // Perform exercise as quickly as possible
Dr. Moreau: Burpees is one of those exercises where he not only gets core strength and endurance, he gets mentally tough, because performing it last in the circuit makes it extremely difficult.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock