Do you even lift?

No? Well maybe a better question is, do you even need to?

I was listening to TSN Radio earlier this morning, and the topic of Phil Kessel’s apparent lack of marathon running and ab crunches popped up. The guest was former Leaf and noted machine, Gary Roberts. 

I didn’t catch the entire segment on Kessel from the beginning, but Roberts got to talking about the trade-off between strength and speed from adding weight (presumably muscle) in the offseason, and it got me to thinking of how we often assume “[Player] is in the best shape of his life” means a career-season is in the cards, or “[Young player] is putting on weight” means they’re more equipped to go to the “dirty areas” of the rink and be more effective. 

No doubt, this might be true at times, but as Roberts quickly pointed out, everyone is different, and hitting the weight room isn’t the best option for certain styles of players.

None of us really know what players do in the offseason in detail. We hear that someone is a “beast” in the gym and worship their commitment, or we get a look at some photos from a golf tournament or wedding and decide that a player is fat and out of shape. And a lot of us assume that if players aren’t doing all they can at the gym, they can never truly reach their peak. But the opposite is true for some, and good examples would include guys like Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk, and of course, Kessel. 

If you look at Kane, he’s a little guy, doesn’t hit much, and is basically the definition of “shifty” in hockey terms. From what I can gather, he also isn’t the type of guy who spends his free time trying to get jacked as hell. Kane is arguably the most electric player in the league, and has an unbelievable amount of strength with the puck, especially considering his small frame. But as Roberts noted this morning, this is because he’s grown up his entire life with a puck on his stick. Anyone with that amount of skill had to. And as Roberts went on to explain, that’s not everyone’s game. It certainly wasn’t his during his career. Some players, like Roberts, benefit from tossing around iron, and others play a style that might actually be hindered by it. (Note: Roberts also told a story about how Jaromir Jagr’s father never let him complete a practice drill without a puck, ever. What a legend.)

To throw a guy like Kane into a weight room isn’t going to make him shoot the puck any harder, and it could mess with the mechanics of his wizardry with the puck on his stick. Leave the guy alone. And the same goes for Kessel, a player who has seen his fitness level questioned a number of times, but has also been described as the kind of guy who can quickly pick up anything competitive. Whether it’s ping-pong, golf, video games, apparently Kessel will kick the shit out of you in anything requiring a high level of dexterity. 

This might sound absolutely crazy, but who’s to say the golf course isn’t Kessel’s gym? It sounds downright hilarious when you say that aloud, especially considering he’s a Leaf, but Kessel (like Kane) doesn’t smash people in the corners, and he doesn’t play with a lot of contact because he’s quick and knows how to use his skill to create space. Engaging in activities that stress hand-eye coordination, spacial awareness, and attention to detail probably help in that regard. 

Did weight-lifting do this?

Or this?

Nope. It was likely about a trillion practice shots and some funky brain wiring that created that kind of technique, something that a third liner isn’t going to be able to do even if they hit the bench-press for three hours a day.

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  • When I played college hockey they wanted me to go some lifting and cardio vascular exercises, but I eventually pulled a groin and was cut from the team by my coach. What upset him is the fact that the groins I pulled weren’t mine.

  • This is pretty stupid in my opinion.

    There is no detriment to an athlete adding strength. If I had 2 of the same hockey players, but one could squat 400lbs and one could only squat 200lbs then I would take the 400lb squatter no question because he is stronger. Lol if you think maximal force output DOES NOT translate to skating.

    • Force output doesn’t simply translate to a faster skater. Technique has more to do with it than a simple squat. Maybe if skating was a completely linear activity…but it’s really not. Being able to quickly stop and accelerate rapidly has more to do with technique…that’s why every team in the NHL has a skating coach.

      I’m not sure how you’re backing up your theory, but there’s more to it than strength. I would bet a guy like John Scott from Buffalo can squat as much as the strongest guy in the league, but will get burned by the majority of players in the NHL, with regards to speed. In some cases depending on a player’s style of play, when they “bulk up”, their technique has to adapt to their new body type and may hinder their peak performance.

      Just something to think about.

    • So, they are totally equivalent but one can squat 200 and the other can squat 400?
      In reality, wouldn’t you pick the weaker athlete? He’s doing just as much as the strong guy but he has half the strength. I think I’d pick him and see if he becomes a better hockey player when he gets stronger.

  • Also, from a physics standpoint, the more muscle mass you put on, the heavier you become, and more penetration (hehe) occurs with regards to the skate and ice. The deeper the cut, the more force is required to produce acceleration on the ice. I’m no physics major but I would assume that the amount of time in the gym probably does evenly not counteract the added friction created due to the weight gain. The only caveat would be a small guy like St. Louis who’s major gym time would probably be spent predominantly building those tree trunk legs and not much else.

  • I don’t buy all this gym garbage. I played rugby at a very high level for a few years and I’m only 5, 10 170 pounds but I could run over guys for sport if I wanted. It was because I’m naturally solid and I have a low centre of gravity. Look at Kadri he’s more than capable of mixing it with the big boys. Its not how big you are its how you carry yourself.

    • So you’re saying you didn’t work out? I played Rugby in college. I was 5’10, 150 and fast but weak, so didn’t play much first year. Started hitting the gym, bulked up to a ripped 170, kept my speed but had good strength and was a regular til I graduated. I think strength training is a really good idea for any athlete, but it should be balanced with speed training (look a how sprinters train), especially for smaller athletes.

  • I actually think that better upper body strength would help Patrick Kane become truly elite. His lack of strength is one of his biggest flaws. I agree regarding Kessel though, his strength levels seem to be good enough for NHL competition.