Last week, I posted the first part of a multi-part post on my workout with Islanders strength and conditioning coach Jesse Demers.
The first half talked about some general stretching, jumping rope and several dynamic leg stretches. In this part, Demers showed me several floor stretches that utilized a yoga mat, swiss ball and even a very complex set of stretches from a push-up position. If you enjoyed the first part, you’ll likely enjoy this one even more.
Demers then pulled at a yoga mat and had me lay down flat on my back in a sit up position, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. He held my knees down and had me lift my butt off the floor and hold it in that stretch. I did this stretch ten times and held myself up 5-7 seconds per time. It really stretched out my abs and my back – as I was essentially lifting my body weight and holding it there.
Staying in the same position for the next stretch, I would again hold myself up off the floor, but this time I would also lift a leg with my knee bent at the same time. I did this stretch ten times per side.
Next, Demers had me switch positions and from my hands and knees had to lift my right leg and stretch it out straight behind me, at the same time stretch my left arm out straight in front of me and bring the arm and leg into my body several times. I would do this for each opposing arm and leg ten times per side.
Done with the floor work, Demers handed me a medicine ball and told me to stand straight up with a wide stance and to squat. He showed me how to hold the ball out in front of me and lower it into my stance, then bring it back out in front of me. It wasn’t until this stretch where I really began to regret my misfortune of forgetting my workout shorts and being stuck wearing cargo shorts. For these squats, I completed two sets of ten and was absolutely saturated with sweat at this point.
Sticking to the medicine ball for the next stretch, Demers had me take a big step forward and then move the ball out over my forward leg and hold it, I then brought the ball back to center and took a step back into the upright position. I did this for each side and completed a set of ten to the left and right side.
After a quick breather and another hydration break, we moved over to the other side of the weight room and set up on a weight bench. Demers handed me two ten pound weights and told me to lift them up with my arms straight above my head. He directed me to place one foot on the bench and lift myself up onto the bench using only the leg that was on the floor. After completing a set of five for one leg, Demers asked me if there was something wrong with my shoulder because I was favoring one side. I sheepishly admitted that I had a bone spur that had been bothering me and we promptly stopped with that exercise.
This started me thinking about how players often workout through injury and even to Demers credit, recognize injuries in players perhaps even before the players themselves know they are showing signs of injury. It was like I had a nice little lesson, right in the middle of a different lesson. So much for the theory of hiding injuries in professional sports!
The Pushup Matrix
I have to make another admission; I have never in my life been a big fan of pushups. It’s not that I cannot do them, or even don’t believe in them – it’s just a very boring exercise. The Pushup Matrix changed this for me, and you’ll see why.
The pushup matrix is a complex series of stretches all done from a pushup position. You do three different stretches for each of your arms and then your legs.
Starting from a pushup position, you start with your right arm and lift it up off the floor out in front of you to a spot as high as you can reach, this is done five times. Next, you move your arm from your side parallel to the ground out over your head (almost like a breast stroke while swimming), five times. The last arm stretch you make a fist and reach under and across your body towards your opposite side five times. The same is done for the opposite arm and then you move onto your legs.
Once you’ve completed all three stretches for both arms, you are ready to do a similar set of stretches for your legs. To begin, lift one leg off the floor and move it up and down five times. Next, much like your arm, swing it away from your body parallel to the ground and back five times. Last, bend your leg at the knee and bring it up under and across your body and back.
While I was in the middle of the pushup matrix, I caught a glimpse of two people walk into the weight room and over to an elliptical machine. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this duo was none other than newly signed Islanders forward Zenon Konopka and Head Trainer Garret Timms. They had asked Demers (and Islanders PR staffers) who I was, and naturally what I was doing. When told that I was a blogger and amateur player, they began to heckle me a little bit and then actually offered some words of encouragement which made me push myself harder through the second and third sets of the pushup matrix. Again, it was another level of realism that wasn’t planned but made the experience that much better, as I am sure that’s what happens on a daily basis when the team is hitting the gym.
For the final stretch, Demers rolled over a swiss ball (which happened to be placed right in front of Konopka at this point) and had me kneel in front of it. He directed me to clasp my hands together and hold myself up with my elbows while keeping my legs straight out behind me. Once I was in a satisfactory position, he told me to roll the ball forwards and backwards on my elbows ten times. Having just completed three sets of the pushup matrix, this stretch took every last bit of energy that I had, but I powered through them as to not give up in front of Konopka and Timms. If you look closely, one of the photos shows me with a funny smirk on my face because of everything Konopka was saying to me at the time.
Having now made it through one of Demers’ workouts without incident, I asked him how often I should complete as much of his workout as I could at home. He asked me if I do any cardio or other workouts during the week, which I admit I don’t – but I do ride a bike 15-20 miles two times a week. He explained it would be best to complete what he showed me every other day and I could even complete some of the stretches before games as we had discussed previously.
Having now caught my breath, Demers asked me how I felt. I told him I was hot, completely saturated and absolutely exhausted, but otherwise great. I knew that I would wind up being a little sore, as I used some muscles that I likely hadn’t used in a long time but that I still intended to keep doing what he showed me later in the week.
After thanking him for his time, Demers hit me with one little factoid he hadn’t really mentioned before – what he showed me only accounted for 5% of the workout the team goes through. However, he did say that he uses the type of workout he put me through to gauge what new players and prospects are capable of doing. Talk about a wake up call!
While the entire experience really showed me that I have areas that could use work, I had to remind myself that I am by no means a professional athlete. I came away from this experience with a new appreciation for the work that the players do off the ice. The on ice stuff is “easy” compared to the constant work and maintenance that needs to be done in a weight room. But for amateur players, this should serve as proof that you really do need to concentrate on your body in order to be the best player you can be, once out on the ice!