Anthony Donskov

Anthony Donskov is the founder of DSC where he serves as the Director of Sport Performance. Donskov holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Science & is the author of Physical Preparation for Ice Hockey.

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Crossfit for Hockey: Why It's Not a Good Fit

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I know…there have already been hundreds of articles written about Crossfit.  Some good, some bad and some just for the sake of a few Internet hits, dust up and “debate.”  Truth is most of my thoughts have already been written about by Coaches I hold in high regard, but I still frequently get asked the question, what do you think about Crossfit for hockey players?  Before I dive deeper into my response, let me start by paying a few compliments.  Crossfit has done an excellent job of building a brand (although cult may be a better word) of fitness enthusiasts.  They incorporate high intensity training, Olympic lifting, foundational lifts, and plyometrics into their protocol, all of which can aid in the development of building the athlete.  The major issue is not in these exercises per say, but in the “application” of these exercises, the overdose of stress, lack of technical proficiency and the idea of turning training into a “sport”.  I know, here comes all the hate mail, but as a strength and conditioning professional, I feel that I need to stand firm in my professional opinion, and in doing so inform both parents and young aspiring players.  Below are 4 reasons why Crossfit is not an ideal training regiment for hockey players. 

1.) You can’t train a sport with a sport:  Crossfit is a sport.  Unless you’re a power lifter, bodybuilder or an Olympic lifter, weight training is NOT a sport.  Training is not an end to a means, but a means to an end.  “The only sports where training loads correlate with scoreboard success are in the weightlifting sports.” (King)  In other words, we train so that we can become stronger, more efficient hockey players, not to compete in powerlifting, bodybuilding, Olympic lifting or the Crossfit games.  We are fond of saying “we train hockey players that lift weights, not weight lifters that play hockey.”  Crossfit has turned training into a sport with prescription of daily WOD’s (workout of the day) designed to complete and compete in pre-determined exercise for time or as many rounds as possible.  There is also the addition of the Crossfit “games”, which has gained national exposure. 

2.) Least Effective Dose:  A pillar of our programming philosophy at DSC resides in the following quote by L. Garkavi:  "For every substance, small doses stimulate, moderate doses inhibit & large doses kill."  Stress is stress!  Mechanical, emotional, physiological, or psychological stress affects the body in similar fashions.  As strength coaches, we prescribe stress!  Let’s think of this logically, which Doctor would you send your son or daughter to?  The Doctor that prescribed one Tylenol to cure the common headache, or the Doctor that gave you fifteen?   We know the answer, but the analogy is powerful!  A program has to be SUSTAINABLE! Sustainability is extremely difficult to attain in the presence of consistent high volume, high intensity exercise!  Here are a few quotes from some of my favorite Coaches regarding the idea of “Least Effective Dose.”

  • Coach Mike Boyle: “Minimal effective dose.”
  • Coach Charlie Francis: “Smaller CNS demands over a longer period of time result in more acceptance and greater improvement, while the rush to get more done leads to uncertainty down the road.”
  • Coach Charlie Francis:  “Trash the CNS anywhere, it will show up everywhere!”
  • Coach Dan John: “Coax the gains, not force them.”

The body responds to stress with orientation, restructuring and finally improving fitness.  If there are no “valleys” in the training process exhaustion is the result.  Instead of increased strength gains, the restructuring that occurs can lead to muscle breakdown also known as rhabdomyolysis (Captain Rhabdo was once the Mascot of Crossfit).  This condition can be toxic. 

3.) Optimal vs. Capable:  Every training day shouldn’t be Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals.  It’s not sustainable, healthy or repeatable.  Ian King, a fantastic Strength Coach stated eloquently: “You may be capable, but is it optimal?  Don’t focus on how hard you can train, rather focus on how hard you should train.”  A training program should be designed/individualized to monitor stress with the idea that every day is not “world beating” day.  Here is how we monitor stress for our hockey players at DSC:  How we Use Subjective Stress Scores at DSC for Large Group Training.  You can’t manage what you don’t measure.  If stress consistently outpaces the bodies’ ability to adapt or adjust, overtraining/injury is the result.

4.) Where are you going:  A training program is a GPS system that should safely take you to your desired destination.  As strength coaches we place specific stimuli on the athlete to attain a specific result.  If we throw too many training stimuli at one time, the body simply doesn’t know what to adapt to…Now for some boring science (promise I’ll keep it quick), we have two major cell signaling systems in our bodies that are always active (some much more profound than others) depending on what type of training we partake in.  Each however, has different responsibilities. 


Signaling Pathways

AMPK (Activated Protein Kinase Signaling):  Inhibits anabolic pathways such as skeletal muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. 

  • Increases the quantity and activity of mitochondria to utilize fats as fuel.
  • AMPK is the master pathway that ramps up mitochondrial biogenesis. 

mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin):  The key-signaling pathway regulating exercise/nutrient-induced building of muscle is known as mTOR. 

  • Increases protein synthesis. 

Now I know most hockey parents and athletes could care less about the science, but the take home message here is if every training session involves running, sprinting, jogging, lifting, jumping, max reps, timed sets etc., the body simply doesn’t know what to adapt to.  The systems become confused.  You have effectively now placed twelve addresses in your GPS system and it doesn’t know where to take you.  A program should be progressive in nature, planned in periods with the desired training goal clearly established.  Each and every phase acts a favorable pre-requisite in order to prep the hockey player for the demands of training camp and the competitive season. 

The purpose of this article was not to generate Internet debate, bash or spark controversy, but to educate hockey parents and players.  Training is exactly what it is…. training!  It is not a sport!  It needs to be individualized, managed, and strategically planned with peaks and valleys in between.  Unless your goal is to compete in the upcoming Crossfit games, I would not recommend this form of training to the hockey playing population. 



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