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Beleskey's Success Illustrates Importance of Off-Ice Training

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BARRIE, ON. — During the first couple of years of Matt Beleskey’s NHL career, you might have found him spending his summer pumping iron — as much iron as possible.

These days, his philosophy has changed.

Sure, he still lifts weights — and a lot of weights, when he does it — but he complements his weight training with a variety of mobility, flexibility and cardiovascular exercises meant to keep him as strong as possible, from September through August, whether he is on the ice or not.

Enter Tom Swales, physiotherapist and strength and conditioning specialist at Concept of Movement in Barrie.

Beleskey was referred to Swales by a former NHLer four summers ago. Beleskey wanted to stay in Barrie for the whole summer, and he needed someone to train with, and after one session with Swales, he never looked back.

“I used to be a big, heavy-weight guy and always just trying to push the most weights and started to get some injuries,” Beleskey said as the #BearTracks crew caught up with him at Swales’ facility on Monday morning. “So Tom focuses more on the way I move and the way I do it, and every exercise ends up with a stretch or something to kind of loosen you up during it.

“It’s worked so far.”

The proof is in the performance: Ever since Beleskey and Swales began working together, Beleskey has managed to stay relatively healthy and strong. Sure, he ends the season with the usual aches and pains, but nothing severe and nothing that takes too long to rehabilitate.

“His overall mobility has made tremendous leaps and bounds, and that’s saying a lot for him,” Swales said. “I mean, obviously, everyone always still has their own restrictions because of postures and sport and what have you, but I’d say it’s more of his mindset: He knows what he needs to do to be mentally prepared. He takes what he learns in the offseason and continues to do his corrective exercises to make sure that those imbalances don’t come back.

“And because he does that, he can continue to excel with his speed performance and power.”

To begin Monday’s session, Swales led Beleskey through a series of stretches. They did a circuit that involved high jumps, rope climbing and crawling on a balance beam. They did several sets of dead weights and split-lunges while lifting a duffel bag-sized sandbag, and they ended with 10-second bursts of different circuits — side-steps, pushups, sled pulls and more.

The variety keeps it interesting, but there is also a method to the madness.

“We all learned our neuro patterns from the ground as babies,” Swales explained. “Rolling, crawling — you saw him doing on the beam — so we just start bringing some of those key components, those fundamental patterns, back in, and the body can start to shift itself in the right direction.

“With crawling, you have to emphasize breathing and posture more, or you’ll fall off a beam. Same thing with side-stepping across a beam: He’s got to maintain good posture and breathing, or he starts to lose balance. If he holds his breath, if he locks up, he falls over.

“So if you can [implement] exercises that give you that immediate feedback — those kind of self-limiting exercises — then I don’t have to get laryngitis and I don’t have to yell at him, and he doesn’t get frustrated at me. That’s really how the motor system works. So looking at it from a nervous system and motor development standpoint, once you start moving in that direction, it gets easy. You just look at what’s not moving, what’s weak, and then start tying it all back in together with the brain.”

Obviously, Swales and Beleskey stay off the ice when they work together, but still, their training regimen helps Beleskey tremendously once he does lace up his skates. It helps his balance. It helps his flexibility and mobility, particularly in his hip region. It keeps him strong.

And in the end, it helps Beleskey stave off the injury bug. Part of the reason for that is that Beleskey has continued to use the same workout routine even after he leaves Barrie at the end of the summer. Immediately, he noticed that those exercises made a significant difference in the way he felt on the ice, and before long, he insisted upon going through his routine before each and every game.

“This year, he actually came in with little to no injury [at the end of the season] — just a couple little aches and pains — and his mobility was the best I’ve seen it,” Swales said. “I asked him what he did differently, and he said that he has to go in 45 minutes before on-ice and do all of his mobility work, keep up his hip rotations, his hip mobility.

“So we didn’t have to work on that this year. Because he came in so good, we didn’t have to fix as many things.”

Just because they don’t have to spend as much time working on flexibility, though, doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of other areas on which to concentrate. Beleskey is well aware that expectations in Boston are high, and he wants to make sure that come September, he is just as physically formidable as everyone else in his new locker room.

“I haven’t gotten to size up any of the guys yet, but I’ve heard that [conditioning] a big thing in Boston, and that’s good,” he said. “That’s something that the team needs to have. You’ve got to have that discipline if you want to be a winning team, and I think we’re all working to get there.”

With only a couple of weeks remaining until Beleskey heads out to Boston for the beginning of captains’ practices, he and Swales are reaching the pinnacle of their summer training routine. Ever since Beleskey’s season ended in heartbreak a couple of months ago, they have been working toward this: The moment he officially begins his career with his new team.

“We’re kind of at the peak now,” Beleskey said. “It’s mid-August now, and we’re halfway through, so we’ve got a couple more weeks here training at home, and then I’ll be in Boston to start September.”

Despite the fact that Beleskey’s former team made a deep run in the postseason, he feels as good as ever. He doesn’t feel anymore fatigued or tired than he has when his seasons have ended earlier. In fact, given the training regimen he has developed with Swales, he might even feel better.

“I feel pretty good,” Beleskey said. “I was lucky to come out of last season with just some minor things going on deep in the playoffs — nothing really sitting around — so it was a few weeks off, then I was back in here getting treatment, starting to get my body moving. I feel pretty good right now.”

Just like he did at the end of last summer, Beleskey will bring the knowledge he has gleaned from Swales with him when he sets off for Boston. And Swales is fully confident that when Beleskey returns to Barrie at the beginning of next summer, he will be just as fit as he is now.

“What’s great about [Beleskey] is everything he learns, he can take that into a sport and see how it correlates with athleticism to something specific, like hockey,” Swales said. “And it’s really showed, with how he moves and what he continues to do to make sure he stays injury-free and maintains his durability in his performance through the season.”

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