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Perform with Pierre: Fitness testing at training camp

Pierre Allard offers up an inside look at the fitness testing that awaits Canadiens players at the start of training camp

by Pierre Allard @CanadiensMTL /

After spending the summer training, Canadiens players don't rest on their laurels once they get back to town. Instead, they will be undergoing a battery of fitness tests at the start of training camp to make sure they're ready for the rigors of an NHL season. In order to gain a better understanding of what the players will be going through, Canadiens Director of Sports Science and Performance, Pierre Allard, explains exactly what his staff will be testing for and how the results help the coaching staff and management evaluate the team.

Fitness testing has evolved a lot over the last few years. There are many similarities from one team to another, but each club has their own way of doing things. I'm heading into my seventh year with the Canadiens and we practically changed our entire protocol last year. There aren't many tests remaining from my first year with the team. The main reason is that the players' needs have changed. We are going with a much more individualized approach with the players and their conditioning.

The goal of the process is to build a personalized profile for each player. It's a little bit like the dashboard on a car. If one of the lights is on, it's not necessarily bad. But if two, three, or four lights go on all at once, that might be cause for concern. Just like with a car, when the "check engine" light shows up, it's a bit more important than if it just needs some windshield washer fluid.

We'll get data on strength, power, aerobics, and anaerobics. These results will serve as a barometer for us, which we can reference throughout the season on an almost-weekly basis. We re-test during the year to see if the players are maintaining their benchmarks from training camp.

The first test the players do is grip strength, which gives us a good indication of the player's overall strength. Someone with high grip strength is likely to have excellent brute force.

Then, there are strength platforms which we use to complete two tests: squat jumps and countermovement jumps. The countermovement jump starts with the player standing up, and then bending and jumping as quickly as possible. The platforms will indicate the power and height of the jumps, in addition to showing the individual strength in each leg. The players will only complete three jumps, which is enough to get us the results we need. As for the squat jumps, it's the same thing as the countermovement jump, with the only difference being that it starts with the knees bent.

Another test is kind of like a bench press. There is a bar that players have to propel as high as they can. There are linear encoders that measure the power and speed of the thrust, a bit like with the strength platforms. Before every thrust, we increase the load five-fold. These data will be used in the strength/speed section of the individual profile. I never expect the players to be bench press pros, but it's a good way of measuring their upper-body strength. 

The next test is the high-pull. A bit like the previous exercise, the players will lift a relatively light weight from the ground as quickly as possible, using proper technique. The load will gradually be increased and linear encoders are inserted on the weights. This exercise, along with the previous one, help us determine how much weight to use to maximize gains with each player.

The last test we do is the VO2 max, which is done on bikes and gives us very precise data on power levels. The players start with 200 watts and we increase it by 40 watts every three minutes. They pedal for as long as they can. I've seen players get up to 480 watts before.

We could do this test - and many others - on the ice, but since time for testing is limited, and given that there are eight exhibition games, we prefer to focus on teambuilding and understanding the coaching systems in the time we have.

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