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The Life: Strength and Conditioning Coach

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning Strength and Conditioning Coach Chuck Lobe (left) works with Victor Hedman and the rest of the athletes to manage the way players workout during and sometimes after the season.

There are players in every major professional sport who have tremendous skills in a few aspects of the game, enough that make them successful. Some even become stars.

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Just think if they were also the best athlete they could be.

This is the job of Chuck Lobe, the Lightning’s strength and conditioning coach. His work is not on the ice. It’s about putting players on the ice in the best shape to be productive.

“Sports-specific training has become a buzzword,” Lobe said. “But when it all comes down to it, becoming a better athlete is about as sports-specific as you can get.”

His title is coach. But, in actuality, the better word would be manager.

Lobe manages the way players workout during and sometimes after the season, puts together individual plans, coordinates with on-ice coaches, manages rest times, gets on the same page with a player’s hometown trainers, manages diets and more. In a way, a strength and conditioning coach thinks for players when they need to concentrate more on the team and the game.

It can be a complex job, with some simple principles.

“It’s pretty close to getting everybody their own plan,” Lobe said. “But I have to have a philosophy for the team. That’s one thing I’ve learned from being here. It has to be a nice harmony. The individualization needs to be there, but the value and importance of how to steer that group is something that really needs to be emphasized.”

Lobe said he was “the little skinny guy with the crazy metabolism,” when he was growing up in Minnesota. He played football. He was fast. He could catch.

His father was a center in hockey, a five-year letterman, but never put his son on skates.

“I am probably the only guy in Minnesota that never played organized hockey in my life,” Lobe said, laughing.

Now he is in the NHL, starting his third season with the Lightning. The road to that spot went back to his football days. He trained with his coaches and did not see much improvement in his strength. When he finished school, he started training a little different and suddenly things started working. An elementary education major became interested in something new.

Lobe slowly moved himself up. He worked in many different fitness positions at his alma mater the University of Minnesota before moving about an hour south of Minneapolis to become the head strength and conditioning coach at Mankato State in 2004, where he took care of athletes in 23 sports.

The most important thing for someone who is interested in the job, Lobe said, is to never stop studying.

“Don’t read one book and think you’ve got it figured out,” Lobe said. “It’s a complex job, but as years go and the advancements in technology come, a lot of old-school ideas are coming back because there is value to it and there’s a reason why people did certain things.”

Lobe had a good background working with athletes from overseas at Mankato, which helped him when he came to the Lightning. In college, his job was to take athletes with potential and develop them to be productive as juniors and seniors. There are many more variables, including age, with individuals in the NHL. It can be 23 plans for 23 players.

That doesn’t count the minor leaguers and prospects the Lightning welcomed to Development Camp, July 10-14.  Many 17- and 18-year olds haven’t had a strength and conditioning coach, just the guy who spots them on their final few sets at the gym. The camp was a teaching point for the younger players and re-enforcement for the veterans.

“We had testing built into the workouts,” Lobe said. “That gets information for me, the scouts, the coaches. Then you follow that with a plan.”

It has been a while now since it was the norm, but some old timers talked of training camp as the time to get in shape. Training is a year-round thing for every sport these days.

The body needs three, four, sometimes five weeks after the long season to recover before the summer workouts begin. Then it is time to go to work, preparing for the next season, improving on areas needed.

Many Lightning players work out with Lobe at the gym in Minnesota, where he lives in the off season. Others have their own off season training regimens. Lobe said it his job to get in contact with players’ personal trainers to give them his philosophy, get on the same wavelength with them.

Tests are done to determine whether an athlete is speed or strength deficient and Lobe goes to work putting the plan together, adjusting as time goes by.

“You’re not a hockey player anymore,” Lobe said. “You’re a weightlifter and a sprinter.”

When the plan is ready, athletes have a total body workout Monday, Wednesday and Friday for about an hour and a half. Tuesdays and Thursdays are for plyometrics, a training designed to improve power and the functions of the nervous system.

“There is a lot of rest involved as well,” Lobe said. “You want them to be hitting their max potential.”

The information gained from development camp and the summer workouts is compiled for training camp in September. Tests are often done the first few days of camp to see what shape each player is in.

From there, Lobe meets with the coaching staff to come up with a plan – training days, stress days, conditioning days, heavy, light practices. What is needed, and when. Lobe said he spends about 20 hours during the week programming workouts for the players.

“Their plyometrics is the game now,” Lobe said. “I’m not going to do too much of that in season, unless a guy seems to be slowing down. The volume of work is not as big. They need to be in hockey shape, not weightlifting shape anymore.”

It’s all about spacing out workouts when the season begins. Lobe sometimes has players do a short leg workout after a game instead of on an off day. He said it is not advisable to jump on a bike because your legs are sore the morning after a game, because constantly breaking down the legs can deplete performance.

“In an ideal setting, you do some core stability work, get your leg work done after the game,” Lobe said. “Then the next day you’ll do a light upper-body workout, rest the legs on that day off or save them for a light practice.

“You just want something that will level itself out so guys aren’t just beating themselves up all the time. It’s my job to manage what they want to do, how much, how heavy.”

Lobe said different players have different routines, you just try to educate them as best as possible in keeping energy up before and during the game. He has carbohydrate drinks available all the time.

After a long, stressful game they need nutrition.

“Before the end of the game, I throw something in their stalls,” Lobe said. “They don’t think about it, they can just reach up and get it in their system right away. That’s so important, getting that protein, that carbohydrates, the good fats in their system as soon as you can after you’re done playing. Then afterward, there’s the lasagna, the chicken breasts, real food. Some people have family in town and can’t get to it right away, but as long as they get that shake in them right away at least we took care of part of it.”

The bottom line is, getting the players to feel as good as possible for the next game.

Whether that is diet, rest, well-timed workouts, the right off-season training for a player, the strength and conditioning coach can be an important cog to a winning team.

“Nothing is more conducive to the philosophy than a hockey game,” Lobe said. “You go as hard and as fast as can for a solid 45 seconds and then you start shutting down. So what do you do? You get off the ice, you sit, you get a drink of water, take a breath and then you are ready to repeat. The training philosophy has to be very similar to that.”

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