|Sidney Crosby and his personal trainer, Andy O'Brien. (PIERRE-PAUL POULIN/QMI Agency & Reebok HANDOUT) |
He’s got grit, he’s fiercely competitive and he’s not afraid to get physical.
Those are the traits that help separate NHL superstar Sidney Crosby from the rest of the pack, according to his longtime personal trainer Andy O’Brien.
“Sidney says that every challenge is an opportunity and that’s really how he sees it,” O’Brien explains in a one-on-one interview.
“For a lot of people, working out is hard and eating right is hard. There’s all these sacrifices, all this discipline. But it’s also an opportunity to get better. And I think he (Crosby) focuses on the positive and he focuses on his goals and he tries not to focus on what’s holding him back or what the obstacles are.”
The much sought-after strength and conditioning coach, who took some time at the event to speak exclusively with Keeping Fit, explains that the key to training one of the greatest players in the game — or any other elite athlete, for that matter — is to work on movements that transfer directly to the ice.
“Philosophically, I always try to be really specific,” he says. “It’s not just about getting them fit. It’s about trying to figure out what makes them perform.”
Over the past 15 years that O’Brien has trained with high-performance athletes, he has learned that traditional exercises in the gym don’t always boost performance in particular sports.
It’s not merely about getting an athlete to squat the most, for example, or turn in the fastest 20-metre sprint, he notes.
“I think that you get caught with a personal bias as a strength coach as to saying, ‘OK, we’re improving power, agility or speed.’ But really, those things don’t transfer onto the ice and that’s been shown over the years. I would take guys and make them faster in their running, but it wouldn’t necessarily make them a better skater. Or I’d increase their lifts, and it wouldn’t necessarily improve their strength on the puck or make them better athletes.”
O’Brien, who has been working with Crosby for 13 years, says his own training philosophy began to evolve several years ago.
“Midway through my career, I spent a lot of time really trying to study the sport and find out what those key variables are — like what makes a guy like Sidney different,” says O’Brien, former head strength and conditioning coach with the Florida Panthers. “A lot of people talk about how strong he is on the puck, yet you get him in the weight room, he’s not necessarily dominating all the lifts.”
Crosby has “huge legs” and is a “pretty muscular” 210 pounds at five-foot-11, notes O’Brien.
“He’s a really thick guy,” he adds. “But what makes him so strong on the puck is the fact that he’s lower than everybody and he’s in a better position. It’s just a fact that when he gets into those biomechanically efficient positions, he’s hard to knock off the puck. And those positions are really hard to get into. You have to have a certain type of strength to get down there and a certain type of flexibility.”
These days, O’Brien leads the Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain through mostly multiplanular moves (exercises through multiple planes of motion) that are functional to hockey, strengthen small muscle groups and help stave off injuries.
Besides strength training, the veritable teacher and student — who met at a P.E.I. hockey school when Crosby was 13 (as detailed in last week’s column) — also use a variety of training methods to focus on speed and agility.
“It (the training) has been a little bit less traditional, but it comes from that approach of really watching the games and then trying to discuss them and say, ‘OK, where are some opportunities where he can make more plays?’” explains O’Brien.
The world-class strength and conditioning coach, who counts American swimmer Dara Torres, Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser and Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan among his list of high-profile clients, doesn’t give away all his training secrets.
But O’Brien, based in Calgary with a training business in Toronto, does emphasize the importance of tailoring a workout regimen to a specific sport over merely getting fit.
“Unfortunately, in this day and age, being fit is not a competitive advantage. Everybody’s fit,” he says. “So you really have to find ways to build your body to make the type of plays you need to make as a player.”
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