Click here to Ask Joe about training.
If you send a question, it may appear on the website. Please do not submit a question if you do not
want it published. Only your first name will be used for privacy reasons.

Q: Coach DeFranco,
In a past post you said that your athletes “lift heavy weights all year long, regardless if they are in-season or off-season.” My question is how/why do you do this? And won’t this lead to injury? I know that you know what you’re talking about, but I can’t figure out why you would do this. I’m sure you have a reason.
Thank you for spreading your knowledge.

A: Walt,
It is true that my athletes lift maximal weights all year long. As I’ve said time and time again, “What good is it to be strong in the off-season if you’re going to get as weak as an 8-year-old girl during the season?” After all, during the season is when your strength really matters! I do tweak the program slightly, though. Obviously, the total volume of the strength-training workouts is cut down tremendously. Also, we don’t perform any one-rep maxes during the season. On max-effort lifts we perform 3-5 reps during the season. I also cycle the max-effort exercises every 2-3 weeks during the season. This prevents overuse injuries and it also prevents your nervous system from getting fried. It’s also important to know that NOT ALL EXERCISES ARE PERFORMED IN THIS MANNER! Assistance lifts such as rotator cuff work, shrugs, dumbbell presses, abs, etc. are performed in the 8-15 rep range. After the max-effort lift is performed, the rest of the exercises during the in-season workouts resemble more of a “bodybuilding” workout. Remember that this “bodybuilding-method” helps athletes to retain the hard-earned muscle that was built in the off-season. Maintaining your muscle mass during the season will also help to prevent strength loss.

One final note on lifting maximal weights: You can’t get strong if you don’t lift heavy weights! Never forget the importance of the nervous system and its role in developing strength. It is definitely the most important/overlooked component of getting strong.

Remember this: Getting your body accustomed to handling maximal loads inhibits the Golgi Tendon Organ’s (GTO) inhibitory response. Once your body becomes accustomed to handling these heavy loads, the GTO is much less likely to fire and “shut down” certain muscles during max lifts. And remember that a “max lift” doesn’t just mean a 1RM in the weight room. It can be an offensive lineman exploding into a defensive lineman or a hockey defenseman attempting to check someone into the glass. My point is that you must prepare your nervous system in the weight room for the neurological demands of the athletic field. Light weights and high reps just don’t cut it!

If you want to get strong, you can’t be afraid to lift heavy weights!

Joe D.

Return to Top


Q: Joe,
How much of a role do you feel that the atmosphere that you train in has to do with the progress you make in the gym? I train at a “health club” and even though I wear headphones, I just can’t seem to get super intense. Do you think if I switched to a hardcore “gym” I can make better progress? Thanks a lot. Love the site!


A: Doug,
Although I feel that you can get the job done anywhere, atmosphere is everything when it comes to training hard.

For example, the facility where I’m currently training my athletes might not look like much to the average person, but to me the atmosphere is a thing of beauty. Walk in on any given day and you will see a bunch of dedicated athletes in a small room, the lyrics of 50-Cent and Disturbed blasting through an old stereo, air so thick and filled with chalk you can hardly breath and weights so heavy getting thrown around you can hardly believe it. I love it. I have professional athletes who drive from hours away that come to train with me. And I’m currently doing most of my training in a room that used to be an old storage closet. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The results we get in this “focused” environment speaks for itself.

So yeah, if you want to make progress in the gym, carpet and chrome isn’t going to cut it. Check out the training pics on this site. These are not staged photos. These are candid shots of some of the most dedicated and hardest-working athletes in the country busting their ass to get better!

No one ever drowned in sweat!

Joe D.

Return to Top


Q: : I am currently a college hockey player training at Odyssey Athletic Center where you train many of your athletes. Once my college career is over in March, I will be coaching youth programs with kids anywhere from 8-18. One of my jobs is off-ice conditioning; I was wondering what I could do in order to help my players reach their full potential with a limited weight program.

William Paterson Ice Hockey

A: Mike,

Check out my post on 12-05-03 entitled, “5 training tips for the hockey player”. Most of the advice I gave doesn’t require much special equipment and I think you will benefit from it.

Again, I am a huge advocate of hockey players performing some kind of interval/sprint work in the off-season. This helps to overcome some of the muscular imbalances created by the repetitive demands of skating. You can also design your sprint workouts to mimic the anaerobic conditioning demands of a hockey game. Running also doesn’t require any equipment.

As far as lower body exercises are concerned, all that you need is an adjustable box or bench. I’m a big fan of full-range lower body movements for hockey players during the initial stages of the off-season. Because skating only stresses the legs through a partial range of motion, the vastus lateralis becomes the dominant muscle of the thigh. Full range exercises will help to further develop the hamstrings and VMO (vastus medialis). Both of these muscles are usually lacking in hockey players. Getting the VMO and hamstrings stronger creates a healthier knee joint and will help with your skating power. The good news is that 3 of my favorite “full-range” leg exercises don’t require any special equipment. Single leg squats with the back leg elevated, step-ups onto a “knee-height” box and barbell reverse lunges are all great. Check out my “training pics” to see how to perform these movements properly. Again, a bench or box is about all you need.

As far as upper body movements are concerned, focus on the lats, forearms and core. Chin-ups are the best. If you have access to a lat pulldown machine, use it as well. If you’re working with young kids remember that you don’t have to get fancy. Push-ups, pull-ups/flexed arm hang and a ground-based ab circuit will usually do the trick.

If there is any kind of a budget to work with, I would invest in some wrist rollers and sleds. These are both cheap tools that will pay huge dividends for your hockey players.

Let me know if you have any more specific questions.

Joe D.

Return to Top

Copyright 2008
Site by Yellow House Design