It’s 6:45 am, and the few people in the gym where Brooks Laich trains back in Saskatchewan have been known to throw odd glances at the NHL player being put through the paces by his trainer. Laich has been up since 5:30 am, and he’ll be at the gym from 6:45 till 10:45, working through a conditioning program that takes the “off” out of offseason.
“You kind of get some weird eyes from other people at the gym,” Laich chuckles. “But you do it all with a smile on your face, ‘cause it’s fun. … I can’t fall asleep at night if I feel like I haven’t worked harder than every other hockey player has, because then I feel like they deserve to win more than I do.”
It’s Monday when OFB talks via phone to Laich, and he’s just finished an intense lower body workout and cardio circuit on an exercise bike. Later in the day, he’ll do an hour and 15 minutes of yoga. He’ll keep a similar pace over the next five days – on Tuesday, it will be upper body and then field work at the track, Wednesdays will be swimming and mountain biking in addition to yoga, and Thursday and Friday will repeat the Monday-Tuesday circuit. Saturday will be all-terrain biking.
And that’s just phase one of his summer conditioning agenda.
“The summers , I think, are definitely way harder than the winters. The winters are the reward – being able to play hockey and practice,” Laich says. “Hockey’s a 12-month occupation.”
Laich wasn’t always this way about his offseason training. In fact, he can pinpoint his obsession with conditioning—he phrases it as “messed up mentally that way”—back to the end of his second year in the NHL. He’d scored 7 and 8 goals in his first and second seasons, respectively. After that second year, he was walking into an ice arena back home when, Laich said, he realized, “I have to do something to separate myself from being a bubble player and try and realize the potential that I believe I have.”
From then on, instead of going into the gym at 9 am, he’d start at 7 am and stay till about 11 am. He’d make sure to be in bed by 9 pm, to the chagrin of friends. The season following that summer, however, Laich scored over 20 goals, and a conditioning junkie was born.
And, in quintessential Brooks Laich fashion, he enjoys it.
“I can’t wait to get to bed at night ‘cause I’m excited to get up … I’m out of bed at 5:30 in the morning, ready to get to the gym, because I want to push it – I’m 28 years old, I should be entering the prime of my career. I want to push it and see how good I can get,” Laich says. “Roddie and I sort of developed a saying over the years, ‘It hurts you so long, you’ll be addicted to pain.’”
“Roddie,” or Rod Flahr, Laich’s trainer, has been working with the NHL player since he turned 17. They met through a guy Laich played summer hockey with. There’s also Liane Davis, a power-skating coach and, new this year, Daysha Shuye, who teaches yoga. It’s a group of instructors Laich said he feels fortunate to work with.
Rod, says Laich, “knows my body basically as well as I do.”
“He’s the same way – he’s excited. He’s adding more, he wants to challenge me,” Laich says of how Rod handles his student’s intensity towards conditioning.
Liane enters Laich’s training regimen around the beginning of August, when phase 2 of his offseason conditioning starts. In this phase, he’ll do on-ice training from 8 to 9:30 am. The first half hour is Laich skating by himself, focusing on his edge-work. He then trains with Liane until 9:30—the two have been working together for about 5 years, ever since Laich called her up and said he wanted to be a better skater—and will be in the gym by 10 to start his regular Monday-Friday routine, minus the cardio portion.
This year, Brooks decided to add yoga to his offseason conditioning program and contacted yoga instructor Daysha about training this summer. Daysha works with the local college football team doing yoga, and Rod recommended her to Brooks.
“Every year when the season ends, and I’m driving back to Saskatchewan, I’m immediately thinking about my offseason workout and how I can improve it from last year,” Laich says.
Laich’s other innovation to his routine this year besides yoga was all-terrain biking, which he says helps stabilize his core muscles and works leg muscles more than riding a stationary bike at the gym. The yoga has helped his flexibility, which he feels will help him gain more power when skating by lengthening his stride.
Changing up the workout routine helps keeps Laich from hitting a workout plateau. He and Rod also use a training structure that requires beginning the summer with a higher number of reps and low weights and eventually transitioning down to a small amount of reps with maximum weights, which helps the athlete hit maximum power and explosiveness in his movements by the end. Laich says he’ll try to keep up with the yoga during the regular season, which, he explains, is more about maintaining what progress has been made in the offseason.
During the regular season, Laich will also depend on Capitals conditioning coach Mark Nemish, who he said is fantastic at working with individual player’s needs.
The Golden Rule
If there’s a golden rule of Laich’s summer, it’s that there are no exceptions to missing a workout. Media calls to discuss his contract extension? Anytime after 10:45 am. Scheduling conflicts with issues out of his control? He’ll wake up at 4:30 instead of 5:30 so that he doesn’t miss the workout.
“I think I have … the strictest boss in the world,” Laich said, referring to himself.
Taking it easy during these workouts is not an option, either.
“I’d be so terrified if I left the gym and I knew I left more in the gym,” Laich said of not giving 100%.
Just to put Laich’s hours of training in perspective, consider this: Capitals conditioning coach Mark Nemish has an offseason program which at its peak will have athletes doing upwards of nine workouts a week, each 45 minutes to an hour in length. That averages out to roughly 9 hours a week. Laich’s routine has him at 24 hours per week, and that doesn’t include the yoga.
Laich says he trains to be in better shape than anyone else. He’s not really sure, however, how his training regimen stacks up against athletes in other sports.
“I think boxers probably train the hardest of any sport,” he finally said, adding hockey may fall in line after ironman training. He also gives swimming a nod.
But, in the end, Laich’s offseason workouts come down to one thing: deserving to win.