Exclusive Interview with Nelson Ayotte, Strength and Conditioning Coach of the St. Louis Blues

Often in professional sports, fans forget to think about all of the great coaches behind the scenes that make the sport possible.  One of the coaches overlooked is the strength and conditioning coach.

Nelson Ayotte has been the strength and conditioning coach for eight seasons with the St. Louis Blues. Well known throughout the industry, Ayotte has achieved a rank that few Coaches have.  Recently Ayotte was kind enough to sit down and talk a little more about what he does for the St. Louis Blues and about his career.

Hodschayan:  As strength and conditioning coach for the St. Louis Blues, what are some of the day to day responsibilities that you have?

Ayotte:

  • Planning the strength & conditioning program for our team and individual players.
  • Supervision of the strength & conditioning program of our minor league affiliate (Peoria).
  • Working with our athletic trainer Ray Barile with injury rehabilitation.
  • Planning, ordering and maintaining the gym equipment.
  • Physiological testing of the players.
  • Taking care of the nutrition at the rink, hotel and plane (post-practice/post-game).
  • Ordering, preparing the supplement protocol for the players (i.e. post-game shake etc…).
  • Helping the coaching staff with the on-ice conditioning of players.
  • Be available for our players at ANY TIME of the day in order to give them advice on any questions they might have regarding my field of expertise.
  • Helping the scouts to evaluate prospects at the draft and the combine.

Hodschayan:  Is there a major part of your profession that you feel people overlook?

Ayotte:  FUNCTIONAL HYPERTROPHY (FH)!!!

High performance coaches agree that in sports such as weightlifting and particularly powerlifting, constantly increasing relative strength is a must. Besides those obvious needs, how strong do you need to be in other sports? We hear often the term FH, but it is hard to find or to understand the meaning of it. What is FH?

It seems implicit in all descriptions of “functional success” or “functional sufficiency” of the function in a sport specific movement (SSM). The usual response of the body when it remains subjected to increased loads (speed or power) is a secondary increase in the capacity to perform the affected function. FH has limits, beyond which the increased capacity (hypertrophy in this case) becomes inadequate for the increasing load (law of diminishing returns). At this point, failure of the function becomes evident. There appear to be a limit to an increase in efficiency for a given SSM, in explanation, if a hockey players become too big his speed and agility will be compromised.

Hodschayan:  You are one of only 76 coaches since 1974 to be awarded a level five of the National Canadian Coaching Program.  Can you explain exactly what that entails?

Ayotte:  I was able to apply to become a Chartered Professional Coach (Ch.P.C.). The Canadian Professional Coaches Association is a membership structure for those coaches reaching the very highest level in their profession.

One of the goals of this entity is to minimize subjectivity and bias in the coaching selection process for national and other high-level teams, and to provide more objective criteria based on merit.  The selection of a national coach for international competition is done through an application process. National Coach designation indicates that the coach has reached the utmost level of achievement in his or her sport in the country.

A Chartered Professional Coach is indicative of expertise in technical and strategic aspects of the particular sport, as well as strength, endurance, and conditioning training.  We need to possess university-level or higher theoretical and practical knowledge in the areas of energy training, strength training, nutrition, biomechanical evaluation, psychology etc. There are a total of 21 subjects that the candidate needs to submit his or her thesis on; each of the these  is evaluated by the best specialist of our country.

The Ch.P.C. is approved only by our governing body (board which John Bales is the president), there is no higher coaching organization in Canada relating to international competition.

Hope this make you understand our Canadian system…

Hodschayan:  You have worked with athletes in the NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA, and PGA, as well as with Olympic Athletes.  As far as conditioning level, how do hockey players compare to the rest?

Ayotte:  Being a strength and conditioning coach I strongly believe that I am training a person not a sport. No matter who you are, or which activity you want to be good at, you are as strong as your weakest link.  For instance, if you develop a problem with your lower back it will have negatives repercussions on your overall performance, especially at the elite level. That being said, I’ve always found the easiest professional athletes to coach are hockey players.

Hodschayan:  You are known for your holistic physical fitness.  Do you have any tips on which supplements to use for the average Joe at home?

Ayotte:  Multivitamins are the foundation of a proper nutrition and supplement regiment.   Too often we see companies trying to find the next breakthrough in supplements, it is sad but our society is now constantly looking for the easy shortcut.  They seem to forget that without a good base (food, multivitamins and essential fatty acids) you will not maximize your training program no matter what you are taking.  You work hard on a daily basis for one reason “GETTING BETTER”. A solid multivitamin is an insurance policy to your daily nutritional intake, why bother with fancy new supplements if your essential needs are not being fulfilled.

Hodschayan:  During your time with the Blues, who seemed to be the most dedicated to their physical fitness?  Which players stick out now as going the extra mile to stay ahead of the pack?

Ayotte:  I was very fortunate to work with great players like: Al MacInnis, Doug Weight, Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald, Barrett Jackman, Jay McClement to name a few. To this day in hockey, I have never seen anybody who is as strong and powerful as Roman Polak. This guy is the ultimate physical machine; he is awesome to work with. I’ve tried methods on him than few athletes could sustain.  I am really proud of the overall fitness level of our team, all the credit goes to the players they are the one that put the long hours in the gym.

Hodschayan:  Having worked with the team as long as you have, I am sure that you have gotten to know the players fairly well.  Do you have any good stories about any of them (past or present)?

Ayotte:  You know during the off season I have 2 programs, first the resident athletes (players who stay all summer long in St-Louis) and second the non-resident (players who fly-in every month in order to get different phases of their personal program).

One morning I received a phone call from one of my non-resident player (we will keep is name anonymous but he still remembers…lol). “NELSON, WHAT THE ?!*&% WERE YOU THINKING?  Tthere is no way I can lift the amount of weight you put on my program.” 

“Come down what is the exercise”, I replied. He said screaming again “FRONT SQUATS”. I then said, “ I have your program right in front of me, last week while you were here you lifted 225lbs for 8 repetitions”. I calmly told him, “this is 2 big plates on each side”.  He replied “this is what I have and I couldn’t do more than 5 repetitions”.  I said, “this is impossible.  You were doing it perfectly just last week, maybe you are tired?”.  He said “I don’t know but it feels REALLY, REALLY heavy.”  I then replied, “Just take a day off and we will be back at it tomorrow”. He said, “OK!”

I then asked him if he liked the new Olympic bumper plates set I just ordered for him. He said are you kidding “THEY ARE GREAT” this is what I’ve been using since Monday, then a light bulb went on… I said did you use this for your squats? He said “YES”, I started to laugh!!! He, wondering what was going on, asked me: “what’s funny?”  I said, “You realize that these Olympic plates are in Kg not in pounds.”  He then clicks, “how much is 225kg?”  “Well it is 495lbs dummy…and you did 6 reps?”   He said with a little shame in his voice “yes”, I replied “next week use the right plates…BY THE WAY 225lbs FOR 8 REPS IS WAYYYY TOO LIGHT FOR YOU ESPECIALLY IF YOU CAN PERFORM 5 REPS WITH ALMOST 500lbs”…..

I want to thank Nelson Ayotte again for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for us.  As you can tell Nelson is a first class professional and is truly an asset to this St. Louis Blues team.

LET’S GO BLUES!

-Alex Hodschayan

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