Hockey players, pull-ups, and shoulder injuries

Sophomore Jon Carlson, men’s ice hockey

Seventeen-year-old Canadian Sam Bennett was the top North American prospect heading into the 2014 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

“His puckhandling and playmaking are excellent and he has one of the best shots in this year’s draft class,” went the report from the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. “He has scored several goals from the high slot and coming in off the wing and has been very effective on the power play.”

Outside of prodigies like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, Bennett was as close to a sure-fire pick as they come. But just a few weeks before the draft,  Bennett’s athleticism was put into question — embarrassingly. At the NHL Scouting Combine, where prospects display their strength and fitness levels, Bennett couldn’t do a pull-up.

That’s worth repeating. The best male hockey prospect in the Western Hemisphere couldn’t pull himself up to a bar. Not once.

The media viciously attacked his lack of strength: “Sam Bennett posts zero pullups at NHL Combine” … “Infamous failure at NHL Scouting Combine haunts former top draft prospect Bennett,” … “Sam Bennett sill living failed pull-up nightmare from NHL Combine.”

Yet on draft day Bennett was still taken No. 4 overall by Calgary. Apparently NHL scouts and general managers didn’t care about Bennett’s lack of demonstrable strength. He was still an incredibly skilled hockey player with a rare, powerful shot.

But Bennett’s zero pull-ups was significant for another reason. To understand why, here’s Mike Boyle in his newest book, New Functional Training for Sports:

Most strength training programs place little emphasis on pulling movements such as chin-ups and rows. Although many articles written over the last 50 years have cited pull-ups and chin-ups as keys to upper back development, most athletes ignore these exercises for one simple reason: Pull-ups and chin-ups are just too hard. These athletes instead perform lat pull-downs for the muscles of the upper back under the mistaken assumption that this is all that is necessary, and many completely ignore rowing movements. This type of unbalanced programming often leads to overdevelopment of the pressing muscles, postural problems, and shoulder injury.”

After being drafted, Bennett disclosed that he’d been struggling with a shoulder injury for the previous year. He’d miss his rookie season to have the shoulder surgically repaired.

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