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Dylan McIlrath: The Anatomy of a Machine

Photo by Sam Iannamico/Grand Rapids Griffins

Grand Rapids Griffins defenseman Dylan McIlrath is a physical freak. His combination of size and athleticism is a rare find and when mixed with a blue collar work ethic it creates a machine.

A brief look at some of McIlrath’s numbers will give you a sense of just how freaky he is. He is 6-foot-5 with a wingspan to match. He weighs 235 pounds with a body fat percentage below 10. He deadlifts more than 500 pounds and is fast, explosive and conditioned. So how does an athlete achieve this?

The first part is genetics. His parents clearly provided him with some good genes in order for him to be that tall and have arms so long that his knuckles are touching your face when yours are reaching nothing but the vast expanse of air that separates the two of you.

The second part is if you have some natural physical gifts you don’t sit back and rely solely on them for success. You make sure you are always the hardest worker in the room and you widen your separation from the pack. Here is how Dylan McIlrath trains:

Phase 1. Recovery: Immediately after the season, time is taken to recover from the rigours of a long, hard hockey schedule. The travel, the game frequency and the physical nature of hockey takes a toll on the body and a couple weeks should be spent focusing on proper nutrition and proper sleep. Everything Dylan will do during his off season will work better with a rested body so it’s important to start on the right foot and take some time to rest after the season.

Phase 2. Primer: Dylan’s first phase in the gym is the primer. The main purpose is to work towards removing any movement restrictions, increase strength base (both maximal and relative), establish base level conditioning and prepare his body for more explosive training to come (eccentric loading to strengthen tendons).

Phase 3. Strength: McIlrath spends this phase increasing his strength base as much as he can. The strength base is the engine that drives all other athletic attributes. It’s why proper attention should always be paid to being as strong as possible. Dylan tests his big lifts: bench press, squat, chin ups and deadlifts and then works off of calculated percentages. There is no guess work here. His work is precise and efficient.

Phase 4. Power: Once the big man is moving well and he has gone through some quick adaptations in strength the focus, he switches to developing power. Strength production is still a priority to increase force, but equally as important is how quickly he can produce that force. The quick production of force is what constitutes power. To develop this, Dylan uses moderate to what we call light/heavy weight and focuses on moving it fast with good technique. Olympic lifts and variations of standard strength lifts are executed in this phase. His conditioning also continues to increase.

Phase 5. Speed: If you want to be fast you have to practice moving fast. It is no different for the big man. A high emphasis is put on speed in this phase using sprints, Plyometrics, movement drills and exercises using accommodating resistance. Strength levels are maintained and conditioning is increased to peak performance. This is the final phase of the off season and it’s what leads Dylan into training camp.

Creating an athletic machine does not happen by accident. It’s a little bit of natural talent mixed with pure hard work.

Remember: Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen, Focus Fitness Manager & Head Strength Coach