The marathon NHL season begins Sept. 14, with medical exams and fitness testing for Canadiens players and roster hopefuls. But this week, and for the past few months, all have been preparing on and, more importantly, off the ice.
Since early June, every player has been doing conditioning work. But the real "let's get on the bandwagon" effort, as Livingston calls it, covers 10 to 11 weeks.
Gone are the days of NHLers working second jobs during the summer, then using training camp to get fit. No longer do Canadiens work offseason sales or public-relations jobs for Molson, the brewer that long owned the club, while using 18 holes of golf as a workout.
Modern hockey is a year-round occupation for today's hugely salaried player, a fact reflected by the scrupulous attention Livingston pays to keeping the Canadiens healthy and fit.
It's why he sent every player into the summer with a lavishly illustrated
166-page offseason training manual, which covers training philosophies, stretching, regeneration, injury prevention, principles of cardiovascular, metabolic, strength, power, agility and quickness training, diet, even yoga.
Livingston's program offers weekly calendars, recommended training schedules and a log, with specific programs for forwards, defencemen and goalies. If a player is unclear on an exercise, he can play the DVD that's included, on which Livingston demonstrates.
"In the five years I've been here, I've never had a regular player come in to camp way out of shape," Livingston said, though he did recall one minor pro who turned up "chubby" and spent two weeks in stationary-bicycle purgatory.
Livingston produced his first manual for his first NHL employer, the New York Rangers, and another for his second, the New York Islanders. Even today, not every NHL club uses one.
But his program has assumed a life of its own in Montreal, where he produced his first book in 2002-03. The manual has been tweaked until this offseason, when Livingston rebuilt it from the ground up to incorporate recent findings and new methods in hockey-specific training.
"Conditioning is not as big an issue now as prevention of injury," Livingston said. "My role is more the management of information and education, to make sure guys follow a program that gets them to the right place. It's also to recondition players during the season, and stay on top of the guys who don't play as much.
"Getting a guy in shape might have been a strength coach's job 15 years ago. Now, they're working out 11 months a year."
Training has changed remarkably in the past decade, when Livingston said NHLers were training like football players.
"They were building really big engines in their cars, but ignoring the transmission. Big arms, legs and chests made them strong, but they were ripping their abdominals and groins to pieces. You don't need to be super-super strong to play hockey. You need good strength, flexibility, a balance of many different things. The summer program tries to address that."
Livingston, like his contemporaries, stresses the importance of core training, or building strength through the middle of the body, since the core is the transfer point of the forces from the upper body to the lower. Six-pack abs might look great on the beach, but they're useless for a high-performance athlete.
Already, Livingston says he's seen probably 70 per cent of the Canadiens this summer. Many players drift in and out of the Bell Centre gym, where he works daily for four hours from 8:30 a.m., before they skate in Rosemere and elsewhere. He's in touch with European- and U.S.-based players by phone.
Some are delighted to follow his manual to the letter, while others, with personal trainers and long-established habits, might use elements to supplement their regular routines.
"I try to teach, but it's a process," Livingston said. "I also constantly learn from the players. I can keep training everybody the same way, or realize there's a better way all the time, with new methods that are proven to work and get results."
To further his skills, the Canadiens are sending him to Arizona late next month for a two-day course with renowned strength and conditioning expert Mark Verstegen.
At the end of the day, of course, no player yet has found a way to shortcut their offseason training.
"When they step on the ice," Livingston said with a grin, "I'll know, and the coach will know, their level of conditioning."