More than ever, today’s game of hockey is dominated by “explosive” players. At every level it’s the fastest skaters who win races to loose pucks, and create the time and space necessary to create (or prevent) high-quality scoring opportunities. For these reasons, hockey players should seize every opportunity they can to improve their speed.
Speed can be boiled down to one simple equation:
Speed = Stride Length × Stride Frequency
In the equation above, stride length describes the total distance you travel/glide from a single push before taking your next one.
Stride frequency is the number of pushes you take in a given period of time. Improving speed can be as straightforward as increasing both stride length and stride frequency.
Below are my top six strategies for doing just that.
Ask most hockey coaches, and they’ll tell you the same thing: most players stand up too tall when they skate.
What these players don’t realize is that adopting a deeper skating stance will automatically increase their stride length.
Dropping your hips into a lower position directly translates into longer stride lengths, which increases contact time with the ice and generates more propulsive force.
Players generally don’t adopt a lower skating position for one of three reasons:
There are specific tests to help identify each of these limitations, which can be easily addressed with a quality off-ice training program.
Almost everyone can stand on one leg and push up onto their toes. While this seems like a basic movement, it really highlights the strength of your calves (e.g. for a 160lb player, pushing up on their toes is like a 160lb calf raise).
In fact, most players can generate enough power through this movement that they can jump off the ground with almost no knee bend.
In contrast, try jumping without pointing your toes as you lift off the floor? Without finishing the jump by “pushing through the toes” (a cue I use frequently when coaching jumping patterns), you’re leave a significant amount of power on the table.
This is exactly what’s happening on the ice if you don’t push through your toes at the end of each skating stride.
Pogo Hop – A basic exercise to emphasize pushing through the toes
Anatomically speaking, this joint action is known to as plantar flexion, and it’s a crucial component of triple extension, or the coordinated pattern by which the hips, knees, and ankles straighten to produce power.
Whether skating in a straight line or using a crossover pattern, hockey players should concentrate on pushing off through their toes on every stride.
This is also a pattern that should be emphasized in off-ice training programs, particularly with exercises that involve jumping or pushing/dragging sleds. The more players reinforce “finishing through the toes,” the more naturally it will come on the ice.
Another big mistake players make is recovering their stride leg too wide. There are a couple different reasons why this is a problem.
First, when the stride leg isn’t recovered fully, it decreases stride length. Simply, because the skate is starting out wider, there’s less total distance for the hips and legs to move through to generate power.
An incomplete recovery can also cause issues with single-leg stability, and how the skate is loading through the ice, particularly when skating forward.
When the skate is too far outside the base of support, players will generally have their foot and knee collapse inward which creates a less stable single-leg position and causes the skate to load more through the inside edge. Riding the inside edge increases the friction and drag on the ice, which is like skating with a light brake on.
These are subtle changes, but they can have a significant impact on skating efficiency. And while this is clearly a skating technique issue, there are a few strategies players can use to start to address this off the ice.
For example, players can focus on maintaining hip-knee-toe alignment during single-leg exercises like the “2-Way Skater” (see below), and on recovering the stride leg back under the body while using a slideboard.
Using single-leg jumps that require a “stick and pause” also helps encourage players absorbing force in a stable single-leg position, with their weight appropriately centered over their foot.
An old video I recorded on “Dissecting the 2-Way Skater”
These three strategies require small shifts in focus while on the ice, but can collectively have a major impact on skating speed.
Further, there are specific off-ice training exercises and methods that can help develop these qualities to maximize transfer to on-ice speed.
As always, feel free to post any questions you have in the comments section below.
On Friday, I’ll share how a few of the most common conditioning myths in hockey may be limiting your speed potential.
To your success,
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Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.