Finding the “optimal stride” is important for hockey players at all levels. It helps ensure they’re maximizing their range of motion and power, and not compromising skating efficiency. Because this is such an important topic, I’ve written several articles in the past on frequently overlooked factors that dictate what may be optimal for any given individual. You can read a few of those at the links below, but I’d encourage you to do a quick search on the site for “stride length” if you’re interested in reading more on the topic.
Assuming the player does in fact have the requisite bony structure and strength capacity to sustain a low position while skating, the two keys to retraining a player to maintain a deeper skating depth are to:
I suspect, in comparison to some of the topics referenced in previous articles, these are two training components that many people in the hockey world are familiar with, and are probably the two that people gravitate towards. That said, I think there are different ways to approach this than simple groin stretches and continually cuing players to skate lower or bend their knees more.
When our players come back to us at Endeavor, two extremely common limitations I continue to notice are generalized stiffness in the posterior hip (posterior hip capsule, hip external rotators and glute max), and poor relative motion between the medial hamstrings and the posterior adductor magnus. Both of these can limit depth on the stance leg by interfering with smooth hip flexion, as well as causing some problems on the stride leg.
An image of the posterior hip (from wikipedia.com) with the glute max cut, illustrating many of the underlying structures than tend to become stiff in hockey players.
An image of the hip and thigh musculature (from T-Nation.com). Note the adductor magnus on the inside of the image on the right, and it’s proximity to the two medial hamstrings: semitendinosus and semimembranosus.
While addressing posterior hip capsule stiffness could be an entire post in itself, I’ve found that restoring relative motion between the posterior adductor magnus and medial hamstrings is fairly easily accomplished with some basic Active Release work. Of course, not everyone will have access to an A.R.T. provider, so it’s helpful to have some ways to troubleshoot this on your own. I’ve found that players respond pretty well to “treating” this area themselves with a lacrosse ball placed on top of a box/table (preferably a hard surface). Instead of just rolling around, I encourage players to take a more “seek and relax” strategy, slowly rolling to find sensitive/dense areas, and then just slowly let their leg sink deeper onto the ball as they try to relax and let the tension dissipate. Once they’ve been able to ease some of the tension, I’ll instruct them to slowly straighten their knee, which will slide the hamstrings past the posterior adductor and help restore some relative motion between the structures.
Self-Myofascial Release for Posterior Adductor
You can then follow that up with some self-mobilizations to help reinforce hip adduction range of motion through a large arc. This is one we use fairly frequently. You can modify this slightly by turning the extended leg so that the toes point more toward the ceiling.
Lateral Kneeling Adductor Mobilization
As you may suspect, improving hip mobility takes a multi-faceted approach and there are dozens of “self-myofascial release”, mobility, and stretching exercises than can be used to accomplish this. The examples above are simply two powerful ones that many people may not be aware of.
Once you’ve established adequate range of motion, the next stage is to reinforce a lower skating position. This is best accomplished on the ice and can also be reinforced on a slideboard, but I’ve also gotten a lot of mileage out of an exercise I call the “2-Way Skater”. While skating naturally requires a propulsive action from the stride leg, skating depth (and therefore stride length) is largely influenced by the position of the stance leg. Also, the ability to transfer the force from the stride leg through the stance leg is dependent upon stance leg stability. For these reasons, the 2-Way Skater is an outstanding exercise to reinforce optimal skating depth, stance leg stability, and full stride leg extension. Check out the video I filmed for HockeySC.com several months ago that dives into how to perform the 2-Way Skater and what we’re looking for with the exercise:
Dissecting the 2-Way Skater
If you’re a young player that needs to work on maintaining a deeper skating depth, I’d encourage you to try these things, as well as follow a comprehensive training program as outlined in Ultimate Hockey Training. As always, please feel free to post your comments below!
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.