Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve shared some research underlying why I believe hockey should be viewed as a “repeat sprint” sport.

One thing I didn’t mention…repeat sprint ability should be built on a foundation of low position endurance.

Maintaining low positions provides an opportunity for players to develop maximal power through each stride, along with a number of other benefits in terms of angling, puck protection, and leverage to give and absorb contact.

It’s also simple to assess and train.

In my book Speed Training for Hockey, I outlined the below age-based standards for a Split Squat IsoHold:

  • U-14: 60 seconds
  • U-18: 60-90 seconds
  • 18+: 90-120 seconds

Give this a shot and see how you do. If you can’t meet these times, building in holds 2-3 times per week is a great place to start.

Feel free to post any other comments/questions you have below. If you found this helpful, please share/re-post it so others can benefit.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. For comprehensive programs to improve your speed AND repeat sprint ability, check out: Speed Training for Hockey

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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.

  1. 3 Keys to Developing Optimal Skating Technique
  2. Limitations to Optimal Skating Performance
  3. Breakaway Hockey Speed Q&A

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:

  1. Remove soft-tissue limitations to deeper skating depths
  2. Practice skating specific patterns in a deeper stance

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.

 Posterior Hip Musculature

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.

Hip Musculature

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

This is a simple 3-step off-ice approach to improving stride length in hockey players:

  1. Remove the soft-tissue restriction
  2. Mobilize the joint in a movement specific pattern
  3. Reinforce proper depth with a movement specific exercise

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,

Kevin Neeld

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I wanted to kick this week off by following up on an article from last week on a few tips to help hockey players improve their skating technique. If you missed it, you can check it out here: 3 Keys to Developing Optimal Skating Technique

In that article, I alluded to the fact that players often have limitations that aren’t purely a failure to express their full capacity. In other words, they can’t simply be “cued” into skating better, they have some other issue that needs to be addressed to either remove a barrier to optimal performance or improve their capacity for optimal performance.

Barriers to Optimal Skating Depth
Achieving an optimal skating depth is important for maximize stride length/power, as well as stability and resilience to unexpected contact or obstacles. That said, there is a significant number of players that don’t skate lower because they flat-out cannot get there. The two most common culprits are:

  1. Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI)
  2. A lack of strength

Of these two limitations, FAI is structural and typically affects older more advanced players that have put a lot more mileage on their bodies, whereas a lack of strength is more functional and can affect players at all levels but typically affects younger players.

I’ve written a lot about FAI on the past (See: Training Around FAI; Performance Training: Adaptations for FAI; and An Updated Look at FAI), so I’ll keep it simple here, but the idea is that there is a BONY limitation to hip flexion range of motion. In other words, the player cannot and never will be able to achieve a deeper skating stance (without surgery) and attempting to force a lower depth, or even spending significant amount of time near end-range will almost definitely shred the labrum. In these cases, the players essentially have two options: 1) Get surgery; 2) Skate slightly higher. Given that these limitations tend to be cumulative over time, I wouldn’t be quick to jump to surgery unless the player is noticing significant symptoms. There are a ton of players competing at the highest levels in the world that are simply working around these limitations. That said, it’s still important to be aware of them, so you don’t attempt to “drive through” them on or off the ice.

A lack of strength is one of the most common issues we see in youth players who cannot achieve or maintain a deep skating stance. This is pretty straight-forward; they can’t skate in a deep position because they don’t possess the strength to hold themselves there. Hopefully the coaches reading this will understand the difference between “choosing not to” and “not possessing the capacity to do so”. One, the former, may justify some enthusiastic reminders to get into a deeper stance; another, the latter, involves a different approach. At youth levels (squirts through bantams), you’re likely to see a lot of the latter, meaning you can save yourself some throat irritation and mental anguish by just training the kids to improve their strength off the ice, instead of yelling at them on the ice.

If you lack equipment, as in most youth settings, an easy way to do this is with what I call “IsoHolds”. We generally do these in two positions: Squat IsoHolds and Split Squat IsoHolds. Split Squat IsoHolds are a more advanced variation, as they require single-leg strength, but ultimately I think this is the more advantageous option because of the benefits of single-leg training as well as the improvements in flexibility of the back leg. A Squat IsoHold is essentially a “Wall Sit” without the wall. I haven’t had an athlete do a Wall Sit in over 10 years; I stopped once I realized that the athlete did very little to hold the wall up, but the wall did a lot to hold the athlete up. It’s interesting how few youth players can even achieve a quality squat position, let alone hold it for prolonged periods of time (e.g. 30s). Most start the full body quiver around 20s, but few even get there since the form/technique breaks down before then. For other benefits of IsoHold work, check out this video:

Barriers to Optimal Power Transfer
Achieving an optimal skating depth and full stride length (including the toe flick, as I mentioned in the previous article) will help ensure optimal power generation with each stride. Ultimately, however, skating speed is dependent upon both optimal power generation AND optimal power transfer to the stance leg. This is the old shooting a cannon out of a canoe analogy. It doesn’t matter how explosive the cannon is if it’s stationed on an unstable base. More relevant to hockey, the most common “energy leaks” I see in players involve poor positioning and stability at the foot, hip, and lumbar spine (lower back).

Foot Stability
The foot is often an overlooked piece of the puzzle in hockey players because it’s locked away in a hard boot. That said, the foot is incredibly important in maintaining stability of the skate, as it’s the final link between the body and the blade. I’ve learned a lot from Jim Snider, the Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Wisconsin, over the last several years, but when he told me that players that have collapsed arches in their feet (or, quite differently, arches that collapse) tend to ride their inside edges a big light bulb went off for me. The bottom line is that over-pronation of the foot on the glide leg translates into a mild collapse of the skate blade toward the inside edge. This increases the friction of the skate on the ice, decreases glide efficiency and ultimately dampens the power generated from the opposing leg.

An inward collapse of the foot also tends to cause an inward collapse of the knee, which can cause problems higher up. Just because the foot is locked into a skate boot doesn’t mean it’s not important. At Endeavor, we’re constantly looking at how our players’ feet position and respond to loading off the ice, and try to sift out which players have collapsed arches (which are typically better candidates for orthotics) and which have arches that collapse (which can typically be trained back to optimal function).

Hip Stability
Just as an inward collapse of the foot can cause an inward collapse of the knee, poor hip stability can cause the femur (and knee) to collapse inward too. In other words, these stability issues travel both ways, from the foot up and from the hip down, and can have similar consequences. When the knees collapse in, it can cause a player to ride the inside edge on their glide leg, but it can also limit the power capacity of the stride leg. It’s a double-edge sword. David Lasnier filmed a video demonstrating this inward collapse during a Box Jump. Can you see it?

 This is EXTREMELY common in female athletes and in younger athletes in general, and provides another great example of how off-ice training can transfer to on-ice improvements. Because this collapse is evident in a lot of off-ice exercises (almost every double- and single-leg jumping or strength training exercise), we have ample opportunity to improve this pattern off the ice. In the case of the box jump, the high levels of power generated by the hips are being transferred down to the ground through a wobbly base (which also limits power production of the muscles that attach to the knee, such as the quads, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius, one of the “calves”). You can address this by both cuing the athlete into more optimal alignment and by including exercises to improve their hip stability such as glute bridges, lateral miniband walks, and backward monster walks.

Lumbar Stability
While skating, it’s important for players to maintain a neutral lumbar spine position, meaning a slight inward curve. As with sprinting off the ice, maximal speed on the ice utilizes diagonal force transfer between your glutes and opposite lats (or hip and opposite shoulder).

Note how the left “Lat” in red has fibers that appear to connect almost directly into the right gluteus maximus.

As one hip flexes, so does the opposite shoulder (stretching this lat-glute connection); at the same time, as one hip extends, so does the opposite shoulder (shortening this lat-glute connection). This connection provides an incredible opportunity for force transfer between the upper and lower body. Maximizing force transfer is predicated upon maintaining the transitional segments (e.g. the lumbar spine) in an optimal position, neutral, to do so. While I’ve seen hockey players that err both ways (too much extension and too much flexion), the majority tend to round excessively through their lower back (excessive flexion). This not only dampens efficient force transfer between the upper and lower body, it also can be a source of pain in itself. Know a hockey player with low back pain? This could be a reason why.

Once again, this is a positioning/movement fault that can be aggressively trained off the ice. It’s important for players to learn what “neutral spine” is and feels like, possess the ability to maintain it under load, and be able to transfer it to the skating position. Without question, every player is going to flex and extend through their lumbar spine during the course of every practice and every game. The goal here is to help them find a neutral position and make this their norm, so they don’t constantly gravitate or bias toward an excessively flexed position. One way to help bridge the gap between traditional off-ice exercises and on-ice work is through the use of slideboards. When a player is on a slideboard, you can help them find their optimal skating depth and a neutral lumbar spine position and see how they respond with a movement similar to skating and with fatigue.

Split Squat IsoHold into Slideboard

Note how Jeff Buvinow, who recently wrapped up a great 4-year career at Brown University, maintains a good skating posture and neutral spine throughout the exercise on the first slideboard. This video was taken the first time these guys had been introduced to this type of training, so the first day was a little sloppy, but they improved significantly over the next few weeks.

Wrap Up
There is a lot to consider in maximizing skating performance, which is a positive. It means there are lots of areas for potential improvement. The players and coaches that have this information are better prepared to address all components of skating performance, including technical, structural, and functional factors. Not every player has the same potential, but the player who maximizes a lesser potential has an opportunity to out play the player that fails to maximize a greater potential.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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