One of the more consistent findings in determining what differentiates elite and sub-elite skaters is that elite skaters adopt a lower skating position.

This study from Upjohn et al (2008) found that high caliber skaters had a deeper skating position, which translated into longer/wider strides with more extension range of motion through the knee/ankle.

Ultimately, this allowed the players to skate faster, despite using the same stride rate.

Training to improve mobility or stability is typically referenced as a strategy to minimize injury risk. This study, along with several others, provides a rationale for including mobility/stability work to enhance skating performance.

Improving the ability to adopt and control deeper single-leg positions should be a foundational training goal in any speed training program for hockey.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld
SpeedTrainingforHockey.com
HockeyTransformation.com
OptimizingAdaptation.com

P.S. If you’re interested in learning more, check out my new book Speed Training for Hockey.

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Last week I got an email from a guy with a ton of hockey and teaching experience asking about skating treadmill protocols. I haven’t written much about skating treadmills. I stopped using the one at our old facility because I was working to get players to skate LESS in the off-season, especially in the first few months, in an effort to unload the skating musculature and avoid issues related to perpetual overuse. In fact, I think the only time I’ve approached the topic was here: The Truth About Skating Treadmill

If you have access to a skating treadmill, I would encourage you to view training on it within two major buckets:

  1. Improving the forward skating position and pattern
  2. Improving some target physiological quality

Me at our old facility. Took a while to (literally) shake the rust off, but I didn’t have to superman inside of the harness so overall not a bad day out!
This has nothing to do with anything, but it came up when I was searching for the old skating treadmill video and…it’s…awesome.
Related to the first point, there are very basic skating points that even elite players need to be reminded of periodically. I’ve discussed these in more detail in Breakaway Hockey Speed (which you can get for FREE by signing up for my free newsletter on the left sidebar of this page), but to get you thinking:

  1. What is the lowest skating depth the player can achieve while maintaining a flat back?
  2. Is the player recovering their stride leg under their body? On both sides?
  3. Is the player fully extending the stride leg, ending by pushing through the toe?
  4. Does the player have an appropriate arm swing with a forward and slightly inward reach to counterbalance the diagonal nature of the stride leg?
  5. Does the player demonstrate stability and control of the torso/head?

Optimal Skating Stance

Most of the time, you’ll find one or more of these areas that could be improved. As with any training pattern or exercise, it’s important players learn to skate well before they are put under increased training loads (higher inclines, higher speeds, longer durations, etc.). Naturally, they won’t perfect the skating stride in a single-session, but if they aren’t a proficient skater, the primary focus should be on improving their skating pattern. If you’re interested in more information on developing optimal skating technique, check out these posts:

  1. Limitations to Optimal Skating Performance
  2. A 3-Step Approach to Improving Stride Length
  3. 3 Keys to Developing Optimal Skating Technique

Once a player demonstrates competency in their skating stride, you can focus more on training in a way that elicits very specific training adaptations.  Think of the skating treadmill similar to running; you can alter your pace, duration, work:rest ratios, etc. to alter the specific adaptation you’re after. As an easy example, trotting at a steady state for 30 minutes may be an effective method to improve cardiac output, whereas sprinting for 6 seconds with full recovery may be an effective method to improve alactic power (the rate at which your body can produce energy using primarily anaerobic alactic energy systems). To be a little more specific, you can break down energy system work into 3 primary buckets:

  1. Alactic: Maximum efforts <12 seconds
  2. Lactic: Maximum and slightly sub-maximal efforts lasting 30-90 seconds
  3. Aerobic: Submaximal efforts lasting longer than 2 minutes

It’s important to acknowledge that all of these systems are always working to some extent during all activity. The time references above are simply meant as a general guideline to help illustrate the dominant energy system. It’s also important to recognize that the amount of rest given after each effort will dictate the emphasized energy system. For example, 10s of all out work followed by 3 minutes of rest would emphasize alactic power. In contrast, 10s of all out work followed by 20s of rest, repeated for multiple reps would quickly transition south on the above list, eventually being a largely aerobic activity.

After reading Joel Jamieson’s book Ultimate MMA Conditioning a couple years ago, I just made an excel sheet with various training methods and their intended adaptations within specific energy systems. We do almost NO lactic work until the last 2-3 weeks of the off-season with our hockey players, as they spend their entire season exposed to significant amounts of lactate.

For most of players, their off-season energy systems work will follow a progression similar to one of these two broad scenarios:

1)   Poor Fitness

  1. Phase 1: Aerobic
  2. Phase 2: Aerobic
  3. Phase 3: Alactic Power/Aerobic
  4. Phase 4: Alactic Capacity/Aerobic

2)   Good Fitness

  1. Phase 1: Aerobic
  2. Phase 2: Alactic Power/Aerobic
  3. Phase 3: Alactic Power/Alactic Capacity
  4. Phase 4: Alactic Capacity/Lactic Capacity

We’ll spend more time in certain phases and return to methods from previous phases depending upon time, and the training emphasis for the given day.

With all of this in mind, and recognizing that certain methods (e.g. 5 minute Lactate Threshold Intervals) don’t really lend themselves well to working with multiple athletes at one time, which is the reality of most of these situations, there are a few specific methods that I would recommend on the skating treadmill.

Aerobic

  1. Low Incline, Low Speed: 2 rounds of 8-12 reps of 30s on, 60s off
  2. Low-Medium Incline, Medium Speed: 2 rounds of 8-12 reps of 10-15s @70-80% effort, with 60s rest
  3. Low-Medium Incline, Medium Speed: 6-8 reps of 90s on, 90s off*

Alactic Power

  1. Low Incline, Max Speed: 2 rounds of 6-10 reps of 6-10s on w/ complete recovery (e.g. 1-2 minutes)
  2. Moderate Incline, Near Max Speed: 2 rounds of 6-10 reps of 6-10s on w/ complete recovery (e.g. 1-2 minutes)

Alactic Capacity

  1. Low Incline, Max Speed: 2 rounds of 8-12 reps of 8-15s on, going every 60s
  2. Moderate Incline, Near Max Speed: 2 rounds of 8-12 reps of 8-15s on, going every 60s

*This is absolutely brutal and not suitable by most athletes.

In a perfect world, the athletes would all have heart rate monitors on so you could monitor their recovery to ensure they aren’t surpassing their anaerobic threshold (AnT) in the lower level aerobic work (Options 1&2), that they’re building up to a Max HR during the 3rd aerobic option, and that they’re recovering fully during the alactic power work (typically an HR < ~130 beats per minute). This is reallyt he only way to be sure that the athletes are in fact training the energy systems you’re targeting. That said, I realize this isn’t possible for everyone and using the time intervals above will provide a pretty good guideline for most players. If the goal is to maximize recovery, err on the side of giving them more rest.

You can parlay these methods into different specific training goals. For example, alactic power work with shorter intervals can be thought of as maximum acceleration work. Longer alactic power intervals can be thought of as speed endurance. Having a larger incline will necessitate a faster stride rate, whereas flatter inclines will allow for longer stride lengths. With this in mind, higher inclines may be more appropriate for training the body position and stride pattern associated with initial accelerations from a standstill, whereas lower inclines may be better for training the body position and stride pattern associated with top-end speed. In addition to being great methods for developing the aerobic system, the first two aerobic methods are outstanding options for placing a large emphasis on teaching and refining skating technique.

Selecting which methods you use will depend on the training goals of the athlete and the amount of time you have available to help them reach their goals. You can use the phase-based progressions presented above as a guideline, but I’d also encourage you to use the long-term athletic development recommendations espoused by USA Hockey. I’d also remind you to err on the side of striving for more optimal technique over hammering higher speed work.

 Long-Term Athletic Development-Sensitivity to Training

Hopefully this provides a framework from which you can design appropriate skating treadmill programs specific to the needs of the players you work with. If you have any questions, feel free to post them below!

 

To your success,

Kevin Neeld
OptimizingMovement.com
UltimateHockeyTraining.com

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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
OptimizingMovement.com
UltimateHockeyTraining.com

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A couple days ago, I wrote a post on why hockey players shouldn’t use exercise bikes to condition.

If you missed it, check it out here: Hockey Conditioning: To Bike or Not to Bike!

So if you aren’t going to bike, what should you do?

The main two conditioning modalities that I recommend are:

Shuttle Runs

Pros:
This full body high intensity movement requires similar energy system characteristics as skating.

Shuttle runs require direction changes, which are inevitable on the ice.

Hockey players will produce force into the ground in a free movement pattern in order to accelerate, decelerate, and change direction.

Sprinting involves full hip extension and core control of this extended posture, which helps reverse the hunched over posture that hockey players spend too much time in.

Sprinting necessitates single-leg stability, just like skating.

Cons:
Shuttle runs minimally stress lateral movement patterns and the involved hip musculature that is used in skating.

Slideboards

Pros:
Slideboarding is a high intensity movement that requires similar energy system characteristics as skating.

Slideboarding involves constant lateral loading and direction changes, which reinforces the direction changes hockey players perform on the ice and strengthens the muscles on the lateral and medial (outside and inside) aspects of the hip. This helps decrease skating-related injuries (hip flexor and groin strains), while improving single-leg stability.

Slideboarding can easily be progressed to wearing a weight vest without interfering with the pattern, which mimics the loading and thermoregulatory changes that upper body equipment places on hockey players.

On-ice stride patterns can be improved off the ice using a slideboard. Specifically, hockey players can groove a proper skating posture and recovery mechanics on a slideboard. I’ve helped many players alleviate back pain from skating due to excessive rotation at the lower back simply by bringing it to their attention while they are on a slideboard.

Slideboards are awesome.

Cons:
Slideboards can be expensive and aren’t available at common gyms. If you’re lucky enough to be around Endeavor Fitness, we have slideboards AND a skating treadmill. If you’re not, you can build a slideboard for less than $50. Actually, I built two when I was younger for less than $50. It took about 2 hours and was a great father-son bonding experience. Nothing says family togetherness time like building high intensity hockey training equipment!

Reread the above paragraph. There are no cons.

Check back in the next couple days to learn how these rules change based on whether you’re in-season or out of season.

To your continued success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. If you want to use a PROVEN ice hockey training system this off-season to guarantee you enter tryouts and next season at your best, check out my Off-Ice Training course.

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