5 Keys to Faster Skating

Off-ice Tips for Improved On-ice Performance

It’s a well known fact that the game of ice hockey is getting faster—which, like so many other sports, means that the fastest athletes will have an advantage. Unlike other sports, however, ice hockey is unique in that skating is a different movement than running. To be a fast skater, you need to be learning the specific techniques on the ice, and following a specific off-ice training program.

So, have you ever wondered if you were doing the right exercises or training correctly to help improve your skating speed? How do you know if you’re on the right track?

Well, if you’re like most players, the answer is yes, and this article will provide you with 5 Keys to Off-ice Training for Faster Skating, to help get you and keep you on the right track.

1. Train for Strength (Force Production)

As a hockey player, you need to be strong. I know, that seems like common sense. Not only do you need to be strong, but you also need to be selecting exercises that focus on producing force in different planes of motion. You need to do both double leg and single leg exercises, and exercises that move forward, backward, up, down and sideways (side to side). Research studies have shown that a deadlift exercise has a high correlation to all out skating speed. So, if you want to get more push out of each stride and improve your top end speed, it would be a good idea to incorporate deadlifts into your program. As always, begin by learning proper technique from a certified coach, then progress to adding weight and doing deadlift variations.

2. Train for Balance

Yes, this seems like common sense, but it is often overlooked. Research studies have been done recently that show that balance training can help improve skating speed. The studies showed that the hockey players who scored the highest on balance tests, and followed a simple balance training program also scored the highest on skating speed. Training for balance doesn’t mean performing gimmicky exercises while standing on a stability ball or similar exercises, but rather it means learning how to better stabilize each joint during movement, especially using one leg at a time. I’ve been incorporating balance training into hockey training programs for over 10 years now, and believe me, exercises for balance, when done properly, are hard enough done on a flat surface while wearing no shoes that there is no need to be doing potentially very dangerous exercises on a stability ball. While the gimmicky exercises might look like fun—they are just gimmicks with little transfer to the sport of ice hockey. The main point here is that simple balance training does correlate well with skating speed and you don’t need any crazy devices or exercises to accomplish your goal.

3. Train for Muscle, Joint, and Postural Balance

In order for muscles to function the most efficiently, and the body to perform movements such as skating, there needs to be balance. Muscle balance not only pertains to strength balance, but also balance in flexibility. Muscles that are tight and/or weak prevent the body from performing normally, and typically require other muscles to take over for the weak ones while the tight ones are restricted from using their full potential. These imbalances affect the way the joint is stabilized and the nervous system only allows the body to be as strong and as explosive as the joint is capable of being stable. In other words, poor joint stability creates strength and power limitations. Postural balance is also important. Poor posture creates muscle and joint imbalances, which I have stated creates limitations. To skate fast, you need to work on your posture, joint stability, and muscle balance.

4. Train for Flexibility

As competition grows in ice hockey, so does the need to improve a team’s ability to play systems and understand the game. These are things that are done at the team practice sessions. More often than not, these sessions don’t account for flexibility training for the players, so it is neglected and left for the training days. However, flexibility training, or stretching is something that you should be doing on a daily basis. Poor flexibility (tightness) negatively affects how much strength you can have and creates muscular, joint, and postural imbalances. Stretching needs to be done after any activity--including practice and ALL training. Focus on stretching to improve flexibility—so if you are doing static stretches (where you reach and hold), hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds.

5. Train for Explosive Power

Explosive power is the body’s ability to produce force quickly. I often hear players say that they are doing plyometrics. Plyometrics is such a broad term that it doesn’t really tell me anything. There are different types of plyometrics, each with their own specific goal and outcome. For faster top end skating, research has shown that plyometrics that focus on force production, rather than decreasing ground contact time, have the highest impact on improving skating speed. What this means is that jumping up onto boxes or over a hurdle from the ground (from a standing or squatting position, single or double leg) is better for improving top end skating than training to step off a box, land, and then immediately over a hurdle. The first example focuses on producing force quickly to generate a quick, powerful contraction to jump, while the second example focuses on decreasing the amount of time the feet are on the ground (ground contact time) for an explosive contraction. So, to get the most out of your plyometrics for top end speed, do exercises that are designed for quick force production such as box jumps, hurdle jumps, squat jumps, tuck jumps, single leg hops and bounds, etc.

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