The Art of the Arm Swing.

Do a Google search for “hockey arm swing” and you’ll get a dozens of articles, all with seemingly different claims to the best arm swing in hockey. Some will even (incorrectly) cite biomechanics of a speed skating stride, draw nice pictures and show videos of champion speed skater, not quite getting at why their arms swing the way they do. However, the concept of the arm swing is actually quite simple and shouldn’t be overthought.

First, let’s look at what you may have been taught, and why it’s wrong.

1)  Arm swing should be drive forward to generate forward momentum.

This is one of the most popular theories taught to youth hockey players, and it’s unfortunate. Driving forward will get your weight forward on your toes, bottom line.  Too often, I see arms hanging, swinging hard from the shoulder joint which actually pulls all your momentum forward and inhibits good lower body position.

2)  Arm swing should drive backwards just like the legs do so they work in unison.

There is no mechanical reason to drive your arms backwards.  Full extension with your leg doesn’t mean you need to have equal force back with your arm.  It sounds like a good theory, but basic physics dictates that you don’t want to push your momentum backwards.

3) Arm swing should swing side-to-side like speed skaters’ arms to create a perfect diagonal from your arm down to the leg that’s pushing back.

This theory states that a nice straight, diagonal line keeps your body aligned, except that it doesn’t.  In order to get that arm straight and extended along the same linear plane as your leg you would get too much interior shoulder rotation, which would twist your body and really decrease your ability to get speed.  And, as I’ve discussed before, your leg doesn’t actually push back, but to the side.

4) Arm swing should be side to side to offset lateral force.

Honestly, I have no idea what this means. It sounds really scientific, but it’s not.  Speed skaters often will practice with both arms behind their backs at a velocity above what a hockey player can reach.  In other words, arm swing isn’t as vital as hockey players are led to think.

What then, should you do with your arms?  It’s not as complicated as it sounds.

Basically, you should swing your arms naturally.  Your shoulder is going to naturally want to rotate a certain way to minimize unnecessary movement.  Try to swing to straight ahead, and you’ll get too much external rotation.  Try to swing too much side-to-side and you’ll get too much internal rotation.  Look at speed skaters, half of their “side-to-side” movement is occurring at the elbow, not shoulder.

This also means you shouldn’t be “driving” your arms in any way.  When you swing your arm back, it may look like you’re driving it back because your momentum is going forward and your arm isn’t.  It’s basic physics.  You’re essentially leaving your arm where it lands as it swings like a pendulum.

As you gain speed, your swing should minimize as you turn your feet over faster.  If you try too hard to swing your arms to get momentum, it could actually slow your stride down as you subconsciously slow down your feet to maintain a more comfortable position.  Thus, you’ll find it much easier to minimize the arm swing as your stride quickens.

In other words, the art of the arm swing isn’t really art at all.  It’s quite simply, nature.

If you’re interested in how to correct a poor arm swing, stay tuned to part two of “The Art of the Arm Swing.”

Mastering the Knee Drive

If you follow my blog, you know that I’m all about technique. As speed skaters, we know that technique is critical for optimal performance. With hockey being at least 80% skating, there’s no reason the same principals shouldn’t apply. Therefore, I’d like to talk about a very important concept in skating that is often miscommunicated in hockey: Knee drive.

Too many times, I see coaches giving skaters off-ice exercises in the gym that emphasize their interpretation of “knee drive.” Some of these exercises include high-knee skipping and exercises, with or without weight, that include driving the knee up as high as you can. Often these are described as being for hip mobility. The problem with these exercises is that that focus becomes on a very vertical, or up and down movement. If you’ve done any training with me or another speed skater, you know that you want zero up and down movement when you skate.

What then is the knee drive I’m referring to? It’s driving the knee forward.

It’s a hard concept to explain, so I always make sure my clients have a good understanding of all the elements of a perfect stride and have time to really perfect their new technique before adding the final touch. If not, introducing the knee drive can actually lead to more inefficiencies.

To start, lets summarize the first part of your stride:

1) Have your knees bent as close to 90 degrees as you can with your weight centered on your heels.

2) Bring your foot directly under you and place it down with your weight on your heel.

3) Immediately shift your body so that your nose, knees and toes are all in perfect alignment.

4) Drive your knee forward as you push from your hips and glutes.

In order to drive your knee forward, you must have precise body positioning and weight distribution. If not, you will end up forcing the knee up instead, wasting even more energy than you already are with an inefficient stride. If your weight is too far forward and you’re pushing back, rather than to the side, your pelvis will be in such a position that the only way you can “drive” the knee is to force it up with undesired vertical movement or jump.

Check out the video below of Pavel Kulizhnikov, the fastest man in the world right now. Even on his start, you’ll notice his upper body is very still, and he drives his knees forward, not up and down. In fact, his quads stay perfectly parallel to the ice, keeping the perfect 90 degree angle.

Now look at his start in slow motion. Notice how quiet his upper body is and how his hips push the knee forward, not up.

How do you know if you’re technique is driving your knee forward? I have a simple test: If your head is up and you are looking straight ahead, you should be able to see your knee in your periphery as it comes forward without looking down.  Once you’ve mastered the knee drive, the second part of your stride falls into place. It’s much easier to push out to the side when you start your stride in front of your body.

For more information on my in-person and remote training programs and services, check out www.valeriotraining.com or send me an email at shannon@valeriotraining.com.

Putting it All Together: The Perfect Stride

So you’ve learned how to get started on building strength with my Six Tips to Become A Faster Skater and worked on your off-ice exercises I detailed in Eight Ways to Perfect Your Skating Technique. Now, it’s time to bring that strength and technique to work to the ice!

While I often tout my program as being a difference maker in the career of many skaters, it doesn’t happen overnight.  Even some of my most experienced hockey players will do the exercises for many weeks before it all starts coming together.  Usually, it’s the dryland work that takes a while to really perfect, but there is also a transition on the ice.  Ideally, you have someone work with you on the ice after a few weeks of technique work, but if not there are some tips to help you get the most out of all your hard work.

So let’s look at the classic forward stride and how to make that transition from land to ice.

1.   Start your next stride before you put your recovery leg down. That means, after you push out with your leg, you need to be thinking about where you’re putting that leg down as soon as you pick it up at the end of your stride.

2. The placement of your foot is the most important part of your stride because you aren’t just putting it down. Simply put, you need to drive your heel forward.  This is why figure skaters often become power skating coaches…because they know this secret.  Thus, you need to put your foot down where you can put your weight directly over skate (remember nose, knees, toes?) to get the most power.

3. Bend your knees (or your ankles) as deep as you can. After a few weeks of drylands, this should be a piece of cake.

4. Push from your hip/glute. As you put your foot down, you should be feeling your glutes engage and feel the push really start in your hip.  If you’re starting your push off your quad, you have too much weight on your toes and won’t get an efficient stride.  Again, this push from the hip is what you’ve trained for with your dryland exercises.  At this point your quad muscles are simply stabilizers.

5. Drive your heel forward. As mentioned in point #2, as you put your foot down with the correct weight distribution, you should be able to drive that heel forward.  In order to do this, you need to think about pushing your foot forward and getting on top of the blade (almost on the outside edge) while your weight is still largely on your glutes/hips.

6. Explode off your quad. This can also be hard to explain, but as soon as you get the foot going forward, you push off your hip and shift to your quad as you push into the ice and out to the side, not back.  The majority of your power you generate is going to be in the first half of your stride.

7.
Start with your weight on your heel and push through the entire length of your blade. As you shift your weight, you should be using your whole blade to push out.

8. Stay off your toe. I once had a hockey coach tell our team that you should flick your toe at the end of your stride for extra speed.  There is nothing farther from the truth.  You want to stay off your toe.  If you get to the point where you’re on your toe, you’re losing power, technique and ultimately speed.

9. Worry about the stride, not the foot speed. The important part about you the transfer to your ice is getting the stride down. As you get more comfortable, your stride will get up to speed again.  For most people, it’s only one or two times on the ice.  If you’ve been following the program, it happens pretty quickly.

I hope that addresses some of the questions I received about work on the ice.  Obviously, it’s much easier to work with someone on the ice, but I’ve helped many skaters virtually by watching video and breaking it down with them.  Once you have the foundation, the transition is amazingly easy.

Next up….crossover strides!  One of the most neglected but powerful components of the game!

 

Eight Ways to Perfect Your Skating Technique

After last week’s blog installment “Six Steps to Become a Faster Skater” I received several questions and comments from hockey players. While many were interested in the strength components (let’s face it, you can’t have technique without the strength) I had several request to expand on the technique training and what it entails.

Speed skaters have been doing off-ice technique training for years. While ice is at a premium and speed skaters getting low priority, dryland exercises become a necessity. Further, when you’re on the ice, you don’t have time to think about your skating. You need to rely on your training and what is often referred to as “muscle memory.” This is the precise purpose of dryland training. And while many hockey programs have adapted these exercises, most are using them in the wrong way.

So what are they keys to dryland exercises?

1. Perfect positioning. This is the first step of any technique training program. If you can’t hold a perfect, precise position at all then it’s back to the weight room. If you can’t hold the perfect position for the entire exercise, the exercise ends when your technique fails.

2.  Short shifts. I can’t emphasize this enough: Dryland is not for conditioning. An exercise with perfect technique should only done for as long as a shift – 30 to 45 seconds max, with full recovery between (around 3-4 minutes).

3. Repetition. Exercises should be done at least 3 times a week minimum, depending on other training for several weeks. Because these aren’t used for conditioning, add them onto a workout program generally isn’t an issue when it comes to fatigue. But a couple of weeks training or a dryland session here and there won’t cut it.

4. Body weight only. Since you’re skating without weights, you don’t need to train with them. Your strength training in the weight room is plenty. Doing drylands with weights prevents you from getting perfect technique and puts an unnecessary strain on your body. The one exception I have is when I use special bungee cords for resistance on certain crossover exercises.

5. Deep knee bend. It seems obvious, but I once had a client I was preparing for an AHL tryout that said because he was big and not short, he didn’t have to get down as low as the short guys and refused to do the exercises. He didn’t make the team and he never did improve his skating. Every skater needs to train their muscles to put them as close to 90 degrees as possible. Once you get on the ice, your body will immediately default to the muscle memory you gained and help you to optimize your stride. A good way to think about knee bend is to think about how close you can get your shin to the top of your foot by bending forward at the ankle. Your knee will simply follow.

6. Nose, knees, toes. If you don’t remember anything else remember nose, knees, toes. This means your knee should be directly above your toes, and your nose should be over both. Wherever you are on the ice, your the leg bearing most of the weight should have a perfect alignment of your nose, knees and toes. If your nose is over your knees and toes, your upper body and hence weight will shift to put you in the optimal position for gaining power. This goes for both straightaway strokes and crossovers.

7. Engage your glutes. I often have my clients do dryland exercises after a strength workout to ensure their glutes and hip muscles are warmed up and engaged. If not, a quick warmup is necessary. With every exercise, you should be focusing on using the outside of your hip and glute on the leg bearing your weight. If your weight isn’t on your hip and glute but on your quads, it will cause your upper body to pull up to compensate so you don’t lose your balance and you will get far less power out of your strides.

8. Push out your hip. It may sound counterintuitive, but pushing your hip out as you put weight on it will help your knee from collapsing in. Trust me on this one.

Dryland exercises can be boring and often tedious, but they are by far the best way to improve your technique and hence speed on the ice. It often takes several sessions with a client to get them started and check their position so it’s best to work with someone who can give you regular guidance. There are a variety of methods I will employ with a client, from regular dryland exercises, to technique work on a slideboard to work with bungee cords. However, I can work remotely with clients to an extent, by giving them access to videos I’ve recorded demonstrating the particular exercises then having clients film themselves and so we can virtually watch together and I can give feedback. Either way, it’s a big piece of the puzzle that can help make someone a great skater.

Questions? Interested? Feel free to contact me at Shannon@valeriotraining.com.

Four Steps to Prevent Overtraining

Overtraining.  If you’re a competitive athlete you’ve no doubt heard this term throughout your athletic career.  Yet unfortunately overtraining is still too common and can set an athlete back weeks and even months in severe cases.

I have had many clients come to me after working with trainers that have simply overworked them.  Worse yet, there are still many personal trainers and even team strength coaches that don’t heed the warning signs of overtraining, simply because it doesn’t fit in with their military style “train until you drop” philosophy.

Think about it.  Overtraining has its roots in a very psychological basis that we as humans have embraced for decades.  Think about the slogans:  No pain, no gain.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I’ve had clients that have been raised on the idea that if it doesn’t hurt, they’re not getting better, stronger.  However, advances in exercise science have shown us that there is nothing further from the truth.

Training should be hard.  It should be uncomfortable. It should push your boundaries and test your mental strength. It can make you a bit sore the next day.  But it shouldn’t hurt, it shouldn’t make you sick and it should never make you dread doing your next workout.  No matter what anyone tells you.

Training is now a science, and we know so much more now about how to get an athlete not just through a workout, but through an entire season not only without overtraining, but peaking at the right time.

Unfortunately, mind over matter does have its limitations, so how can you prevent from getting overtrained?

1)   Find a coach you trust. It’s your body.  If you are old enough to be reading this you are old enough to make an informed decision. If your coach doesn’t listen to your concerns about fatigue, soreness and burnout, it’s time to shop around.

2)     Accept soreness only at first. When you first start a new weight routine or are just getting back into your sport after a break, expect some soreness for only couple of days. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing athletes with icepacks on their legs from a hard weight workout.  If you’ve been working those muscles regularly and they suddenly hurt, you’re damaging them – plain and simple.  Learn to know the difference between that good burn you get from a great workout and that post-workout soreness that you feel the next day.  The latter is a sign of overtraining.

3)     Recovery, recovery, recovery. Lack of recovery is probably the number one thing that leads to overtraining.  It’s counterintuitive to rest, but it is during rest where your muscles actually grow, adjust and make gains.  For example, when you’re doing your heavy strength phase, you MUST take at least 3-4 minutes between sets or you will negate your gains and worse yet, can contribute to overtraining.

It’s often tempting to squeeze in another workout on your day off, or to put an extra, unscheduled day into the gym to try to get that edge but it can actually set you back.  Your body and mind both need that recovery time.   And the older you get, the longer that recovery time is.

4)   Communicate with your coach. If you’re feeling particularly tired and burned out either physically or mentally, tell your coach.  A good coach will listen and make the appropriate adjustments to your workouts, tell you to take an extra day or two off, or give you other suggestions for keeping yourself in top training form.  But they can’t do this if you don’t tell them.  Again, if you’re afraid to tell your coach you’re too fatigued or not feeling well, then it’s time to look for a coach that you can develop that kind of relationship with.  It could mean the difference between a 10 year career and a 20 year career in a sport

My most successful clients are ones that have taken control of their careers.  They aren’t afraid to call me late at night to tell me they’re too wiped out for their workout the next day, and  ask what I recommend.  They follow their prescribed workouts with perfection and don’t skip on recovery.  The real discipline isn’t in their ability to fight through pain and fatigue everyday, it’s in being able to hold back when they’re told to.

 

 

 

 

Six Tips to Make You a Faster Skater

To those waiting for this article, I apologize for brief interruption to talk about cycling as an off-season training tool. The weather was too good not to.  Now, back to hockey training methods :)

Andy McDonald
Client Andy McDonald has near perfect technique

As I always warn my clients, my workouts are not sexy.  They will not make you feel like you’ve done a month’s worth of work in a day, nor will they make you pull a PR on a bench press.  What they will do, however, is make you a better skater and I’ve yet to have a client whom has stuck to the program tell me they haven’t seen a difference in their skating.  So, what are the keys?

1)   Build Base Strength with Squats. These are the foundation of your strength and explosive power. While front squats are usually touted as the better squat for skaters because of a greater emphasis on the quads and less pressure on the spine.  Generally, this is true.  But if you have pain with the front squat, the back squat certainly will suffice.  Make sure you follow the correct exercise prescription from either your strength and conditioning coach or a reputable personal trainer (number of sets, reps and rest period).

2)   Enhance with Reverse lunges. A true skating staple, I prefer these over deadlifts because it’s easier to get good technique and works the glutes and hamstrings without straining the back.

3) Build a Strong Core. Anyone that tells you just playing hockey and doing squats are good enough for your core is wrong.  This is a strong statement from me, but it would be irresponsible not to be so adamant. Not only does a strong core help generate power, but it prevents injuries – period.  Studies now show that shoulder, knee, wrist, and other injuries of the extremities are all related to a deficient core.  The stronger, the better.  Pilates are great for core building and there are other non-assisted gym exercises that are very good.

4)   Avoid Lateral Exercises with Weight. With hip dysfunction seemingly on the rise, I believe that too much work laterally with weights puts undue stress on the hips and can accelerate impingement.  Skating requires a lot of lateral movement — which you get enough of every day on your skates anyway.  Putting more emphasis on the first part of your stroke is far more important than working on the lateral strength. With just a few exceptions, I discourage lateral movement with weights.

5)   Skip the Plyometrics. Fatigue and stress on the musculoskeletal system is a big concern with plyometric training.  It’s still a very popular program component, despite little evidence that it benefits skaters.  In fact, studies have shown that heavy squatting translates to just as much power on the ice as plyometrics do.  Since there is very little vertical movement in skating (e.g. jumping,) there is no need for true plymometric training.

6) Do Proven Dryland Technique and Strength Exercises. This, of course, is the “special sauce” of my programs.  Dryland exercises are done specifically for technique, not for conditioning.  If your weight is precisely over your skate, you can transmit all the strength you’ve worked so hard to gain in a motion that will generate the most power on the ice.

Andy McDonald
McDonald has the ideal position with his weight over his left hip as he crosses over.

As a hockey players you don’t have time on the ice to worry about your technique, so training your body to be in the most optimal position several times a week off-ice will naturally translate to the ice via what can be most easily understood as “muscle memory.”  How fast a player progresses in these exercises will be determined by how well they hold their position for about the duration of a shift.  Exercises include lateral (straightaway) work (with no weight!) and crossover exercises done with perfect technique.

Most skaters see improved positioning on the ice in just a couple of weeks.  After several weeks of perfecting these exercises, I like to take the skater on the ice to make sure they’re feeling the transfer from land to ice.  Again, I have seen a direct correlation between skaters that preform these religiously in the off-season and their level of success.  Not only do they see pure speed gains, but they also see more strength in all aspects of their skating.

That’s it!  Nothing sexy, just smart training that can be easily incorporated into any strength and conditioning program.  For more information about how to fit everything in without overtraining, be sure to check out my upcoming article on avoiding overtraining.

To learn more about my training methods, philosophy and programs, visit www.valeriotraining.com.  Success is not just about hitting the gym every day.  It’s about an overall personalized approach to training and working smart.

 

To Ride or Not to Ride: Off-Season Training

Pro cyclists climb Hoosier Pass in the US Pro Challenge

With the weather forecasted to be 75 degrees this weekend, it’s an appropriate time to talk about a favorite off-season activity that has been getting a bad rap in the Strength and Conditioning community lately:  Cycling.

For decades, many speed skaters and hockey players have been using cycling as great way to build base endurance during the summer months while keeping their legs fresh for skating. Because it’s both low impact and uses the quadriceps muscles similarly to skating, it’s perfect for skaters.

But lately strength and conditioning coaches, especially those that work with hockey teams, have been blaming cycling for something called FAI, or Femoral Acetabular Impingement.  You may have heard it referred to as “hip impingement.”  This has led to a big backlash against cycling as a training tool and running making a comeback in popularity.

The most popular theory is that the repetitive motion in skating and cycling (and actually in some people running) causes the overgrowth of the ball of the femur which in turn causes impingement in the joint.  However, there is actually very little research to support this theory. Looking at the basic physiology of human bone growth, as well as the low number of professional cyclists that suffer from FAI, one very specific and scientifically proven phenomenon is ignored: The role force plays in the overgrowth in impingement.  To be concise, force causes osteoblast production, which then calcifies into bone.  Therefore, while the angle of the pelvis in both skating and cycling may cause an unnatural wearing of the hip socket, the force is what will cause the excess bone to grow and cause impingement.

So how can participants in skating sports enjoy cycling without causing additional damage to their hips while experiencing optimal endurance gains during the off-season?  Here are some very important guidelines:

1)   High cadence, low resistance. Keeping the resistance low is key in cycling.  Too often, people turn over a tough gear slowly.   The torque of being in your big ring causes force, flexion and hence promotion of bone growth, all potentially leading to impingement.  Try to keep your cadence between 85-90 rpm in a spinning gear to save your hips.

2)   Stay in a low heart rate zone. While it may seem counterintuitive, spinning in what is known as “zone 2,” a level that allows you to carry on a conversation, is the best for building endurance and strength.

A couple of years ago.  I decided to work with Dr. Inigo San Millan, the former physiologist for professional cycling team Garmin-Sharp, who revolutionized cycling training. He insisted that spending 10 hours a week in zone 2 and only 15 minutes in zone 4 would increase speed and endurance.  I was skeptical based on newer theories about sprint training.  However, I stuck to the program and after just 4 weeks I set a PR on an 8% grade that I hadn’t ridden in months.

Remember, with the heavy resistance training that is usually required in the off-season, cycling needs to be such that it doesn’t cause additional fatigue to already taxed muscles.  Cycling two to three days a week in a low heart rate zone will allow you to climb more as the summer progresses and will help build optimal endurance as you enter the hockey or skating season without overtraining.

3)  Don’t sacrifice your weight sessions. While you don’t want to overtrain, remember the importance of building strength in the off-season.  Hockey and speed skating (all but long distance, long-track) demand both Type 1 (slow twitch) and Type 2 (fast twitch) muscles.  In order to keep your muscles optimized for power, strength workouts in the gym are crucial to maintain Type 2 musculature.

4)   Get out of the saddle. If you find yourself on a climb where your cadence drops and you really have to push, get out of the saddle as much as you can to minimize the pressure on your hips.

5)  Use a bicycle computer. Get a computer that measures both heart rate and cadence. While not a necessity, it does help making sure you don’t go into too high of a training zone and grind in too hard of a gear.  A general heart rate zone chart can be found on numerous Internet sites.

6) Get a good bike fit. Like the heart rate monitor, a bike fit isn’t required but can really help prevent back, hip and knee pain.  Fits can range from free where you buy your bike, to $250 with an experienced specialist.  There are also web sites that give guidelines so you can try it yourself if you are on a budget.

7)   If it hurts, stop. It should go without saying that if despite following all the above guidelines you experience hip and back pain while you’re riding, you may want to avoid cycling.  Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about better alternatives.

Cycling is a great activity that can get you some great vitamin D exposure, prevent skating burnout and build some great endurance in the off-season.  When done properly, it can be an exceptional cross training activity.

Is Speed Skating Bad for Hockey?

I recently had a prospective client come to me with questions about my training methods.  Being a hockey player, he had been looking at speed skating training for hockey when he came upon some information from a power skating coach whom recommended against speed skating training, and even suggested it was detrimental and could actually slow a hockey player down.  The suggestion from former mid-level hockey player and physiologist is certainly compelling (despite that he cited research from the 1970s) , but as a trained elite speed skater and competitive hockey player, as well as having trained professional hockey players with these methods, I can tell you nothing is further from the truth.  Let’s look at some of the concerns and dispel some of this old research.

Question 1: You need fast steps in hockey to accelerate, and in speed skating your steps are deliberately slow.  Doesn’t that mean that if you train like a speed skater you’ll have slow steps?

Answer: What our physiology friend forget was the actual physics involved in both speed skating and hockey.  Hockey blades are short, meaning no matter what your training, you won’t be able to take long strides like a speed skater.  It’s simple physics.  Your stride stops when you run out of blade, which happens a heck of a lot earlier when you’re on hockey skates.

Another fallacy in the reasoning above is that shorter steps are always faster.  They’re not. If you’re not getting power out of the quick steps you’re not going to go anywhere.  Ever see a guy hopping on his crossovers but not really making much progress?  There’s much more to skating than fast feet.

Question 2: I heard that you’re not supposed to bring your skates completely together like speed skaters do. In fact, the physiologist states that “observation of high-performance hockey skaters … clearly shows that they do not bring their skates to the other skate like speed skaters do.”

Answer: Well, besides the obvious fact that your equipment prevents you from bringing your skates close together, that actually isn’t a something that is focused on in speed skating.  Rather is the weight of your body over your blade that is important.  In speed skating, the natural flow of your long stride dictates that this is close to your body but in hockey, where you have a shorter stride and rarely are skating in a completely straight line, how you put your weight over your landing foot is still what is important, not where that skate is in relation to the other.

Question 3: Speed skaters land on their outside edges when they take strides, whereas hockey players land on their inside edge. Wouldn’t training to skate like a speed skater put you on your outsides edge, which isn’t what hockey players do?

Answer: This is perhaps the most unclear statement I’ve heard about biomechanics.  First, not all speed skaters land on their outside edges – as a short track speed skater I can tell you that you are rarely, if ever on your outside edges skating forward.  Most of the skating is cornering, which consists of the exact same biomechanics as hockey.  While in long track the outside edge is used quite extensively, a long track speed skater would never employ that technique if using hockey skates due to the nature of the blade.  Again, physics dictate that using an outside edge of a hollow hockey blade while taking a forward stride would only slow you down, and you would naturally adjust as many former speed skaters have.  A speed skating blade is flat – with no hollow.  Hence, starting on the outside edge and rolling on to the flat blade (where the speed is maintained) is physically impossible on hockey skates.

Also, don’t forget that the new “v” sharping technique is meant to mimic speed skating blades for a reason.  And yes, I do find them much faster with much less friction.

Overall, I agree – I wouldn’t take a hockey player out on the ice and try to teach them to skate like a speed skater.  However, the methods I employ are almost all off-ice training methods that focus on technique that transfers directly to the ice (or wheels) regardless of what kind of skating you do.

Stay tuned for more about the specific methods I use and how they translate to the ice in my next blog post.

The Introverted Athlete

I rarely use my blog to tell my own athletic story, but for all you parents of introverts and introverts yourself, it might provide some meaningful insight.

I still remember my first “race.”  I was just 7 years old and my sister had taken me to the roller rink for the first time. I was wearing rental skates, wheels slipping out from under me.  They called us out for “races.”  There wasn’t really a start or finish – you went out and just skated fast around the cones when the music started and when they faded out the music you were done.  I couldn’t wait.  Me, the timid, awkward introvert, suddenly had a burst of confidence.  I went out there, flying around everyone.  I passed a boy my age — I can still remember that exact moment, where it occurred and how I did it.  Me, the girl who was dying for friends but too shy to have any close ones, the girl who was always picked last for sport teams at school.  The girl who was so afraid of the ball I couldn’t even hit the predictable tetherball on the school playground.

When people think of the stereotypical introverted child, they think of a kid that’s more intellectual than athletic, preferring to sit alone with their nose in a book rather than running around with the neighborhood kids.  This is an unfortunate stereotype and too often quiet, introverted kids are not encouraged to develop their athletic ability.  Our society tends to coddle us nerdy, socially awkward kids, the subconscious notion that introverts sit around reading books because they aren’t coordinated enough to participate in sports and find solace in intellectual activities.  I find the reverse to be true – we don’t participate in sports because we are unintentionally placed in a predefined box and live up to the expectations of being clumsy, nonathletic and non-competitive.  However, one only needs to look at all the adults that came to sport late in life – triathlons, marathons and other endurance sports are filled with adult introverts who never had the chance to be athletes in their youth based on self-imposed or societal expectations.

For me, that moment at the roller rink changed my life.  No, I didn’t suddenly become the confident, extroverted kid that I had longed to be.  But I did find something that became a foundation of my life and all my successes.  It gave me a self-esteem I may have never developed.  Yes, I was still bullied at school, would never be popular in high school and would never quite fit in with the kids in my neighborhood.  But as I became better at skating, my self-esteem grew and that fueled me to work even harder.  Soon, anything I tried I could be good at – I just had to work hard.  I became internally competitive:  If my friend got good grades, I wanted to prove to myself that my grades could be better.  I suddenly had friends, and even boyfriends, eventually all over the country.  I finally found somewhere I fit in.

I found that if I worked hard enough I could be not only a successful speed skater, but could excel at any sport I wanted.  I eventually became one of the top sprinters in the nation, but also found I was an amazing 3rd baseman in softball.  I switched to ice speed skating with ease, and eventually became a professional inline speed skater amassing National records and championships.  I had a successful competitive hockey career, and as a defenseman I consistently held the best +/- in the league.  And finally, after all these years, I can play a casual game of volleyball and actually want to get the ball instead of ducking it.

And, I’m still an introvert.

So why should we encourage our introverted children to simply participate, making a big deal of a last place finish because hey, they are bookworms that actually participated?  Why should expectations be so low?  Encourage your introvert to do what they like.  If they dream of becoming an NHL player but don’t seem athletically gifted, let them try anyway.  Encourage them, drive them all over the country if they want.  Get them special training if they ask for it.  Reward the desire to work hard.  The participation in athletics to an introvert can, and often is, a life changer.

Too often, sports scientists will tell you that athletes are “born, not made,” that your genetic make-up chooses your sport for you because you gravitate to what you’re good at.  I couldn’t agree less.  You become good at what you love to do, because that’s what you put all your efforts into.  Anyone can do it.  Even an introvert.

 

Ready for that ice bath? Not so fast …

In recent years, ice baths have been all the rage for recovery in power sports.  From professional hockey players to high school endurance athletes, the jump from the field to the ice-cold tubs has become routine.  Why?  Because modern science has touted the benefits of anti-inflammatory methods to speed recovery and prevent illness and injury that can result from chronic inflammation.

Having several clients that have neither the time nor the convenience of post-exercise ice baths, this past summer I decided to do some research on alternatives.  I will also disclose here an additional motivation:  I personally hate ice baths and was looking for an alternative for my track cycling sprint workouts.  What I found was a slew of studies on ice baths – all inconclusive.  In fact, some relatively large studies showed that the now-accepted “active recovery” (aka cool down) period post-exercise is just as effective, if not more so than ice baths.

Not only have studies questioned the efficacy of the ice bath, but the latest research now shows the importance of inflammation post-exercise.  This also questions the use of anti-oxidants, such as vitamins C and E, much to the chagrin of cyclists that pound recovery drinks high in antioxidant vitamins.

How can this be?  Let’s look at the science.  After a tough workout, your body goes into a state of inflammation, particularly in the muscles that have been most taxed.  This makes your immune system drop, which in turn triggers your body to push that very same immune system to go into high gear creating what we in exercise science call “super-compensation.”  Thus, the more stress on your body, the higher the response to the inflammation.  During this phase of super-compensation, you body doesn’t just heal but, for lack of a better term “overheals,” giving you more gains than if you had blunted the anti-inflammatory response.

So, next time you work out, instead of suffering through an ice bath and a slew of antioxidants that may cause stomach upset, take 5 minutes to spin out easy on your bike or take a light jog and consume plenty of water along with some protein and carbs.  Then you can take a nice hot bubble bath as you sip on your favorite beverage, knowing that you’re actually ahead of your competitors.