Can you really become a better hockey player if you learn speed skating techniques?
The answer is 100% yes! The biomechanics of skating is the same regardless how long, wide, or flat your blade is: You want to use your biggest, strongest muscles when most of your blade is on the ice. The more blade on the ice from front to back means you have more blade pushing into the ice. The more blade that pushes into the ice, the more leverage you have and the faster you will go.
At Valerio Training, I assess your strength first and see what your weaknesses are and develop a plan, whether that is coming up with a strength program for you, or referring you to your school strength coach or something as simple as public skating for young kids to get their feet under them.
Next, we start with dryland exercises. However, the dryland exercises we do are usually a bit different than what you might be used to. Drylands should be used for technique, not conditioning. Speed skaters have finely tuned these exercises to be done to precision so they translate directly to the ice. While they certainly will hurt and leave you breathing hard, the main purpose is to get you in the perfect position that will translate to optimal power production on the ice. For more information on dryland exercises, see blog article Eight Ways to Maximize Your Skating Technique
Once you have developed flawless dryland technique, we either do more work on in-line skates outdoors, or simply hit the ice! Your body will now naturally want to use the positions we’ve worked so hard to perfect. You’ll be surprised at the level of power you’ll be able to get from all your edges in straight line skating, crossovers, and everything in between. Speed skating drills modified slightly for hockey will bring everything together and before you know it, you’ll be the fastest, most agile skater on your team!
Want to know more? Continue reading or visit the Valerio Training blog to see detailed articles on skating technique.
Hockey skating and your body
Hockey blades are the shortest of all skates because of the need for agility. However, this puts hockey players with the challenge of getting as much push as they can out of that short blade. That means technique is critical to hockey skating.
So, what “technique” should you be using when you skate? To answer this, we need to look at how a skater generates the most power. Ideally, you want to use your biggest, strongest muscles to push your blade into the ice. Here are the strongest muscles in your core and legs in descending order:
- Gluteus Maximus (in other words, your butt!)
- Quadriceps (front of thighs)
- Hamstrings (back of thighs)
This is a challenge since we grow up with lots of quad development, and that means it feels more comfortable to have our weight forward. Further, many of us have been taught to put an emphasis on the toe-push at the end of our stride. In order to do that, you are forced to put your weight even more forward. However, this type of stride is less efficient for two reasons:
- You only end up fully using the front 2/3 to ½ of your blade
- You use very little of your Gluteus Maximus, the strongest muscle in your body.
As strength and conditioning coaches, we work hard to build the gluteus muscles for a reason – now you need to figure out how to use it!
To use your glutes fully, you need an efficient stride. It’s all about biomechanics and how your body reacts to certain positions and movements. Speed skaters and skating coaches have tirelessly studied these movements for years and as a result speed skating techniques have evolved in the past few years, leading to faster, more efficient skating. Pushing into the ice, driving the foot forward, and pushing your heel to the side instead of focusing on pushing back at an angle are all things that will exponentially improve your skating. And oh yeah, placing the weight on the right part of your blade is also a critical part of this formula. Bet you didn’t know a skating stride was so scientifically complex. For more details, see the blog article Putting it all Together: The Perfect Stride
Edges and Powerskating
Traditionally, skating coaches have put an emphasis on edge work for what has become known as “powerskating.” But what is powerskating? And how do you improve edgework?
Quite simply, being able to use your edges efficiently requires both strength and overall technique. Working on your edges isn’t a bad thing, but until you have the necessary strength you’ll only get frustrated, wondering why your skating isn’t getting much better. Traditional edgework and powerskating methods simple don’t address the basics of a skating stride. Many of those methods are 20-30 years old. We’ve come a long way in understanding skating mechanics and how to best progress in your skating development.
The first step in getting strong edges is getting a strong body (remember gluteus maximus?) Talk to your high school or hockey organization’s strength coach (most are CSCS certified), or hire a personal trainer or independent strength and conditioning coach to help build strength. If you have a young son or daughter, the best thing you can do is get them time on skates – public sessions or inline skating outside both can help.
Next, you’ll want to learn basic skating technique. If your weight is too far forward, or your pushing motion is incorrect, you won’t be able to make the most of edgework clinics and sessions. While this all may sound like overkill, the very best skaters have mastered the proper technique. Being an exceptional skater by the time you’re ready to make a decision about your hockey future can be the difference between going on to play NCAA Division I hockey or playing on a club team. It can make a difference between playing in the NHL when you’re 18 or going back to Juniors where your career may stall out.
Only after you’ve gained the strength and have mastered good technique can you take the next step and make the most of your edge work. And if you’ve done the first two, your edges will come so naturally you won’t even have to think about it!