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.