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.