Hockey coaches, skating coaches, hockey scouts, and recruiters will tell players they need quick, or fast feet. Quick, or fast feet when skating is a function of muscle power, and developing the ability to push-off with great force. It also involves having a quick recovery to get the skate back on the ice to start the next push-off stride. This article will present the biomechanics and physiology of hockey skating and how to develop muscle power for faster skating.
- Define “fast feet” for hockey skating.
- Explain the biomechanics of hockey skating.
- Describe what muscle power is as it relates to skating acceleration and speed.
- Develop a training program to improve the muscle power of hockey players.
“Quick Feet” for Hockey Skating
Many hockey players are told by coaches, hockey scouts, and/or recruiters they need quick, or fast feet. Or the players are told to improve the speed of their first three strides or to improve their “top speed.” The coaches, scouts, or recruiters only know they would like the player to improve his or her acceleration/speed and have no other way of describing what they want. This can leave a player wondering how to improve his or her skating performance.
In exercise science terminology, “fast feet” or “quick feet” means that players need to improve their speed at which they accelerate from a stationary or gliding position, and improving their top speed. In order to improve “foot speed,” hockey players must improve the power of their leg muscles for quicker contractions.
Electromyographic studies of hockey skating show the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis have the most activity during the push-off phase of skating (Halliwell, 1978, and Kumamoto, et al, 1972). Other muscles important for skating performance include the gluteus maximus, hip adductors, and hip abductors.
Hockey skating involves concentric hip abduction/extension and concentric knee extension during the push-off phase. At the end of the push-off, there is a high velocity eccentric contraction of the hip adductors to decelerate the leg/hip (Chang, Turcotte, and Pearsall, 2009). The eccentric contraction is followed by a high velocity concentric contraction of the hip adductor/hip flexors and the knee flexors for recovery to get the skate under the shoulder and ready for the next push-off. The faster this sequence occurs, the faster a player will skate.
Muscle Power Development
Muscle power is defined as the ability to generate great force in a short period of time (Clark and Lucett, 2015). Power is force x velocity; therefore, it can be enhanced through an increase in force (amount of weight lifted), or velocity (speed of movement) (Clark and Lucett, 2015). To maximize the training effect for power, both light and heavy loads are suggested (Clark and Lucett, 2015). Light loads would be used in plyometrics/jump training (body weight jumping) and heavy loads would be used when resistance training.
Maximal velocity of muscle contraction occurs when body weight is being moved (Kraemer and Newton, 2000). Therefore, jump training/plyometrics are important for hockey players to improve acceleration and speed. When weight training, lifting very heavy weight will increase power development. Maximum strength at slow speeds is a contributing factor to maximum power development (Kraemer and Newton, 2000). Hockey players can benefit from using heavy weight and low repetitions to improve their “fast feet.”
Set and Repetitions
For developing muscle power, weightlifting exercises performed with loads ranging from 50% to 90% of one repetition maximum (2 – 6 repetitions to failure) appears to be the best stimulus for improving muscle power (Cormie, McGuigan, and Newton, 2011). Three to five sets are optimal for power development (Clark and Lucett, 2015).
In the research literature, there are many different protocols for sets and repetitions for jump training. However, McKardle, Katch, and Katch (2001) summarize it by indicating 2 – 5 sets of 5 – 12 repetitions are optimal, depending on strength and conditioning level. Traditionally, training the legs is done two days a week when done in the off-season. It is best to avoid training on days when players are doing on-ice skate training and the day before skate training.
Some of the best weight training exercises to develop power of the skating muscles include:
- Back or Front Squats
- Dead Squat
- Smith Machine Squat
Jump training exercises that can improve power for skating include:
- Jump Squats
- Tuck Jumps
- Box Jumps – Jumping up onto a box or jumping down from a box and rebounding.
- Forward Bounding – jumping from 2-feet forward with a very brief moment on the ground, jumping as high and as far as possible.
On-ice Bungee Cord Training
The use of bungee cords for resistance skating and over-speed skating may be able to improve muscle power and the quick recovery after push-off. Here's a video of an example bungee cord drill - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXYh2nAQfJY. Two players are attached to the bungee. The front player skates against the resistance of the bungee and pulls the back player. Once the bungee is stretched by the front player, the back player must move his/her skates very fast in order to keep up with the “pull” of the bungee, ie: overspeed training.
Some trainers may think that off-ice agility training will improve on-ice foot speed. However, there are two issues that must be taken into account: 1) specificity of training – it is questionable if off-ice agility training is transferable to on-ice agility while wearing skates (there may be some general transfer), and 2) agility cannot be improved by moving rapidly through agility ladders or by moving around cones. Agility is defined at a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus (Walker, 2016). Therefore, agility in hockey is when an athlete has the puck and is skating fast, and has to make a movement around an opponent who is also moving fast. As such, training hockey players with agility ladders or making fast movements around stationary cones is not agility, but rather change of direction. Change of direction may develop some agility, coordination, and dynamic strength, but it does not improve a hockey players’ ability to have a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus. Agility training must have decision making elements included as well.
Examples of pure agility training can be partner drills where one athlete must make a move left or right, then forward, to go around the partner who is trying to prevent or impede the movement. Another example is a 3-person triangle agility drill where one athlete is moving and reacting to 3 other athletes. The “stationary” athletes are in a triangle, one has an object when he/she drops on the ground and the “agility” athlete must react by picking it up and hand it back to the “stationary” athlete, then turn around and high five one of the other two “stationary” athletes who puts one hand up, alternating left and right hands. These drills can be done on and off-ice.
Chang, R., Turcotte, R., and Pearsall, D. (2009) Hip adductor muscle function in forward skating. Sports Biomechanics. 8(3):212-222
Clark, M.A. and Lucett, S.C. 2015. NASM Essentials of Sports Performance Training. In M.A. Clark, S.C. Lucett, and B.G. Sutton (Ed.), Integrated Resistance Training for Performance Enhancement: (pp. 293 – 352). Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
Cormie, P., McGuigan, M.R., and Newton. R.U. (2011). Developing maximal neuromuscular power: part 2 - training considerations for improving maximal power production. Sports Medicine. 41(2):125-146.
Halliwell, A. A. (1978). Determination of Muscle, Ligament and Articular Forces at the Knee During a Simulated Skating Thrust. Unpublished Master's Thesis, University of British Columbia.
Kraemer, W.J. and Newton, R.U. (2000), Training for Muscular Power. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 11(2): 341 – 368.
Kumamoto, M., Ito, M., Yamsahita, N., and Nakagawa, H. (1972). Electromyographic Study of the (sic) Ice Skating. International Congress of Winter Sports Medicine, Sapporo, Japan, pp 130 – 134.
McKardle, Katch, and Katch (2001). Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance, Baltimore, MD., Lippincott Williams & Wilkens.
Walker, O. (2016). Agility, https://www.scienceforsport.com/agility/