Hockey is the fastest team sport in the entire world. Now more so than in the past has the game become more skills and technique based. The higher up the ladder you go, from youth to juniors to college to pro’s, one of the biggest things that you will constantly get less of is time and space on the ice. Decisions need to be made at a quicker pace because the speed of the game is at a higher pace, and one of the biggest differentiation in that is not only how fast mentally you can process the game and make decisions, but also how fast physically you are. In hockey, speed kills and skating is the biggest make or break skill on if you or your child will move up and play at higher levels. This is why parents will pay good money to send their child to power skating camps or clinics, maybe even spend more money on private skating lessons. For those of you who understand the basics, below are two important tips that you can use to improve your skating stride on your own, through numerous PERFECT repetitions and hard work.
1. BEND YOUR KNEES! Knee bend is one of the biggest indicators of how much of your stride you are actually using. Someone who stands up more when they skate easily loses their foundation and the a few feet on the total length of their stride. Here is a simple exercise to experiment with stride length.
Go find a chair, table, counter top, anything that is sturdy that you can hold onto. While holding onto it, put both of your feet together while standing up and one foot at a time, mimic a skating stride by stepping backwards and then bringing your foot back underneath you. If you are standing straight up, your foot won’t go that far back behind you. Do this a few times and see exactly how far you can stretch your foot back without bending your knees.
Furthest you can probably go is maybe a foot and a half away from your body. Now, do the same thing again, but bend your knees at a 45 degree angle, as if you were about to sit in a chair. Watch as your foot goes even further back. Last, do the same thing but this time bend your knees at a 90 degree angle such as if you were sitting in a chair. Your foot should have gone even further back!! We call this your max stride extension and when you are on the ice going full speed, you should have your knees at a 90 degree angle get the most out of your stride. Now, a 90 degree knee bend is very hard to achieve, but the closer you can to getting to it, the more powerful and explosive your stride will be.
2. STOP RAILROADING! You may have heard a coach or someone say something along of the lines of “he’d be such a better skater if he didn’t rail road” or “he rail road’s too much”. This is not a complement that the person skates as fast as a freight train. Instead, it’s a negative/critique on where your foot placement is when you start your stride. Railroading basically means your feet come back on return as if they were as wide as rail road tracks. A perfect stride is one that starts directly underneath your body. Unfortunately, man skaters start their stride further away from the middle of their body, such as shoulder length apart. Looking at the figure below (it’s an aerial view) you will see that the “gliding skate/foot” (or skate that isn’t moving while striding) is not underneath the body while the other skate is striding out. This means that upon recovery of the stride (when your striding foot comes back to the body) the gliding foot starts its stride maybe 6-10 inches away from directly underneath the body. This might not seem like a lot, but when combined with proper knee bend, that 6-10 inches of extra length to your stride will increase not only speed but the power you generate as well.
The second figure shows where your gliding foot should be starting, directly underneath your body. This allows you (with that proper knee bend we talked about) to get the max stride extension possible. A simple exercise you can do at home is just like the one above, where you stand in front of something sturdy and you hold onto it as you get in a good 90 degree knee bend with your feet together below your body. One foot at a time, step backwards as far as you can go. Once you have extended that foot as far as it can go, lift your foot up slightly (don’t kick your foot up, but raise it about an inch off the ground) and bring it right back together with your other foot. Alternate feet and do maybe 20 extensions at a time, rest, then repeat. If you focus on this while you are skating on the ice, you will see this drill that you do off the ice slowly translate to on ice and you will start to get more out of each extension of your stride, and you won’t have to worry about being a “railroad” skater.
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