08 Feb How To Skate Faster and Increase Performance
Over the course of the next several weeks I will be addressing the main glaring issues hockey players have that limit them from performing at their absolute best.
The series is going to provide a deep insight and allow you to take your game to the next level. Far more often than not, these issues that I will be presenting over the next several weeks are the main limiting factors to their performance and correcting them has a massive carryover on to the ice improving performance, including skating faster, being more explosive and and all around quicker on the ice.
The first issue I will be covering is structural imbalances.
I have brought this up in the past through various videos and posts but it is an important enough topic that I want to cover it on all social media outlets that I have and make it the introduction topic to the Hockey Correction Series.
One of the most common questions we get is “How Can I Skate Faster” and fixing these structural imbalances will help you skate faster right away, without any on ice drills. Not only will you be quicker on the ice, your overall power, explosiveness, and performance will improve as well.
Let’s talk first about what I mean when I am talking about structural imbalances.
Structural imbalances, from a skeletal muscle perspective, can be found in the muscles through structural balance testing. Certain movements during testing and how the athlete moves or how much weight he is able to use exposes structural differences.
Ideally, the perfect athlete should be structurally balance from the upper body to the lower body, and from the left side to the right side.
Depending on which tests you use; front squats, body weight squats, push up, ROM, single leg hopping, step ups, external rotation with dumbbells and simply just assessing how they carry themselves and how they move can all tell you something about what is going on structurally.
You want to be able to meet the strength of one part of your body with another part of your body to drive optimal movement. What I mean by this is, you will always be sacrificing optimal performance if you are structurally imbalanced because no matter how strong you are, your movement mechanics will be thrown off. When your movement mechanics are thrown off you lose speed, athleticism, explosiveness, strength and you also move with less efficiency which leads to quicker fatigue.
See how important this stuff gets?
If you’re not balanced you’re not moving correctly, if you’re not moving correctly you start the domino effect that knocks down all categories of performance a certain percentage of what you could have otherwise accomplished had you been balanced.
Structural imbalances completely plague the hockey world. From a strength perspective, these are primarily in the hamstrings, rotator cuffs, quadriceps and core.
Although other things can cause and create structural imbalances such as movement mechanics and tightness, but that’s another article for another day. The way in which hockey players move and which muscles they primarily activate drives imbalances. From a strength coaches perspective, working with hockey players is constantly correcting strength imbalances.
For example, if you look at a hockey player he is bent over at the waist for pretty much the entire game. This shortens and tightens for hip flexors which can lead to a whole host of postural issues including pain in the hips during movement negatively affecting explosiveness, tightness in the hips negatively affecting speed and agility, rounded shoulders, shoulder impingements and a forward lean.
This is just one example of a cascade of events that kicks off with hockey players who don’t take their structure work seriously. This among many other things can go wrong during the season mainly because most training gets pushed back due to fatigue, travelling and scheduling issues.
The above is why structural balance work is a major factor in the early training phases in the offseason training.
Let’s attack each strength issue at a time.
Almost every hockey player who first signs on with me has an overdevelopment in the vastus lateralis in comparison to their vastus medialis oblique. The vastus lateralis is that thick muscle on the outside of your thigh, whereas your vastus medialis oblique is that tear shaped muscle on your thigh at the inside point on your knee.
If you have been playing hockey and skating your whole life, odds are you have a big chunk of meat on the outside of your thigh and not a whole lot of tear drop muscle going on at the inside of your knee. That vastus lateralis gets overdeveloped through many years of skating, it’s a prime mover in the drive you push off the ice. Correcting this difference is paramount to increasing your skating speed, explosiveness and agility on the ice but also play a huge role in knee stability which decreases the risk of injury to hockey players in the lower body drastically.
I’m telling you every hockey player needs to work on their VMO, even if it’s there and developed, they still should work on it. The carryover it will bring to your game is immeasurable.
The best exercise to work on the VMO is the Peterson Step up. If you can’t do the Peterson step up, the Poliquin step up is the next best option. These two movements effectively work the glute medius and the VMO which both work to stabilize the knee. In turn, strengthening the VMO, having a more structurally balanced quadriceps and improving your game.
Other great options to work the VMO but just not in isolation include various forms of split squats, step ups, front squats, sled drags and Peterson leg press. These are all great movements and can be intelligently incorporated into your hockey training to make you a faster skater.
A big problem with hockey players is their glutes are much stronger than their hamstrings. Narrowing the gap between these two is something that must be addressed immediately entering the offseason, as anybody who has worked with me knows all too well. Normally hockey players can see this just by simply looking at themselves, they have a big hockey butt and hamstrings that resemble a flamingo’s.
Hockey is a game of power and in order to skate faster and more powerful on the ice you need to have fantastic development of the hamstrings in relation to your glutes. But it isn’t just about doing some hamstring curls and leaving the gym, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Hamstrings are a muscle group, not just a single muscle. Hamstrings consist of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and the semimembranosus.
For those of you that know your kinesiology well, you will know that the biceps femoris is the primary muscle in pointing your toes outwards. This is where the problem sets in for hockey players. Skating isn’t like running, your toes aren’t straight forward when you’re skating. Every single time you push off the ice your toes are pointing slightly outwards. This leads to a massive overdevelopment of the biceps femoris in relation to the semitendinosus and the semimembranosus.
To have optimal balance and exert as much power as possible per skating stride, you need to bring up your strength in the semimembranosus and the semitendinosus. Additionally, hamstrings also act as major knee stabilizers and help prevent lower body injury risk.
Hamstring curls alone won’t do the trick. Variation is key with training the hamstrings; lying/seated/kneeling hamstring curls, DB or BB stiff legged dead lifts, BB hip thrusts, Swiss ball single leg curls, among many other movements can all be properly implemented in your training. Two more things to make note of, hamstrings respond greater to lower rep ranges + higher weight (below 8 reps) and keep in mind the placement of your toes, the way in which your toes are pointing trains different components of the hamstring. Like I said, variation is key.
#3: Rotator cuffs
The rotator cuffs usually get overlooked no matter who you are. I test everybody who comes my way in the rotator cuffs and often find either very weak rotators or very imbalanced rotators. It’s almost never not a problem as not many people who don’t receive professional training advice know how to train them properly.
This is the only one of the four that doesn’t directly help you skate faster, but the rotator cuffs play a big role in hockey performance and have to be brought up to par. Having proper balance between your internal and external rotators drives shot power and accuracy. Ideally, your elbow on knee external rotation with DB should come to 8 reps (completed with good form) with 10% of your body weight in poundage.
So if you weigh 200lbs, you should be able to cleanly rep out 8 reps of 20lbs in this exercise. If you can do this, you’re doing great. If you do not meet these requirements you need some work.
One thing that is great is it is very hard to ever over fatigue the rotator cuffs. I normally train the rotators 3x per week if the athlete is lacking. Depending on where they’re weak, I find these exercises to address the issues the best; Powell raise, Cuban press, DB power cleans, cable scapula retractors, bent over flies, various forms of pull ups/chin ups, rows, L-lateral raises with external rotation, knee on elbow external rotations with DB, rope face pulls and the Luge pull drill. One thing that should also be noted here is that the rotator cuff responds very well to longer eccentric work.
The core is an on-going issue with hockey players who don’t seek to balance themselves through training because hockey is a unilateral sport. Meaning, if you’re left handed you are always playing on that side and the muscles responsible for making you strong as a left handed player continuously get overworked and over developed through years of hockey. This has a ripple effect all over the body, but a big one in the core.
The core plays a role in transmitting power from the lower body to the upper body and is under constant demand not matter what you are doing on the ice. Skating, stopping, shooting, checking, saving, your core is involved in all of it. If you want to skate faster on the ice you need to correct your imbalances in your core.
Where hockey players tend to have imbalances is in the lower abdominals and obliques. The lower abdominals issue is normally due to improper training technique or training program design in combination with their bent over stature during the game. The oblique imbalance comes from the unilateral aspect of the sport, obliques rotate the body and every time you shoot you are always rotating the same way.
The core doesn’t have to be directly hit all the time. It receives massive stimulation and strength gain simply from big movements such as dead lifts, squats, front squats, chin ups, pull ups, rows and overhead presses. Do these all properly and keep them in your rotation, they play big dividends in the core department.
But from a more isolated perspective, I find these exercises to work exceptionally well with correcting hockey player’s trunk imbalances; Sled drag with rope around only one shoulder (alternate each drag), barbell Russian twists, hanging leg raises and barbell ab complex’s.
To wrap this all up, even though this was a long article it still only touches on the importance of structural balance. I cannot stress how important this is to your performance and what kind of an impact it will bring to your game.
Athletes normally see something called “structural balance” and it sounds boring but anybody who understands it and goes through an offseason program working on it knows for a fact that these components positively affect speed, power, co-ordination, acceleration, explosiveness and decreased injury risk.
If you’re balanced, you’re a whole new player. It has an enormous effect on your performance and longevity in the sport.
First, you need to be balanced, because anything you build on top of imbalances only creates greater imbalances.