In the quest for more speed, a factor some players may overlook is getting optimal Length and Extension from each stride.
What I commonly see amateur players doing – and this extends to myself – is churning their legs faster and/or harder in an attempt to generate more speed.
A player is after Economy, meaning maximum efficiency and power with minimum effort. This is the premise of Power Skating, which is taught by experienced coaches across the globe.
An amateur or even professional Hockey Player’s stride can shorten over time, if the Player becomes de-conditioned or fatigued. The Player ends up working twice as hard for half of the result, as outer ends of the stride (lower back/lower legs) are forced to take on an undue burden. This leads to a loss of speed and eventually injury, if steps aren’t taken to correct the problem.
This article is a quick guide on How to Lengthen Your Hockey Stride. A longer stride is something most players should strive for, as it will ultimately give skaters a major competitive advantage within the game.
I’m a very common example of why a player’s stride might shorten over time:
I drive from North Carolina to Pennsylvania and back multiple times per year. As much as I like seeing my family and going to Sheetz, the 12+ hour drive from Wilmington, NC to my mother’s house is grueling. I would honestly rather run for 12 hours than sit for the same length of time, as prolonged sitting really messes up an athlete’s body. This concept is well-covered here by performance coach Kelly Starrett.
Back in late 2013/early 2014, I began to notice a sharp decline in my athleticism. This was because I was forced to sit for 4-6 hours every day for five months in my firefighter/EMT classes. I remember going into the courses as an athletic specimen and completing them as a physical train wreck.
At the time, I was far less educated on what was happening with my body, but in retrospect, here are the hormonal/physiological pitfalls I hit, which took me from moving like a tiger to moving like a geriatric:
- I fell into a negative Nitrogen Balance, meaning my body was Catabolizing my muscle mass. This was because I didn’t have the opportunity to eat frequently, as my instructors would often power through the courses for 4 or more hours at a time without a real meal break.
- The Stress from the courses was overwhelming. I am in the part of the population that starves themselves (rather than overeats) when under duress, and this greatly contributed to a major loss of Gains.
- I made the stress situation worse by coping with crazy amounts of Caffeine, which crushed my metabolism and further promoted the release of stress hormones (notably Cortisol) and promoted muscle-wasting.
If you would like to really get into nutrition/supplementation, e-mail me RebootHockeyHelp@gmx.com, and I’ll blister you with information. Just understand that I, like lots of working adults, fell into a Catabolic trap. In short, if you want to continue to Play Hockey and move well as you age, it’s crucial that you maintain a positive Nitrogen Balance and mitigate the effects of Cortisol.
From an orthopedic/muscular standpoint, here’s what happened:
- I was forced to sit for hours on end, which deactivated/inhibited my Abdominals/Glutes and further shortened my Hip Flexors. Hockey itself tends to shorten the Hip Flexors, and this condition tends to artificially shorten the Hamstrings. If your Glutes aren’t firing properly, you know which body part picks up the slack? Your Lower Back, which isn’t equipped to handle the dynamic movements of Hockey by itself.
Here’s a visual of what happens as one’s Hip Flexors shorten due to excessive sitting:
Pelvis falls into Anterior Pelvic Tilt, Hip Flexors become short/tight/prone to strains, Hamstrings artificially lose length, Abs/Glutes go to sleep, Lower Back muscles take on way too much of the mechanical burden.
The average person might not notice this dysfunction, but this combination is both devastating and highly-apparent to a Hockey Player. Again, the average amateur Hockey Player already has relatively-short Hip Flexors/APT, and chronic sitting only worsens the condition. Fortunately, this problem is correctable.
Your Glutes are often “sleeping giants”, and they don’t tend to fire unless the intensity is really high (i.e. Sprinting). Even then, they tend to go back to sleep if you aren’t going all-out every day.
The Cue that works best for me to re-activate my Glutes and take some of the strain off my Hip Flexors is “tap down on your sit-bones.” Nerds will refer to the sit-bones as the ischial tuberosity.
Lots and lots of people, including elite Hockey Players, don’t use their Glutes properly during Hinge/Lunge/Squat movement patterns. People like this are often said to be Quadriceps-Dominant or Slow-Twitch Dominant. I am very quadriceps-dominant, and my tendency in Squats/Skating is to make my Quads to most of the work. As you try to optimize your skating or squatting, this overuse of the Quads – and the underdevelopment of the Posterior Chain – becomes a major limiting factor.
So, it’s important to get the Glutes, especially, firing and uninhibited while minimizing the contribution of the already-overused Hip Flexors and Quadriceps. To limit the use of my gargantuan Quads and fried Hip Flexors, this is my favorite drill:
Pistol Squat Progression
The key is to not get competitive with yourself, and to focus on using your Glutes to do the bulk of the work. I’ll often start with a higher box that only forces me to lower myself 4-8 inches. I get the most value from 6-8 reps x 4-5 sets, beyond which point I will A) add weight, and then B) lower the box/platform.
Keep your Hip Flexors out of the equation, and try to think of this as more of a physical therapy or rehab drill. This will be tough for some of you gym-rats who routinely squat six plates or more, but the goal here is to correct this dysfunction before it gets worse, and to lengthen your Hockey Stride. Don’t get caught up making this an ego drill.
A lot of coaches love Bridging and Barbell Hip Thrusts as Glute Activation Drills, but to be honest, I don’t get as much value from them as some do. I do recommend you read up on the subject, and try them yourself. The go-to for all things Glutes is definitely Bret Contreras, AKA The Glute Guy.
Once your Glutes are firing well, the next step is to focus on lengthening the stride and incorporating this additional power into the movement.
One of my favorite strength-training drills to combat shortened Hip Flexors, tax the Glutes, and work on adding length back into your Hamstrings is the Foot-Elevated Lunge:
There are numerous ways to do this drill: forward lunge onto box, reverse lunge, with Dumbbells, Barbell, Goblet-style, etc. My suggestion is to play around a bit and find the variation that works best for you, as long as you are accomplishing the following:
- Primary goal is to add missing length to your Hockey Stride. I would keep the weight relatively-light and try to add depth and distance to the lunge. You will be working some relatively-small muscles near your pelvis as well as trying to add length/strength to one or both of your Hip Flexors. No need to put 225 on your back.
- Since your Hip Flexors are likely trashed, I recommend a slow Eccentric of 4-5 seconds, a one-second pause at the bottom of the movement, and a powerful Concentric in which your fire the working Glute hard and allow the antagonist Hip Flexor to take some of the recoil.
- You are training both sides (Glute/Hip Flexor) of the front leg, but you want to condition your Glute to do most of the work. The Hip Flexor serves as more of a “brake” in this movement, which will be very similar to a quality Skating Stride.
- I like to do this drill “Goblet-style”:
Doing a Goblet Front Lunge 1) takes my sizable ego out of the movement and forces me to focus on form, 2) encourages an upright spine, 3) encourages me to move forward/down rather than forward/forward.
Quad-dominant types and fellow Hockey Players will want to lean forward as they descend into a lunge or squat, bringing their heels off the ground and excessively driving the knees forward. While this is fine to a degree, the focus is on lengthening/strengthening the Posterior Chain (back part of the leg), and that includes the muscles near the calf (including the Anterior Tibialis/Dorsiflexion muscles) as well as those near the Achilles Tendon.
I recommend you keep your weight back a bit on your front leg and keep your heel locked down. This will work the musculature around the hip, and not continue to overtax the Quads/Knees/Lower Back.
Lastly, do some work on your Abdominals. If your Hip Flexors/Lower Back are shot and Sit-Ups are out of the question, I recommend you start with Stability Ball Diver Crunches:
These will take a ton of strain off the Lower Back/Hip Flexors while allowing you to work the Abdominals. I recommend you accelerate through the Concentric (without bouncing) and return the start position under control. I generally do sets of 20-30 reps, adding weight after I clear 30. To make the movement more challenging, keep your arms straighter and bring them further behind your head (but don’t tear your Rotator Cuff overloading beyond a stable Range of Motion). Crunch up toward the ceiling, not forward.
On-Ice (or on Inline Skates), the goal is simple: reinforce the proper (longer) movement pattern. Focus on striding during games and build length into your stride rather than continuing to dart around with a choppier stride.
Carl Hagelin, seen above, is known as one of the fastest skaters in the NHL. He also has a noticeably-long stride, on display here.
While Carl has tremendous efficiency/recovery, what jumps out to me is the way he lunges with every stride. I think a common mistake among amateur players is that they are overly-strong through a shorter Range of Motion (maybe through the mid-top of the Quads) and don’t stay low enough to the ice through the duration of the shift or game.
Training the smaller muscles high around the Pelvis, Glute-Ham fold, Ileus, etc. for both endurance and power will help keep you low as fatigue sets in. Strength Training and Corrective Exercise is a good foundation for this, but ultimately you will need to reinforce this longer movement pattern while you’re skating.
Dynamic Strength through the small muscles of the lower core, Hip Flexors, and Pelvis will enable the player to maximize knee bend and Quadriceps power. While a common cue from Hockey Coaches is to bend the knees more to get low, the Player needs to have adequate stabilizing strength through the muscles near the Pelvis and high leg. The drills at the top of the section will help develop those muscles.
Start slow. Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast. Practice long, smooth lunges on-ice or on Inline Skates, using a drill such as Ms. Stamm’s Drag Touch. Focus on extending the back leg maximally and generating power through a snap of the ankles and flick of the toes.
A few other players, in fact two of my favorites, who really maximized the length of their stride (and thus their power/efficiency) are Sergei Fedorov and Marian Gaborik.
Marian created tons and tons of breakaways for himself by pulling away from opponents with long, powerful strides. This is a great shot of Marian scoring in-stride on a breakaway:
There isn’t a defender in-frame because Marian pulled away from everyone. Look at how low he is compared to the net. His skating stride sits at 90 degrees.
Equally fast was Sergei Fedorov, who is best appreciated on film. Here’s an hour of Sergei Fedorov highlights, during which he uses his incredibly-long stride to power around opponents and create space for himself:
Here’s Fedorov vs. Pavel Bure in Fastest Skater competition. Notice how wide of a base both players take even while decelerating, a sign of great core/upper leg strength:
And thanks to Getty Images for this great shot:
You can see that Fedorov is churning forward, rather than driving his weight down and into the ice as in a Squat. I think a misconception among a lot of amateur players is that skating is like running or like squatting, and thus you see many amateurs working twice as hard for half of the result.
Getting more length, and eventually more power, out of every stride is the most-efficient way to improve speed.
Additional Resources and Final Thoughts
This is a great, very technical article by Kevin Neeld that covers some topics I glossed over:
I think between Kevin’s article and mine, there is plenty of information to get an amateur player started on adding length to her or his stride.
Thanks for Reading,