Quickness and foot speed are two major criteria that truly separate the better players from the rest of the pack when it comes to skating. The players who possess quickness and foot speed outshine their opponents at all levels of play. So, what do you think “foot speed” means? Many coaches talk about “foot speed” in reference to acceleration. Many players will think of endless repetitions on the agility ladder. How does this relate to hockey? Foot speed is the key to good transition; you must focus on stopping and being able to quickly move your feet so that you can reach top speed while going the opposite direction. While training a hockey coach client in the gym, we discussed skating speed this is what I found.
Researchers show that velocity in hockey skating is dependent on the number of strides taken over a certain distance. To add to that, this indicates the quicker a player gets his or her skates on the ice after push-off, the faster the player will be.
The key ingredients to generating quickness and foot speed are balance, anticipation and, most importantly, leg strength. Most players who skate well have extremely powerful legs. This, along with a low center of gravity, helps them explode out of their starts faster than those with weaker legs.
The width of the stride is one important skating characteristic of fast hockey players. This means a wide stride, not a long stride. The reason stride width is important for speed in hockey skating is because a fast player needs to quickly get his or her skate back on the ice (after pushing off) to start the next push-off. This means fast hockey skaters have quick, wide strides, and get their skate on the ice quickly after push-off.
Acceleration is achieved by staying low in your skating stride. Create rhythm in your legs by completing each stride with proper recovery and don’t bob and weave. Do not change legs without full recovery or your stride will be choppy. This will slow you down and keep you off balance. The longer your stride the less energy you have to use up to get to the puck or an open space to create a scoring opportunity.
Off ice training to add hip strength and stability not only helps with injury prevention but also provides a great platform to train for speed. It’s also important to work on building your lower body, especially your thighs and calves. The stronger your legs, the more power you can generate in your skating stride. Add in those “foot speed” drills from the gym and this will lead to better performances on the ice.
Mike Hannegan is an Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach with over ten years experience in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues and is currently the Director of Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Yorba Linda, CA.