A stride in hockey is a very complex movement that incorporates range of motion, strength, power and balance all with perfect timing. If one area is weak or compromised, a skater will never reach his or her potential. I had the pleasure of working with the legendary physiologist Jack Blatherwick, also known as Cardiac Jack from the 1980 US Olympic Team, while with the Washington Capitals studying these mechanics. Understanding where each body part needs to be and what each joint needs to do is the first step in perfecting your stride. In order to skate properly, the hip needs to be able to extend, abduct and externally rotate during the push phase while the knee must extend and the ankle plantarflex. After the push is completed, the leg must return to it’s starting or recovery point. In this position, the hip and knee are flexed with the ankle in a dorsiflexed position. The knee should be aligned below the hip and slightly over the toe. When there are limitations in these motions due tight muscles or joints the stride may be compromised, limiting one’s speed and acceleration on the ice. In my experience, tightness in the hips and ankles are the main culprits. Try incorporating the following mobility exercises to become a better skater.
Ankle Rocks: Begin with your foot flat on the floor, with your toes pointing forward about six inches from the wall. Rock your knee by flexing it towards the wall, flexing your ankle and feeling a stretch in your Achilles. Repeat ten times.
Calf Stretch: Begin leaning forward with your hands against a wall. Keep the back knee straight, with the foot flat on the floor and toes pointing forward feeling a stretch higher in the calf. Hold the position for 15-30 seconds.
Glute or Pigeon Stretch: Start in a push up position, flex your hip and knee bringing your foot to the opposite hand and knee towards the same side hand so you feel a stretch in the back of your hip. Hold the position for 15-30 seconds.
Kneeling Hip Flexor and Groin Stretch: Begin in a half kneeling position and rock the hips forward while maintaining an upright posture and extending the hip. The stretch should be felt in the front of the hip. Repeat ten times. Reposition the foot so that it faces perpendicular to you hips and rock out to the side stretching the adductors or groin. Repeat ten times.
Chris Phillips is an Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist with over 1000 games worked in professional hockey. Chris held positions in the American Hockey League, the National Hockey League and USA Hockey. He is currently the owner of Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Southern California.