The top high school players almost all have one shared trait - supreme skating skills and speed. Creating separation and getting to open ice creates opportunity. The good news? Speed and skating efficiency is highly trainable. (PHOTO BY MATT KANE)
Every year, some players dominate in the regular season, but not in the playoffs when the pace is faster. The difference is efficient high-end speed, and it’s highly trainable.
1. Longer skating strides = wider strides. At high speeds, you cannot lengthen your stride straight backward because your feet would have to be impossibly quick. Instead, push hard to the side (hip abduction). This is the major source of skating power and efficiency at high speed, yet it is ignored in most weight rooms. Because your skate blade is not perpendicular to the angle of force, this propels you forward, in the same way a sailboat tacks crosswind much faster than the wind. At the end of each stride, you are pushing backward (hip extension) because you’re moving past the ice. You also rotate your hips to prepare for the next stride. Off-ice exercises for hip abduction-rotation-extension include side-to-side jumps, Russian Box jumps, resisted lunge walks and slide board.
2. For acceleration, nothing compares to short off-ice sprints. Explode as fast as you can for 5-30 meters then walk back to the starting line for recovery. Lean forward to 45 degrees like Usain Bolt. Extend your body in a straight line (SLX) so your leg force passes through your center of mass efficiently. On the other hand, bending forward (pike position) is an inefficient use of force, whether sprinting or skating. Efficiency must be part of your speed training, not just strength, strength and more strength.
3. Less equipment means faster skating practice. Today’s shoulder pads are so heavy they look like they’re designed for football. Hockey pants (breezers) have too much padding and restrict the width and length of the stride. Speedskating coaches would never burden skaters with restrictive pants. Keep in mind that all repetitions result in permanent changes to the brain and spinal cord(the CNS), so don’t practice slow, restricted strides every day at a young age when learning is greatest.
Get a pair of scissors to remove unnecessary padding. Slit the inseam to allow greater range of motion. Keep in mind that manufacturers are protecting their company from lawsuits, not just protecting your body. Include some “skating improvement days,”without breezers and shoulder pads. Your feet will move faster, and stride width-length will increase.
4. Strength workouts must incorporate explosive movement of your body, not just slow strength alone.Sprints plus weighted and unweighted jumps (one- and two-legged) should be inserted into each workout. Traditional weight training is part of the process at older ages, but if you don’t add explosive movement to train the Central Nervous System (CNS) for speed, weight training is too limited by itself. Why? 1) The heavier the lift, the slower your body moves. 2) Every lift includes deceleration in the last part of the movement, at precisely the point where the skating stride requires maximum acceleration. 3) Traditional weight training ignores the key to skating power: hip abduction-rotation-extension. 4) The range of motion in all barbell lifts is restricted to one plane; yet no sport – certainly not skating – is restricted to one plane.
5. Practice skating on your own. Whether you take lessons or not, you must get thousands of repetitions on your own, just as golfers practice by the hour after each lesson. Add dryland skating workouts when you come off the ice. There is no speedskating coach in the world who would teach skating without dryland training.
6. On the ice, every repetition must be done with 100 percent quality, so rest intervals are critical. Even endurance training must be fast, with perfect execution to build speed and efficient mechanics. Never skate with poor mechanics and slow feet, which is inevitable if you do endurance skating drills past the point of lactic acid buildup and temporary fatigue (about 6-10 seconds depending on the intensity).