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Gary Roberts Performance
November 27, 2023
Every time a hockey player comes into our facility for off-ice hockey training, we take them through a comprehensive intake process to determine their strengths and weaknesses. In addition to physical testing, we ask the player for their insight and that of their coaches. In over a decade, the overwhelmingly most common answer is…
I want to improve my first three strides.
If you're reading this article, the chances are that you would also like to improve your first three strides. From minor hockey, through to the NHL, and into men's league, being able to generate speed and power through the initial skating acceleration phase has immediately tangible benefits.
A player will only reach their actual top speed a handful of times in a game. This is because players on the other team, turnovers, blue lines, and various other factors will all limit the opportunities a player has to accelerate to top speed.
What does happen multiple times in every shift is a play that requires you to accelerate for a loose puck. Whether it's to track down an attacker or jump up into the play for a scoring chance, the ability to accelerate quickly can mean the difference between a grade-A scoring chance or a lost puck race that leads to a two-goal deficit.
You know how important this quality is, but how do you improve your first three strides?
Various factors contribute to a player's ability to generate significant power and speed through their first three strides. Of course, skating technique is at the top of the list, and we will not talk about the specific skating mechanics in this article but all the contributing athletic attributes that help reinforce that skating stride.
As always, proper nutrition is vital for the execution of athletic movements. Power training requires the appropriate macro and micronutrients that will allow the body to fire the muscle groups more rapidly and sustain that effort over a meaningful period of time. High-quality machines require high-quality fuel.
In today's article, we're going to focus on acceleration (first three strides) as oppose to top-end speed. Although they do share characteristics, we'll save some more speed-specific topics for a different article.
Mobility is an aspect of skating performance that is often overlooked in relation to the first three strides. Being able to achieve ankle dorsiflexion comfortably and appropriate hip angles will allow you to sit into a deeper position and execute a longer stride. Skating coaches often talk about player's inability to stay low, especially as they fatigue during a shift. The loss of position reduces the amount of force applied and slows down the first three strides.
(Skating Pos – Take a pic w/ Matty)
Notice the differences in body position between Picture 1 and Picture 2.
In #1 the player is in a low, explosive position, able to extend fully, return to neutral, and repeat.
In #2, the player is in an upright position, pitched forward, and unable to extend fully or return the leg underneath center-mass quickly.
Maintaining position #1 is only possible if you have access to each joint's full range of motion. If not, you're required to fight to hold the position each shift, and your body position will inevitably deteriorate over time.
The most effective way to access and maintain full joint ranges of motion is to move through them with load, but we also like to incorporate a couple of band-assisted mobility drills into the warm-up before a lift or skate.
- Banded Ankle Mob
- Banded Spiderman
Now that we've established the need for appropriate mobility, we'll transition to the importance of power development for increasing the speed of your first three strides.
What is Power?
Power is the ability to produce maximal force in as short a time as possible.
How is this different from strength?
Strength is about the total load lifted with no associated time component. Power, on the other hand, requires you to produce force quickly. Although they share characteristics, some key differentiations between strength and power are important for hockey players to consider with their off-ice training.
Strength will have a significant impact on your power and your first three strides. Therefore, we view appropriate strength development as a prerequisite to transitioning into power training—the higher your maximal strength, the higher your submaximal force production.
What does this mean?
An example might be an easier option. Player A can bench press 200lbs, and Player B can bench press 400lbs. They are both required to Chest Pass an 8lb medicine ball. Because Player B possesses higher maximal strength, the effort needed to throw the medicine ball (submaximal force production) is likely lower than Player A. As power requires
In addition to your maximal strength, various other factors will impact your power, including age, sex, genetics, acute/chronic fatigue, level of conditioning, and nutrition.
Although we can influence many of these factors through training, some players receive more beneficial characteristics for power development.
Muscle fiber distribution is one such example, a hockey player who is fast-twitch (Type I fiber) dominant will readily take to power training compared to a hockey player that is slow-twitch (Type II fiber) dominant. On the flip side, the slow-twitch player will be better positioned to develop endurance attributes that could help sustain effort late into the third period.
Although you have limited influence on the breakdown of your muscle fiber type makeup - you do have some - you can improve your neuromuscular connection and your ability to fire muscles more rapidly through proper training. This is because our muscles receive commands from our nervous system to create a specific action. Our nervous system's ability to deliver commands can accelerate with proper training repetitions. This process is often called Rate of Force Development (RFD) and is in reference to how quickly your muscles can fire and begin the starting action you require. Think winning a puck race off an offensive zone face-off. You were at a dead-stop outside the circle and had to explode into three hard, fast strides as soon as the ref dropped the puck.
There are a variety of different training methods hockey players can use to improve their rate of force development and power, subsequently increasing their acceleration, and we've highlighted a few of our favourites:
Training Techniques for Hockey Acceleration
Power Based Lifts
Provided a hockey player has the physical ability – no injury issues – Olympic lifts such as the Clean or Snatch are great options for developing power. Keep the rep ranges low, recover fully between sets, and have a professional teach you the appropriate technique before adding load.
There is a reason so many people tune in for the 100m final. The display of power is exciting and obvious. Sprinting has excellent carry-over for you as a hockey player. It not only improves power qualities but also has terrific cardiovascular benefits as well. We suggest keeping the distances shorter and focusing on the initial acceleration phase.
Charles Poliquin - may he rest in peace - defines plyometric training as 'a movement characterized by the rapid stretching and shortening of a muscle, such that energy is stored and released in the tissues so you can produce more power.'
Plyometrics rely on the stretch-shortening cycle of a muscle to create extra energy to propel you faster and higher. At least in the modern era, they originated in Russian track and field training and have become synonymous with explosive athletes. When utilizing plyometrics, we take a hockey-specific approach and utilize angular (diagonal) movements as often as possible.
It's important to remember that skating is not a purely linear action, and your training should acknowledge that.
We're firm believers in the benefit of contrast training. This style of training involves pairing a near-maximal lift with a plyometric set immediately following. The mechanism at play is called PAP Post-Activation Potentiation and, in laymen's terms, means a player can produce more power after a demanding exercise. A heavy lift, followed by an explosive movement, can further develop your power on the ice. Just like Olympic lifting, you should work with a coach on technique before trying contrast training properly.
As you've probably noticed throughout this article, power training is vital for a hockey player but requires you to be prepared before stepping into the gym. It is mentally and physically draining, and you should be well-rested, hydrated ad fuelled up before a session. Preparation is key!
If you're still unsure what you should be doing for training, we would love to help. Our Gary Roberts Training App is specific to hockey, and each program focuses on the individual player's needs and situation. Start training now.