Learning to skate off-ice
Posted by Dean Holden at December 24th, 2013
by Josh Levine, 12 December 2013
Develop strength and proper skating form off-ice to increase on-ice training gains
The most important and fundamental skill in hockey is skating. Developing proper skating technique is a prerequisite at the elite ranks. That is why there is such an emphasis on practicing skating technique and improving edges at the youth levels. To learn how to skate properly, skaters require a significant amount of quality repetitions and practice time so they can develop the correct muscle memory, strength, balance and coordination. Traditionally, learning to skate properly takes place on the ice, but there are some disadvantages to teaching skating technique solely on the rink.
First, players have a harder time combining the necessary strength, balance and coordination to perform a proper stride when they are in their skates. Second and more importantly, players have difficulty understanding what they are actually doing wrong. Players may feel like they are fully extending their stride, squatting low enough, or keeping their chests up when in reality they are not. Their perception is skewed due partly to the unfamiliarity they have with the various skating movements. Finally, ice time is costly so whenever we can develop players using a more affordable training model, the better.
One simple exercise that helps demonstrate how off-ice skating form exercises can increase the effectiveness of our on-ice training is called skating lunges. As you can see in the pictures above, this exercise requires athletes to mimic skating on a solid surface (a smooth surface works best). The player starts in a squat, fully extends their leg like a stride (the player should act as if they are on-ice and have a blade attached to their shoe), recovers the stride without standing up or dragging the foot, and repeats for a given distance.
Skating off-ice does not require the same attention to edges and skating balance skills as it does on the rink. Skating lunges allow players to temporarily ignore those fundamental elements of skating and focus on other aspects like proper form and leg strength. If a player can’t get into a good squat off the ice, it’s unlikely he or she can do it on the ice. By practicing in a less “stressful” environment during dryland, skaters can develop better form and leg strength quicker, and then utilize those skills when they get on the ice.
Skating lunges also allow coaches to slow down and really emphasize form with their players. The mistakes players make on-ice are often repeated off-ice. The short choppy skaters don’t fully extend their strides and the player who stands up too much almost invariably does the same when performing skating lunges. It’s easier to point out these mistakes and to correct them off-ice. Coaches can use mirrors, for example, so players can actually see their skating form. Players can practice holding correct skating form positions, like a squat or stride, to increase their leg strength and endurance.
Utilizing off-ice skating form exercises increases the effectiveness of skating form training by helping build strength and correct form so when players hit they ice, they maximize their potential training gains. Incorporating dryland exercises like skating lunges also increases training time and quality repetitions without the high price associated with on-ice training.
NOTE: Coaches and associations should be cautious when incorporating off-ice training. Doing so can be detrimental if done incorrectly or too often.
Josh Levine is a former Jefferson Jaguar, Princeton University graduate, founder of The Fortis Academy, and author of “Save Our Game: What’s wrong with hockey training today and how to fix it.”