Tips, exercises, and stretches for recreational and competitive hockey players to improve their skating:
Tip #1: Take long strides
Hockey players who skate the fastest take fewer strides, over a given period of time, than slower skaters. This may seem counterintuitive but the reason is simple; it is the contact with the ice that produces power. Longer strides leave the skate in contact with the ice longer thus propelling them further and faster. Many skaters leave out the gliding part of the stride and over- work, producing the short choppy strides that are both inefficient as well as tiring. Players should fully extend the leg (straightening the knee) and push off from the big toe or the front, inside ball of the foot at around a 45 degree angle from the body. Fully extending the leg also allows the player to get an additional force from the push-off (plantar flexion) of the ankle.
Hip flexor stretch- Kneel down with your back straight. Step forward with your right foot while keeping your left knee on the floor. Put your hands on top of your right thigh. Shift your weight down and forward. The stretch should be felt in the front part of the hip on your left side. Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat for the other leg.
*Don’t stretch cold, warm up first
Tip #2: Bend at the knees
Poor skaters tend to either skate too upright (knees not bent enough) or they bend at the hips instead of the knees. Skating upright seriously limits on- ice balance and momentum, while bending at the hips only increases strain on the low back and minimizes power transfer from the glut muscles to the lower limb. To increase power and efficiency, players should bend at the knees but not at the hips, while the upper body should remain fairly upright. By doing so, the gluts and the quads will be recruited to do most of the work and allow for maximum efficiency during the push-off stage of the stride.
Strength- Wall squats, lunges, one-legged squats, and calf raises are all important exercises for developing a strong muscular base to push-off from. Core work is also of vital importance for stability and balance on the ice. Abdominal work and side planks are good starters to begin strengthening the core.
Speed and Agility- Due to the fact that hockey is an anaerobic sport and is composed of quick bursts and short sprints, strength training alone will not make you a faster skater. Plyometrics is a type of exercise training in which the goal is to load a muscle and then contract it in a rapid sequence. It helps increase the speed and force of muscular contractions, providing the explosiveness needed for quick strong strides.
Tip #3: Proper fitting for skates
Almost all players will have skates that are 1 to 2 sizes smaller than their shoe size. This allows for a tight, snug fit. The foot should not be moving around in the skate while playing, as this will decrease skating efficiency and balance. When purchasing new skates ensure that the boots are fairly stiff and well protected, and that the blades are aligned properly. Also, they should be moulded to your foot for a tighter fit, which can be done with the help of heating ovens. To avoid blisters, wear them for at least 15 minutes after they have been heated. Different skates have different profiles (weight/balancing/blade length/ankle stiffness, etc) so make sure you inquire about what is needed for your game. For example weaker recreational skaters generally need greater stiffness in the ankle but don’t require the lightest boot.