“You can’t coach speed.” This sports cliché originated with a quote by Notre Dame football coach Terry Brennan, but the basic concept—that some players are simply naturally fast, giving them an advantage over the rest—applies to most sports, including hockey. Don’t interpret this claim to mean you’re stuck with your ‘natural’ speed. You actually can become a faster skater through training and hard work, both on and off the ice. We’ll cover off-ice workouts in a later post; here, we focus on three drills you can do at the rink or even on the local frozen pond, to gain that extra step during the game. They’ll help improve your acceleration and straight-line speed down the ice, which will provide a foundation for all future speed training.
One important thing to note: you should never stop working on becoming a better, faster skater. Once you incorporate speed training into your regular workouts, it should remain part of your training for as long as you play hockey.
Drill #1: On-Ice Mountain Climber
One of the keys to getting a good push-off when you accelerate is having your skate blades at an angle that will propel you forward efficiently. We’ve all seen children try to move forward by ‘walking’ on the ice, with both blades pointing straight ahead, and not really go anywhere. To get a good push-off to start accelerating, your blades should be at 45-degree angles. This drill helps you to get a feel for that angle, and forces you to use the front of the skate blade, which is most efficient. Here’s how it works:
- Start on your knees behind the goal line, facing the other end of the rink, and grasp the shaft of your stick with both hands, about shoulder-width apart.
- Lean forward and put your knuckles on the ice.
- Dig the toe edges of your skates into the ice, and raise your butt, so only your knuckles and skate blades are on the ice. Your knees should be bent.
- Maintaining this position, push off and propel yourself forward as hard as you can—making sure you extend your leg on each stroke—until you get to the nearest blue line, where you can relax.
You’ll note that this is a lot like the ‘mountain climber’ gym exercise, the difference being that you’re actually moving forward instead of staying in one place. This drill forces you to push off the front ends of your skate blades, keeping the blades in that optimal 45-degree position. It also teaches you to bend and extend your legs to generate power, and to keep your body weight forward as you accelerate.
Drill #2: Push-Up Sprints
Once you’ve mastered the mountain climber, it’s time to apply the same principles to the push-up sprint. Now that you’re not forced to keep your knuckles on the ice, it’s up to you to focus on using the right blade angle, extending your legs for power on each stroke, and keeping your weight forward. Not only are you working on technique, but you’re also building strength and conditioning.
- Lie down prone on the ice behind the goal line, with your feet toward the boards and your head toward the other end of the rink. Put your knuckles on the ice, as if you are about to do a push-up.
- Push yourself up with your arms, bring one foot forward, and start to accelerate to your top speed.
- Once you are in a full sprint, maintain it through the far blue line.
You’ll soon realize that, in order to get a good start, you’ll have to maintain the same blade angle and leg extension that were keys to the previous drill. The start keeps your weight in front of your skates, and you should maintain that position through the sprint. If you get too upright, you stop directing your energy straight toward the far end of the rink. You can start doing this drill without a stick in your hands, but you should eventually incorporate the stick to simulate in-game conditions.
Drill #3: Resistance Sprints
Once you’ve worked on your starts, acceleration, and sprinting, it’s time to build the specific muscle groups you’ve been training. Resistance sprints are a standard workout for any sport that includes sprinting, and the concept is simple: the resistance forces you to work harder, which builds muscle.
This is a two-person drill, and you’ll need some sort of resistant band. There are products made specifically for this, but you can do it with any resistance bands that are long enough.
- The resistance band goes around your waist, and your partner holds both ends of the band.
- Starting at the goal line, accelerate to a sprint, as your partner provides resistance for you to work against. Your goal is to skate as fast as you can, really working those muscles.
- At the first blue line, your partner should let go of one end of the band, allowing it to slip off your waist.
- Continue to sprint to the far blue line.
Work on maintaining proper form as you sprint, and the resistance will cause you to lean forward. Once the resistance is removed, be careful not to get too upright as you continue through the sprint.
Skating speed is determined by a variety of factors—including skating technique, leg power, length of stride, and quickness of stride—and improving in one or two of these areas can result in a measurable increase in your ability to break away from the pack. Skating technique itself can be broken down into several components, from how you position your blades for the all-important first few steps, to how you control your legs and body through the process. These three drills provide an excellent base you can build upon throughout your career. Of course, there’s more to skating than a straight sprint, and you’ll eventually want to work on improving your speed while skating backward, moving side-to-side, and changing directions.