How To Skate Faster and Increase Performance

Hockey Correction Series: Part 1
Structural Imbalances

In this hockey training series I will be addressing the main glaring issues hockey players have that limit them from performing at their absolute best.

The series is going to provide a deep insight and allow you to take your game to the next level. Far more often than not, these issues that I will be presenting over the next several weeks are the main limiting factors to their performance and correcting them has a massive carryover on to the ice improving performance, including skating faster, being more explosive and and all around quicker on the ice.

The first issue I will be covering is structural imbalances.

I have brought this up in the past through various videos and posts but it is an important enough topic that I want to cover it on all social media outlets that I have and make it the introduction topic to the Hockey Correction Series.

One of the most common questions we get is “How Can I Skate Faster” and fixing these structural imbalances will help you skate faster right away, without any on ice drills.  Not only will you be quicker on the ice, your overall power, explosiveness, and performance will improve as well.

Best Seller Hockey Book

Click the image above to get access to my “Hockey Speed: The Guide To Skating Faster” ebook that was a #1 Best Seller at Amazon!

Let’s talk first about what I mean when I am talking about structural imbalances.

Structural imbalances, from a skeletal muscle perspective, can be found in the muscles through structural balance testing. Certain movements during testing and how the athlete moves or how much weight he is able to use exposes structural differences.

Ideally, the perfect athlete should be structurally balance from the upper body to the lower body, and from the left side to the right side.

Depending on which tests you use; front squats, body weight squats, push up, ROM, single leg hopping, step ups, external rotation with dumbbells and simply just assessing how they carry themselves and how they move can all tell you something about what is going on structurally.

You want to be able to meet the strength of one part of your body with another part of your body to drive optimal movement. What I mean by this is, you will always be sacrificing optimal performance if you are structurally imbalanced because no matter how strong you are, your movement mechanics will be thrown off. When your movement mechanics are thrown off you lose speed, athleticism, explosiveness, strength and you also move with less efficiency which leads to quicker fatigue.

See how important this stuff gets?

If you’re not balanced you’re not moving correctly, if you’re not moving correctly you start the domino effect that knocks down all categories of performance a certain percentage of what you could have otherwise accomplished had you been balanced.

Structural imbalances completely plague the hockey world. From a strength perspective, these are primarily in the hamstrings, rotator cuffs, quadriceps and core.

Although other things can cause and create structural imbalances such as movement mechanics and tightness, but that’s another article for another day. The way in which hockey players move and which muscles they primarily activate drives imbalances. From a strength coaches perspective, working with hockey players is constantly correcting strength imbalances.

For example, if you look at a hockey player he is bent over at the waist for pretty much the entire game. This shortens and tightens for hip flexors which can lead to a whole host of postural issues including pain in the hips during movement negatively affecting explosiveness, tightness in the hips negatively affecting speed and agility, rounded shoulders, shoulder impingements and a forward lean.

This is just one example of a cascade of events that kicks off with hockey players who don’t take their structure work seriously. This among many other things can go wrong during the season mainly because most training gets pushed back due to fatigue, travelling and scheduling issues.

The above is why structural balance work is a major factor in the early training phases in the offseason training.

Let’s attack each strength issue at a time.

#1: Quadriceps

quadriceps-hockeyAlmost every hockey player who first signs on with me has an overdevelopment in the vastus lateralis in comparison to their vastus medialis oblique. The vastus lateralis is that thick muscle on the outside of your thigh, whereas your vastus medialis oblique is that tear shaped muscle on your thigh at the inside point on your knee.

If you have been playing hockey and skating your whole life, odds are you have a big chunk of meat on the outside of your thigh and not a whole lot of tear drop muscle going on at the inside of your knee. That vastus lateralis gets overdeveloped through many years of skating, it’s a prime mover in the drive you push off the ice. Correcting this difference is paramount to increasing your skating speed, explosiveness and agility on the ice but also play a huge role in knee stability which decreases the risk of injury to hockey players in the lower body drastically.

I’m telling you every hockey player needs to work on their VMO, even if it’s there and developed, they still should work on it. The carryover it will bring to your game is immeasurable.

The best exercise to work on the VMO is the Peterson Step up. If you can’t do the Peterson step up, the Poliquin step up is the next best option. These two movements effectively work the glute medius and the VMO which both work to stabilize the knee. In turn, strengthening the VMO, having a more structurally balanced quadriceps and improving your game.

Other great options to work the VMO but just not in isolation include various forms of split squats, step ups, front squats, sled drags and Peterson leg press. These are all great movements and can be intelligently incorporated into your hockey training to make you a faster skater.

#2: Hamstrings

A big problem with hockey players is their glutes are much stronger than their hamstrings. Narrowing the gap between these two is something that must be addressed immediately entering the offseason, as anybody who has worked with me knows all too well. Normally hockey players can see this just by simply looking at themselves, they have a big hockey butt and hamstrings that resemble a flamingo’s.

Hamstring HockeyHockey is a game of power and in order to skate faster and more powerful on the ice you need to have fantastic development of the hamstrings in relation to your glutes. But it isn’t just about doing some hamstring curls and leaving the gym, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Hamstrings are a muscle group, not just a single muscle. Hamstrings consist of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and the semimembranosus.

For those of you that know your kinesiology well, you will know that the biceps femoris is the primary muscle in pointing your toes outwards. This is where the problem sets in for hockey players. Skating isn’t like running, your toes aren’t straight forward when you’re skating. Every single time you push off the ice your toes are pointing slightly outwards. This leads to a massive overdevelopment of the biceps femoris in relation to the semitendinosus and the semimembranosus.

To have optimal balance and exert as much power as possible per skating stride, you need to bring up your strength in the semimembranosus and the semitendinosus. Additionally, hamstrings also act as major knee stabilizers and help prevent lower body injury risk.

Hamstring curls alone won’t do the trick. Variation is key with training the hamstrings; lying/seated/kneeling hamstring curls, DB or BB stiff legged dead lifts, BB hip thrusts, Swiss ball single leg curls, among many other movements can all be properly implemented in your training. Two more things to make note of, hamstrings respond greater to lower rep ranges + higher weight (below 8 reps) and keep in mind the placement of your toes, the way in which your toes are pointing trains different components of the hamstring. Like I said, variation is key.

#3: Rotator cuffs

The rotator cuffs usually get overlooked no matter who you are. I test everybody who comes my way in the rotator cuffs and often find either very weak rotators or very imbalanced rotators. It’s almost never not a problem as not many people who don’t receive professional training advice know how to train them properly.

This is the only one of the four that doesn’t directly help you skate faster, but the rotator cuffs play a big role in hockey performance and have to be brought up to par. Having proper balance between your internal and external rotators drives shot power and accuracy. Ideally, your elbow on knee external rotation with DB should come to 8 reps (completed with good form) with 10% of your body weight in poundage.

So if you weigh 200lbs, you should be able to cleanly rep out 8 reps of 20lbs in this exercise. If you can do this, you’re doing great. If you do not meet these requirements you need some work.

One thing that is great is it is very hard to ever over fatigue the rotator cuffs. I normally train the rotators 3x per week if the athlete is lacking. Depending on where they’re weak, I find these exercises to address the issues the best; Powell raise, Cuban press, DB power cleans, cable scapula retractors, bent over flies, various forms of pull ups/chin ups, rows, L-lateral raises with external rotation, knee on elbow external rotations with DB, rope face pulls and the Luge pull drill. One thing that should also be noted here is that the rotator cuff responds very well to longer eccentric work.

#4: Core

The core is an on-going issue with hockey players who don’t seek to balance themselves through training because hockey is a unilateral sport. Meaning, if you’re left handed you are always playing on that side and the muscles responsible for making you strong as a left handed player continuously get overworked and over developed through years of hockey. This has a ripple effect all over the body, but a big one in the core.

The core plays a role in transmitting power from the lower body to the upper body and is under constant demand not matter what you are doing on the ice. Skating, stopping, shooting, checking, saving, your core is involved in all of it.  If you want to skate faster on the ice you need to correct your imbalances in your core.

Where hockey players tend to have imbalances is in the lower abdominals and obliques. The lower abdominals issue is normally due to improper training technique or training program design in combination with their bent over stature during the game. The oblique imbalance comes from the unilateral aspect of the sport, obliques rotate the body and every time you shoot you are always rotating the same way.

The core doesn’t have to be directly hit all the time. It receives massive stimulation and strength gain simply from big movements such as dead lifts, squats, front squats, chin ups, pull ups, rows and overhead presses. Do these all properly and keep them in your rotation, they play big dividends in the core department.

But from a more isolated perspective, I find these exercises to work exceptionally well with correcting hockey player’s trunk imbalances; Sled drag with rope around only one shoulder (alternate each drag), barbell Russian twists, hanging leg raises and barbell ab complex’s.

To wrap this all up, even though this was a long article it still only touches on the importance of structural balance. I cannot stress how important this is to your performance and what kind of an impact it will bring to your game.

Athletes normally see something called “structural balance” and it sounds boring but anybody who understands it and goes through an offseason program working on it knows for a fact that these components positively affect speed, power, co-ordination, acceleration, explosiveness and decreased injury risk.

If you’re balanced, you’re a whole new player. It has an enormous effect on your performance and longevity in the sport.

First, you need to be balanced, because anything you build on top of imbalances only creates greater imbalances.

If you’re ready to become a faster skater check out our Next Level Speed program designed to help players become faster skaters.  If you’re interested in become an all around better and dominant hockey player I recommend checking out our off-season hockey training program.

Part 2 of this series can be found here: Fixing Muscle Tightness

About the author

Dan Garner

Dan Garner is the head strength coach and nutrition specialist at HockeyTraining.com. He has coached hockey players and other athletes at all levels from youth to the NHL elite. Garner holds many educational credentials and has been mentored by some of the top coaches in the world.

10 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Sine we teach kids to skate so early, when do we start to teach kids to start doing some of these exercises. I know it is a huge debate that spans over decades. What is your opinion. I teach a lot of these movements without weight.

    • I encourage all kids to play outside and play each and every sport they can. Doing this helps them learn how to properly move. One of the biggest problems with the generation growing up right now is they don’t know how to move, which is a breeding ground for structural imbalances. To give your kids the best chance at excelling in athletics and sport development you need to:

      – Have them learn to move
      – Have them learn to play
      – Have them perform as many sports as possible
      – Strength training at a young age should first begin with body weight and can progressively move to training with loads around age 13

      Once you understand movement in sports, you understand that it demands perfect timing and perfect movement to be one of the best. Competing in as many sports as possible allows children to develop strong motor patterns and movement ability in all planes of movement. This translates perfectly to each and every sport.

      Very young children should be playing, running, climbing, running backwards, throwing balls around, jumping, crawling and playing with their parents so they can learn from the parents movement patterns.

      From being children to a more teenage age, in these years you should enroll your kid in as many sports as possible, but not at the same time. Do not overwhelm your kid, if your sport is hockey, keep it in every year, but the other sports should be rotated based on the season. Martial arts is one of the best things you can do for a child for increasing athletic ability and discipline. Additionally, martial arts helps to build strength with plenty of explosive body weight movements. Gymnastics is also excellent for the same reasons.

      Following these guidelines, in my experience, will give your child the best base to build from.

  • i have 2 boys playing hockey they are very talented boys and the struggle is there speed if they gain speed I know they can play in the AAA elite teams

    • Hi Deano, how old are your boys? We can help them with their speed through training for sure. I’ve been using Dan’s training techniques for over a year now and my speed on the ice has increased dramatically.

  • Hey, this is a really neat guide, well explained and logically identifies key aspects of skating faster, definitely something I am going to need to work on in my own personal training. However I did notice something about the image of the hamstring muscles, it appears as though biceps femoris and semitendinosus have been labelled the wrong way round. Semitendinosus and semimenbranosus both run medially along side the leg, on the inside, and it is biceps femorus that runs laterally, on the outside.
    Just thought I’d let you know!

    • Thanks for pointing that out Liam! We hadn’t double checked the image before posting (you’d think whoever made it would get it right), but we’ve uploaded a new image now.

  • Talking about the vmo my right leg vmo is good but my left is a lot smaller I don’t know but it is. My question is should I just work on left until I catch up or work on both.

  • Hello–sorry for delay in seeing this, but it’s fascinating. On the VMO, assuming its importance to speed and acceleration, is that muscle also developed by riding one of the usual gym exercise bikes at the max intensity (level 20) for 12-24 minutes? I ask because the VMO on my legs always appear stronger (and pumped up) after engaging in such a bike workout (invariably, on the bike program that has you ultimately take on four sets of increasingly difficult hills). If I’m accidentally on the right VMO path with this exercise, I’d appreciate knowing it (and otherwise, if I’m not and this is counterproductive to building speed and acceleration on-ice, I’d appreciate knowing that too). Thank you again for the article and its excellent insights.

    • Hello there,

      The bike within that training context can absolutely build quadriceps/VMO hypertrophy. For a ridiculous example, google Robert Forstemann.

      Having said that, that type of longer duration, higher intensity lactic work does not carry over to the ice as optimally as designing your energy system work in a way that maximizes alactic-aerobic work.

      The VMO hypertrophy is great, but I would rather build the VMO through resistance training work and use my energy system work as a way to build maximum conditioning transfer on the ice.

Popular Posts:

Hockey Conditioning Training

skate-faster-small

Hockey Agility Training

Hockey Training Mistakes

Hockey Training Video

FREE PROGRAM:

Hockey Training Subscribe