4 Secrets to Mastering Your Edge Work

In this article, I will teach you the four secrets you can use this off-season to unlock the potential of your speed and edge work faster and more efficiently than ever before. 

If there was one thing in the entire hockey training world that all coaches and players could agree on, it would be that speed kills

Speed makes you a leader on your team. 

Speed stands out most to the fans in the crowd. 

Speed separates you from other players in the eyes of the scouts. 

Speed puts you on the scoresheet every single time you step on the ice. 

Those who possess speed have the ability to create devastating effects on their opponent’s strategy and confidence.

When you review the scientific literature on sports performance, you’ll find speed of movement as the number one physical characteristic that separates the top one percent from everyone else. 

I have been working with thousands of hockey players and researching for many, many years, and I have made it my life’s mission to create the best hockey players in the world. 

It has been a dream of mine to create a simple training protocol that hockey players can add to their off-season schedule that covers all of the training bases they need to get the NHL-caliber edge work the top players have. 

After many years of experience, trial and error, and research into sports science literature, I have come up with the perfect solution, which is now famously deemed the Elusive Edgework Formula (E2-Formula™ for short). 

The Elusive Edgework Formula

The overwhelming majority of speed training methods you will come across when reading articles or watching hockey training content involve high-velocity, high-impact movements such as sprint variations and plyometric exercises.

To meet the specificity of the training demand, common sense would tell you that you want to train fast to be fast. 

However, it is possible to train hockey-specific speed through low-impact and low-velocity training modalities and still make significant progress. All that is required is to get creative with how you apply force to the body. 

Careful attention to the movement and direction of force in combination with the joint angles you are training can lead to performing exercises that look biomechanically nothing at all like the activity you’re training (e.g. skating), yet have a very strong carryover to improving that end result (e.g. skating faster). 

When you understand this at a fundamental level, you can create hockey training protocols that allow you to train first-step quickness, speed, agility, and skating technique more often. 

This increased training frequency allows you to get better results in a shorter time frame simply because you are adding more hockey-specific training stimuli than you otherwise would have. 

The best part is that when you understand biomechanics enough to allow you to train skating speed using what appears to be non-hockey-specific exercises, you can then carefully select low-impact exercises to get the job done. 

This low-impact approach and mindset is an outstanding leap in your off-season hockey training program design for many reasons:

  • You can train speed indoors with no equipment and with limited space.
  • You can train speed even if you have nagging injuries that are holding you back from going all-out in your sprint and jump training.
  • You can safely train speed even after a long lay-off, when you may not be structurally ready for high-impact work.
  • You can train speed as a youth athlete who isn’t ready for weight training equipment yet.
  • You can do all of your high-impact work PLUS all of your new low-impact work to get more speed training per week without any training overlap.
  • It allows you to train in a hockey-specific way even through unpredictable times such as the COVID-19 shutdown.

Too many hockey parents and coaches are stuck on the idea that an exercise to improve skating must look exactly like skating in order for you to get real results, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The Biomechanics of the Hamstring during Skating

This section is quite dense; however, it’s critical we have this discussion, as true hockey-specific training utilizing the Elusive Edgework Formula demands you understand a completely new and revolutionized way in which to view your training strategy. However, if you are not interested in the deep science behind it, then read ahead to the section on F.A.S.T. speed training.  

Now, I want to use the hamstrings as an example muscle group to fully break down so you can see why and how performing certain exercises that look nothing like skating will still make you a faster skater. 

It begins with understanding functional anatomy vs. textbook anatomy. Most anatomy courses teach you what cadavers do when shocked with electricity, but functional anatomy is much more relevant for us to understand when creating sport-specific training programs for hockey.

Why? Because unless you’re a dead person laying on a bed getting shocked to see how your muscle fibers are going to twitch, this information isn’t always useful in a practical setting. 

There is a major difference between a muscle’s isolated function vs. its integrated function during athletic movement.

The hamstring plays a major role in our skating mechanics—this is likely why it helps us improve our speed, but it is also so susceptible to injury/strains during high-velocity movement.

Most people just view hamstrings as a “knee flexor” (think: just bringing the heel of your foot up to your glutes like during a hamstring curl); however, a trained eye can see the hamstrings play a wide variety of highly complex (and highly integrated) roles during skating.

Looking at the above picture of Kevin skating, you can see that when the foot hits the ice during skating, the integrated function greatly expands beyond its traditional description of knee flexion.

During skating, the foot is in contact with the ice, and the body’s center of mass is moving over the foot.

Because of its ice contact, the foot acts as the origin of movement, not the hips (this is why the ankles need to be trained as well for optimal edge work ability).

Unlike isolated function in the cadaver lab, where the hips would be in contact with the ground (i.e., via a table), when skating, the foot is in contact with the ice. 

Therefore, the foot does not move; the hips and body move over the foot during the initial propulsion.

If viewed from this perspective, the hamstring function becomes a bit easier to understand and conceptualize during hockey-specific movement (as opposed to just thinking it brings your heel up to your butt during flexion).

Additionally, we can better understand how hamstrings can be trained in a low-impact setting if we consider the eccentric and rotational role of the hamstrings during skating.

This is relevant since nearly all of the hamstring pulls in hockey occur during the eccentric actions of the “plant” phase of the movement (the moment your foot hits the ice). 

A true functional analysis of the hamstring during high-velocity skating tells us that the hamstring:

  • Decelerates hip flexion during the swing phase (driving your knee forward to take another stride)
  • Decelerates knee extension while simultaneously accelerating hip extension
  • Decelerates hip flexion when the skate makes contact with the ice
  • Decelerates lower leg internal rotation at mid-stance
  • Accelerates hip extension and external rotation prior to ice contact
  • Accelerates external rotation of the lower leg before ice contact and during the push-off
  • Provides posterior chain stability after ice contact

To make things even more interesting, the hamstrings are a muscle group that crosses two major joints (your hips and knees)—and since they are involved in high-velocity movements that involve simultaneous flexion and extension, they must undergo a unique contraction known as a “econcentric” contraction (the hamstrings will do this right before the foot makes contact with the ice during the plant phase of skating).

“Econcentric” describes a single muscle group undergoing both a concentric and an eccentric contraction at the same time.

In the context of the hamstrings during skating, it will concentrically extend the hip while simultaneously eccentrically flex the knee.

With this understanding of how the hamstrings function during a game situation in hockey, it’s correct to assume that simple hamstring curls don’t cover all of your bases for properly training this muscle group.

From a functional performance or even rehabilitation perspective, it doesn’t make sense to me to only train knee flexion for a muscle group that undergoes concentric, eccentric, and econcentric contractions during hockey. 

It’s my belief that this is exactly why you see hockey players all over the world hammer leg curls every leg day, yet still suffer hamstring pulls/tears on a yearly basis.

Low-Impact Hockey Speed Training Example

Now that we understand the basic differences between isolated and integrated functions, we can start putting pen to paper on how we can recreate those forces in an easy-to-apply environment while not wavering from true hockey-specific training.

Integrating the exercises I am about to discuss will not only help you prevent future lower body injuries because you will be training your hamstring the right way, but it will also produce noticeable differences in your speed output on the ice.

Although there are many exercises that simultaneously target the hips and hamstrings, I find that none of them create the force vectors or econcentric demand that single-leg hip thrust variations do.

Training speed through hip thrust training is one of those rare exceptions where you are training a hockey-specific function in a non-functional position. 

What do I mean by a “non-functional position”? Well, let’s just say I’m going against the grain by making the claim that you absolutely can train hockey-specific speed while lying down. 

I know that sounds a little nutty, but if you stick with me, I think you’ll agree and add this to your current hockey training toolkit.

We’ll use the single-leg hip thrust as our example (take careful note on how both extension and flexion are occurring simultaneously and in what direction forces are being applied on the body in the below picture).

This exercise example targets both the hips and hamstrings through similar ranges of motion as those of skating.

Additionally, it lacks the vertical forces of running but very closely simulates the horizontal forces on the hips and hamstrings during the plant phase of skating. 

Below, you can see the horizontal forces during the plant phase of skating. The arrow shows the planted foot pushing back into the ice and the ground reaction forces pushing you forward.

Thus, the hips are now propelled forward, maximizing stride length. 

Basic breakdown based on indicated numbers above:

  1. Ground reaction forces provide an equal and opposite response to pressing down and backward into the ice.
  2. Econcentric contraction of the hamstrings driving knee flexion and posterior stability during lateral force expression.
  3. Econcentric contraction of the hamstring driving hip extension and explosive forward propulsion.

Now, let’s just flip it 90 degrees, put Kevin on his back to do a single leg hip thrust, and review the forces he is acting on in his legs and hips during the movement:

Basic breakdown:

  1. Mimics the equal and opposite ground reaction forces from pressing down and back into the ice.
  2. Mimics the econcentric contraction of the hamstrings at the knee during the moment of ice contact during a skating stride.
  3. Mimics the econcentric contraction of the hamstring at the hip during the propulsion of exploding forward on the ice.

See all of the similarities between these two in terms of force expression and training stimulus? 

With a keen eye for movement analysis, you can successfully utilize certain low-impact exercises for both prehabilitation (to prevent lower body injuries from ever happening) and speed development for hockey players. 

This type of training does not directly replace your high-velocity and high-impact exercises such as your sprint variations and plyometric work. However, this is not a conversation of “either or,” but rather, why not both? 

Using a high-intensity hockey training program alongside a well-designed Elusive Edgework Formula protocol gives you the best of both worlds so you can make faster gains than ever toward achieving your hockey dreams. 

Training F.A.S.T. for Explosive Speed: Your Four Secrets for Elite Edge Work

The above breakdown likely has you very excited for what advanced protocols you can add into your off-season this year to become a better hockey player. 

Yet, might I humbly remind you that the above was only an example of a single muscle group (hamstring), using a single exercise (single leg hip thrust) for a single performance quality (speed development). 

There is so much more to discover here that would take months for me to unpack for you (primarily because it took years for me to properly develop in the first place). Luckily for us, I have made it very simple for you to use this type of movement analysis knowledge. 

You see, we have yet to discover the four secrets for unlocking your edge work potential as I mentioned in the beginning.

Enter: The F.A.S.T. Hockey Training Principle. 

The acronym F.A.S.T. represents the order of exercises you will choose to create your own Elusive Edgework training session as well as each of the four secrets of optimizing your edge work this year. 

First Step Quickness
Agility
Speed 
Technique 

Each movement session is four exercises in length, and each exercise is performed for the exact hockey-specific purpose and in the exact order above (i.e. your first exercise is for first-step quickness, your second exercise is for agility, your third is for speed, and your fourth is for optimal skating technique). 

I refer to these as “movement sessions” and not “workouts,” because these are meant to be performed at an active recovery intensity and not an all-out workout intensity. Meaning, if there was an intensity scale of 1–10 and 1 meant it was as easy as walking and 10 meant a brutal non-stop conditioning session, you would perform these movement sessions around 5/10. You will feel training stimulation, but not enough that you lose your breath or create muscle soreness the next day. 

The reason we perform these movement sessions at a low intensity is because they are both high volume and high frequency. This means the volume (total amount of sets and reps for each exercise performed throughout the training week) and the frequency (amount of times the routine is performed on the weekly training split) of these routines demand it be performed at a lower intensity, or else you would not properly recover and therefore not make any consistent gains. 

When it comes to volume, intensity, and frequency, you have to only pick two, because you can’t have all three without overtraining. 

In the case of the E2-Formula™, I strategically chose it to be high volume and high frequency because in this format, you will get more training exposures per week to improve your results; plus, since the last exercise is technique-based, we also create more opportunities to improve your skill development rather than just your physical development. 

Designing Your Own F.A.S.T. Training Edge Work Protocol

Compiling the above information into a trainable format means we need to structure a protocol template in that exact order within that exact volume, intensity, and frequency zone. 

Additionally, our exercise selection for each category needs to reflect the F.A.S.T. training principle, because without the correct exercise selection the entire philosophy falls a part. So, let’s start there. 

Example First-Step Quickness Drills:

  • Split Switch Hops
  • McDavid Shuffle
  • Slalom Hops

Example Agility Movements:

  • Single Leg Wall Ankle Pumps
  • One Leg Speed Skating Stance
  • Bowler Squats 

Example Speed Training:

  • Hip Thrust
  • Single Leg Hip Thrust
  • Puck Between The Knees Hip Thrust

Example Technique Drills:

  • Stationary Skating Strides
  • Skater Lunge
  • 10 & 2 Hip Openers

Pick one exercise from each category (usually the ones you are the worst at are the ones you need the most). These are the movements you will use and perform in this exact order. In our Off-Season System, we have many more exercises but this is a good starting point.

From there, you apply an active recovery-approved allotment of total sets and reps for your Elusive Edgework Formula. This can vary greatly because your volume is calculated upon your total week’s worth of training and not just your individual workouts. 

Furthermore, your volume selection should also be reflected in your total training periodization from phase to phase as the off-season progresses. 

This is why I always say that hockey players need to get on a real program designed by a professional rather than just decide to perform a handful of different workouts per week. Much more goes on behind the scenes in terms of creating a real program than just putting your weekly scheduling structure together. 

However, I can give recommendations with ideal ranges for you in the form of an Elusive Edgework Formula template below:

First-Step Quickness Exercise: 1–3 sets of 10–30 seconds (non-stop work) 
Agility Exercise: 1–3 sets of 8–10 reps 
Speed Exercise: 1–3 sets of 8–10 reps  
Technique Exercise: 1–3 sets of 8–10 reps 

The above template will give you a great starting point to work with, but you will need to ensure your subjective feedback provides you the information you need to be certain you’re not overdoing it. 

More is not better. You only are what you can effectively recover from. Losing sight of that is losing sight of the entire point of this protocol. 

Scheduling Your Edge Work Training

Now that you have an Edge Work training session designed, it’s time to do something equally as important: schedule it properly throughout the off-season. 

Because this is active recovery-based, you have the flexibility of scheduling it multiple times per week for accelerated results. 

I personally find three to four times per week to be the sweet spot for getting the best possible training adaptations while not impacting your recovery, so your main training program isn’t negatively affected. 

I structure this type of approach based on a combination of both exercise science and neurological research conducted within the field of skill acquisition. 

Skill acquisition, also referred to as motor learning and control, is the interdisciplinary science of intention, perception, action, and calibration of the performer–environment relationship. In particular, skill acquisition is an umbrella term specific to the knowledge of what behavioural and neurological variables influence central nervous system adaptation in response to the learning or re-learning of a motor skill. 

In other words, skill acquisition refers to voluntary control over movements of joints and body segments in an effort to learn a hockey-specific skill.

This is very important for the hockey world to pick up on, because the study of motor learning and control is a comprehensive approach to understanding human movement outside traditional biomechanical interventions. 

As an interdisciplinary science, skill acquisition engages experts in neuroscience, physiology, psychology, biomechanics, and coaching as an avenue to research how the neuromuscular system functions to activate and coordinate the muscles and limbs involved in the performance of a motor skill.

I bring this up because there are three primary stages of mastering a new motor skill:

Stage 1: The Cognitive Stage
Stage 2: The Associative Stage
Stage 3: The Autonomous Stage

The first stage represents a beginner primarily focusing on what to do and how to do it. To put this into context, a hockey player might ask “how can I perform that edge work drill?” The learner then watches the coach and attempts to perform the new task. 

This stage is normally filled with execution errors and lacks consistency of movement because it’s a brand new motor pattern to them. 

However, over time and with good practice, the hockey player will then move into the “associative stage” where performance starts to improve. The hockey player is now associating specific cues to solving the motor problem he or she is facing. 

Smaller errors and better consistency is shown because the basic fundamentals have been established and are now being refined. Both internal and environmental cues are being learned, practiced, and executed with much greater consistency. 

This eventually leads us into the “autonomous stage,” where the skill has now become automatic. There is little to no conscious thought required now to execute the skill, and the hockey player can even perform two things at once because of the mastery they have achieved. 

For example, if performing a mohawk turn required great thought and effort previously, you wouldn’t have been able to keep your head up and be a playmaker during the skill execution. 

But once you reach the autonomous stage, mohawk turns happen so easily and automatically that you can keep your head up and read the ice perfectly even while executing high-level edgework. 

The science here gets extremely deep and multi-faceted. However, I like to simplify it and think about it like this:

Stage 1: The Cognitive Stage = “Going to the Computer Store to Buy Your New Game” 
Stage 2: The Associative Stage = “Downloading the Game and Getting Used to It”
Stage 3: The Autonomous Stage = “Playing the Game Fast Because You Know All the Rules and Buttons Automatically” 

For the Elusive Edgework Formula, I will make 3–4 protocols for a given hockey player throughout the off-season and program it in training blocks for them to perform.

Block 1 (Phases 1 + 2) protocol is performed after the warm-up, but before the workout. 
Block 2 (Phases 3 + 4) protocol is performed right in the middle of the workout. 
Block 3 (Phases 5 + 6) protocol is performed after the workout, but before the cool-down. 
Block 4 (Phase 7) protocol is performed everyday because at this point we can get away with the additional volume due to the taper and peaking strategy. 

The reason I do this is because during the Cognitive Stage (phases 1 + 2), I want players performing the movements in a perfectly fresh state of mind so they learn them more quickly.

As time moves on, I switch them to performing the protocol mid-workout, because at this point they have moved into the Associative Stage (phases 3 + 4) and will be able to perform them better even while in a state of fatigue. 

After Block 2 and moving into Blocks 3 and 4, the hockey players have reached the Autonomous Stage, and therefore I want to place their training after their workout once they are exhausted. 

Why? Because learning how to execute your edgework and skills perfectly even while exhausted is what high-level hockey is all about. You need to be great at hockey whether you’re tired or not: this is the difference-maker in the most important games of the year. 

Periodizing your Elusive Edgework Formula based on both exercise science and neurological skill acquisition research gives you the best of both worlds by allowing you to achieve elite physical capability while marrying it to a calm mind and perfect technique. 

This careful scheduling structure is simple but will give you a massive advantage over everyone else on the ice. 

Autonomous Edge Work Keeps Your Head in the Game

Example E2-Formula Protocol

  1. Slalom Hops: 2 x 20 seconds
  2. One Leg Speed Skating Lateral Hold: 2 x 20 seconds per leg
  3. Single Leg Hip Thrust: 2 x 8 per leg
  4. 10 & 2 Hip Openers: 2 x 8 per leg

*Switch protocols every training block

Transform Your Game

Depending on whether the training phase calls for three or four training sessions per week, using the above breakdown equates to an extra 24–32 sets per week and 96–128 sets per month of hockey-specific programming 100% dialed-in to take your all-around skating ability to the next level.

The fact that this extra volume will not overtrain you and is customized to the complete F.A.S.T. training principle makes the Elusive Edgework Formula one of the most powerful tools you will ever use to dominate out on the ice.

If you’re ready to start training smarter than ever before when it comes to your hockey performance, I can tell you right now that you can make your hockey dream a reality with our new 2021 Off-Season Training System that features the F.A.S.T. Training Principle as part of our all-new E2-Formula™.

The new 2021 Off-Season Training System is backed by the latest knowledge in sports performance and provides you with the necessary amount of training stimulus needed to improve your functional strength and explosiveness so that you step on the ice as a completely different player next season. 

You don’t have to be a “natural talent” to level up your game and have the best season of your life this year—because you can get instant access to the exact on-ice and off-ice training you need to be doing this year during the in-season so you can train just like your favorite NHL player. 

Sure, you could go through all the research studies I have read and slowly piece everything together and you’d probably do just fine. But if you want to take all of the guesswork out of it and get access to a completely “done for you” high-level program to get the best possible results, then head over to our 2021 Off-Season Training System page, and let’s get started today.

Lean on my experience of working with thousands of hockey players (including NHL players) and discover what you need to do in order to be your absolute best on the ice. 

Unstoppable speed, edge work, conditioning, and agility are all a reality for you this year; join the team here, and let’s go!

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