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When it comes to teaching young, developing hockey players the proper mechanics of skating I usually always begin by asking specific questions to test the knowledge of individual players and groups (ie. How low should you be skating? What direction should your push be? Where should your skate recover to?, etc.) The one question which seems to come with the most confusion is "What direction should your arms be moving during the forwards skating stride?". I hear all kinds of different answers with the most common answer being to "pump your arms forwards and backwards" or "pull the rope". The thought process behind this type of arm swing is that if I am skating forwards my arms should move in the same direction that I am skating (ie. swing the arms forwards and backwards to keep them in the same plane of movement as you are skating). In theory, this make sense, but in reality it is far more complicated than this.

The idea behind the arm swing is to use it as a way to increase the amount of power which can be applied to the ice and therefore increase how fast we can skate. In order to grasp this concept, we must first understand the proper push off position. It is pretty standard across the power skating industry that players should be pushing off at a 45 degree angle in order to apply more force to the ice and increase the length of their stride. In order to maximize the amount of force which a player can apply to the ice they need to understand that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is the basis behind what the kinesiology world would call ground reaction forces. When our body applies a force to the ground (a push), the ground applies an equal force back onto the body. In order to increase the amount of force which we can apply to the ground I will use an off ice example from the NHL combine. When we do a vertical jump test, we inherently use our arms to help increase the amount of force which we apply to the ground and therefore, we get more force being applied back onto the body resulting in a greater vertical jump height.

In skating, a push off is no longer going directly down into the ground, but rather into the ground and outwards at a 45 degree angle. As a result, in order to increase the ground reaction force, we should try and move our arms in the opposite direction that we are pushing (not necessarily the direction we are skating). Take a look at elite level sprinters who push off directly behind their bodies when they sprint and as a result, they pump their arms forwards and backwards.

If you look at an elite level speed skater, you will notice that they move their arms in a side to side manner (most elite speed skaters push off at angles greater than 60 degrees and therefore need the sideways arm swing to increase their push off force).

In hockey, the arm swing should be a combination of both of these movements (forwards/backwards and sideways) depending on the width of the players push off leg. The wider they are pushing (or faster they are skating) the more sideways their resultant arm swing will become.

I am going to leave you with two points to ponder:

1. Imagine a player trying to do a vertical jump test and throwing their arms out to the side when they push off the ground....

2. As the hockey season gets underway I challenge you to watch the best players in the world and see what they do with their arms when they are skating....

One of the best ways to create an efficient arm swing is to not overthink the arms and just let them do what they naturally want to might be surprised with the end result!

Brian Shackel, MSc