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DEVELOPING BETTER ATHLETES ONE STRIDE AT A TIME

In the world of hockey and specifically with coaches/instructors who are focusing on "power skating", the term "explosive" gets used on a continual basis. For example, a coach might tell their athlete "you need to be more explosive on your starts" or "I want you to work on having a more explosive first step". What exactly does this mean?

When we talk about an athlete's ability to be explosive, what we are actually talking about is the ability of the athlete to generate mechanical power. Power is defined as the amount of work done divided by the time during which the work was done. In this case, the work is the force which was applied to do the work multiplied by the displacement which the object experienced. More specifically, when we measure an athlete’s power, we are looking at how fast they can move a certain weight. In hockey, we are trying to move our body weight the greatest distance over the shortest amount of time in order to generate more power. When we come back to our hockey start, what things can we emphasize or look for to ensure that we have an explosive or powerful first step....

Tip #1: In order to be able to apply force effectively in a hockey start, the athlete must flex (or bend) their knees and keep their head and chest upright. This position is important as it helps to pre-load the muscles of the lower body for the work which they are about to perform. The athlete does not need to get the skates into a "V" with the heels touching but they should be shoulder width apart and turned out slightly in order to be in a better position to push back into the ice during the first push.

Tip #2: We need to encourage our athletes to generate power by emphasizing a long first step. The idea behind the first step is that it should get us closer to the puck and put us in the best position to take the next step. What that means is that the first step should be as long as the player can take without allowing for their foot to get out in front of their body.

Tip #3: Do NOT overstride. As much as we want to encourage a long first step, the athlete must keep this in reason and not allow themselves to plant their foot too far out in front of their body. By doing this, the athlete creates a braking force and actually slows themselves down during the subsequent push off.

Tip #4: At skate touchdown, the first 2-3 steps should be up on the balls of the feet with the heel off the ice. This is important as it creates additional power by activating the stretch reflex and also encourages the athlete to not allow a glide to occur during the initial 2-3 steps.

Tip #5: The athlete should strive to keep their knee out in front of their toe at all times as this encourages a high degree of knee flexion from the athlete but also moves the athletes center of gravity more over top of the balls of the feet.

Tip #6: With each successive step, the athlete should take longer steps and also generate more of a lateral push off. For example, the first push off should occur directly backwards and then the subsequent push offs should occur more out to the side as the glide begins to occur.

There are many more tips which we have not covered here, but focusing on these 6 key points should help get you in a more explosive position and therefore help you create a more explosive first step.

Thanks,
Brian Shackel, MSc