By Jarod Palmer, Minnesota Wild Player
Note: HUGE thanks to Jarod for writing this article for How To Hockey. This article is a detailed account of how he got his speed up to NHL standards. If you want to say thanks you can tweet this article and mention him https://twitter.com/#!/palmfisher
I have always been a hockey player with average speed. As a professional athlete, I am always looking to improve my skill set, especially in finding my way “in” to the NHL. Last season, my coach sat me down and asked me what I thought was keeping me from playing in the NHL. After a few wrong guesses, he told me that my speed, or lack there of, was not at the NHL level. Despite the amount of training I had done the summer before my rookie year, I had to agree with my coach; I was not fast. There was only one answer…I must have been training wrong. I began my quest to successfully build speed in the following summer. I changed my training technique and became stronger, faster, and sturdier on my feet than ever before. Here is how I did it.
Changing Your Mind Set
In order to work your muscles “smarter” rather than “harder,” you must:
- Switch the focus from your quadriceps to the “back of the leg” muscles. These muscles include your gluteals, hamstrings and calves.
- Shift from two-leg training to single leg training. By doing this you are able to recruit more stabilizer muscles.
- Train with little or no weight and focus more on speed than strength.
I’m happy to say that my new techniques paid off. The very next season, I was noticeably faster and did get my shot in the NHL with the very same coach that gave me the great advice.
Back of the Legs
Focus your mind on working the gluteals and hamstrings during all of your hockey exercises, especially sprinting and jumping.
- One way to practice flexing the right muscles is by doing a wall set (sit in a chair-like squat with your back against the wall and hold). Most likely your quadriceps muscles will begin to burn. Without changing position, you can relieve the strain on the quads by tightening up your gluteals and hamstrings.
- Think about sitting in that squat position with someone in front of you trying to pull your feet out from underneath you. You would automatically flex your hamstring and glute muscles in order to keep your feet beneath you. This is what you want to flex during the exercise.
- Make sure your weight is not on your toes but rather on your heels. Try to lift your toes off the ground. You might feel your lower back begin to pull away from the wall. Counter this tendency by flexing your core and keep your back flat against the wall.
- Your hamstrings and glutes should be tight during the entire motion of a squat. Try tapping your fingers against your hamstrings. This will help tell your brain to work those muscles.
- When you are doing it right, your hamstrings will be hard. Believe me, this is as much of a mental work out as a physical one. It takes practice to get it right.
Wall Sit Video
Having troubles? Try standing tall. Now drop into a squat position as fast as you can and hold. Your body weight should drop faster than gravity can pull you down because your hamstrings flex to pull your body downward. Continue to flex the hamstrings and fire the glutes on your way up finishing with a slight forward hip thrust – thus forcing the glutes to flex as much as possible. Getting the right muscles to fire during the squat motion took me several workouts. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you some time. Unless you are an Olympic sprinter, you are quad dominant. You have to retrain your muscles to become “back of the leg dominant” and this takes practice.
Every time you take a stride you balance on one blade until your other foot recovers. Thus, single leg balance is key to becoming more stable on skates. Stand with one foot on the ground and do a four to five inch squat.
- Your free leg should be bent with your foot slightly behind you. Remember the “back of leg” principals learned above.
- Your body weight should be over your heel. To maintain balance, tighten up your core, keep your chest and head up with your arms loose.
- Try to breath in on your way down and out on your way up. Now try to do the same squat with no shoes on.
- Progress in difficulty by squatting deeper each time.
- Don’t worry about going fast. Focus on controlling your balance with core body strength. Use your arms as little as possible.
Want More? Try kneeling on an exercise ball. The pros can stand on the ball and do squats.
Speed and Quickness
When attempting to develop strength, movements should be slow and controlled. When trying to develop speed, all movements should be done with speed and grace. Do every exercise as fast as you can while maintaining control. When you do a squat, try to go down quickly. When you reach 90 degrees (more or less) change direction as fast as you can. Doing squats in this motion works both deceleration and acceleration strength. The muscle fibers work one way to stop your body from moving and another way to get it moving again. You need power through both movements in order to be able to change direction quickly on the ice. When doing jumps or lunges focus on landing soft, using your hamstrings to pull your body down quickly with your hamstrings and exploding upward with your glutes. Again, this is very challenging and takes time to get right.
Changing the way I worked my muscles was not easy. My body wanted to revert back to over using the quadriceps. My workouts were as challenging mentally as they were physically. What kept me going were the results. My hamstrings and glutes grew in size and strength. I began to spring off the ground rather than push. I felt lighter and more stable on the ice, which is exactly what I wanted. Without a doubt, training this way improved my speed and stability on the ice.
I hope this information helps you as much as it helped me. Good luck!