As the action heats up in rinks around the country, so does the risk of injury as players hit the ice with hopes of scoring the game-winner, capturing a championship, stopping pucks in the net, or just having some fun with friends.
Unfortunately, the rate of injury increases for those new to competitive hockey.
“The majority of beginners’ injuries stem from a lack of balance,” said Carrie Keil, skating coach for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. “Players who skate too upright with straight legs are going to fall hard.”
Having coached skaters for almost 40 years, Keil offered some tips to improve skating skills while reducing your chances of injury.
“Like all human movement, skating well is all about understanding the laws of physics as they apply to movement on a frictionless surface like ice,” Keil said. “The ‘big three,’ as I like to call them, are deep knee and hip flexion, keeping your head and chest up, and correct arm movement.”
So, when trying to increase speed and power on the ice, it all boils down to biomechanics. Here are a few drills Keil recommends to improve your game this year:
Deep knee/hip flexion
This is the most important aspect of being a good skater, Keil says. The deep knee bend seems to be the hardest thing for adults to work on, but bending the knees actually gives you a longer stride, which equals more speed.
It also means that your center of gravity is closer to the ice, which significantly increases your balance and stability. That means less falls, and it makes you harder to take off the puck.
Squat and glide
Crossover knee touch
Head and chest up
Having your upper body properly aligned over your hips and skates is crucial for speed generation and balance, says Keil. Basically we’re talking about core strength here – sure, most beginning skaters lean forward way too much because they don't bend their knees enough, but an overlooked part of the reason is that adult hockey players often lack core strength, which comes from all the muscles from the hips to the shoulders, front and back. A six-pack will only get you so far.
Correct arm movement
Most beginner skaters tend to swing their arms from side to side. Not only does this not help you generate speed, it also doesn’t allow you to keep the blade of your stick in contact with the ice when you’re skating. These drills can help you learn to move your arms forward and backward, like a sprinter.
Toy soldier shuffle
Advanced lateral push
Keil also recommends working out one or two times a week and focusing on functional strength training. This includes a combination of stretching, weight lifting and body-weight exercises, where the focus is on overall body strengthening – head-to-toe, left-to-right, upper body-to-lower body, and front-to-back.
“Workouts that leave no stone unturned are your best friend when it comes to injury prevention,” Keil said.