Dr. Mike Bracko

Sports Physiologist • Skating Coach

Dr. Mike Bracko

Sports Physiologist • Skating Coach

How the Pros Skate


Characteristics of High-Performance Skating


Starting / Acceleration

  • High stride rate . . . powerful - medium length strides.

  • Significant forward lean of the trunk.

  • Hopping or running during acceleration is slower than a using horizontal movements with the skates.

  1. High stride rate. Rapid, medium length, strides rather than extremely long strides. Ability to get the force on the ice as often as possible while producing an efficient stride (Marino, 1977).

  2. Significant forward lean of the torso (Page, 1975 and Marino, 1977).

  3. Place recovery foot below hip, not in front (Marino, 1977).

  4. Ninety degree external rotation of push off skate during initial thrust (Marino & Weese, 1979).

  5. Full speed in 2-3 strides.

  6. Horizontal movements (T-start or thrust start) instead of vertical movements (x-over or hopping start) are better for fast acceleration (Naud & Holt, 1979 & 1980).

  7. When a hopping or x-over start is executed, energy for power generation is being used to propel the player vertically instead of horizontally.

  8. Using the T-start or thrust start enables the player to use all his/her energy for forward (horizontal) propulsion.

  9. Arm movement appears not to be an important performance factor in acceleration. Attention should be focussed on the above mentioned factors (Bracko, 1996).

  10. Practice accelerating with 1) two hands on stick - blade off ice, 2) two hands on stick - blade on ice and 3) one hand on stick - blade on ice.


Striding

  • Wide strides are characteristic of fast skaters.

  • A narrow stride, pushing straight back, is a characteristic of a slow or inexperienced skater.

  • Quick recovery of propulsion skate after pushing off is a characteristic of a fast skater. Getting skate back on the ice after push-off can increase speed.

  • Deep knee bend is important for power and wide strides.


  1. Stride width is a key factor in performance skating. A wide stride is a characteristic of fast skaters (Page, 1975). The proper execution of the stride of a hockey player is to the side rather than backward.

    Observation of high performance hockey skaters clearly shows they are pushing to the side. Observe players like Paul Kariya, Sergie Federov, Petr Bondra, Mark Messier, and Mark Recchi.

    A narrow stride is characteristic of inexperienced skaters. A narrow stride decreases speed.

    Page (1975) studied bantam, university, recreational and professional hockey players and found that width of stride and recovery time after push-off were the most important discriminating factors between fast and slow skaters.

    Page (1975) found the faster skaters to have the following performance characteristics:

    • Wider Strides

    • Greater Width Between Strides

    • Greater flexion of the Knee

    • Quicker Knee Extension

    • Return Skate Blade to Ice Quicker

    • Greater Eversion of the Ankles (Ankles turned in more)



  2. Recovery foot should be brought forward close to the ice quickly (Marino & Weese, 1979).

  3. Faster skaters return the recovery skate to the ice after push-off quicker than slow skaters (Page, 1975).

    Fast skaters do not bring their recovery skate back to touch the glide skate. This a characteristic of slow skating.

  4. Full extension of knee during propulsion is not as important as a powerful stride. Power range of the knee is between 130 - 170 degrees.

  5. A "full" stride is actually impossible at high speeds where the length of the stride is determined by the quickness of returning the "recovery" skate to the ice. Full extension of the knee is only possible in speed skating when using the "clap skate."

    The quadriceps develop the largest contractile forces when extending the knee during the propulsion phase of hockey skating (Halliwell, 1978).

    Electromyographic studies of speed skaters show that the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis have the most "activity" during the propulsion phase of skating (Kumamoto, et al. and Mashima, et al.).

  6. Flexibility of hip external and internal rotators is important for forward and backward starting, respectively.

  7. Leg abducted and extended from hip at approximately 45 during propulsion.

  8. Low center of gravity by maintaining flexed position in knees and hips to enhance balance and propulsion.

  9. Faster skaters have more forward lean of the trunk (Page, 1975).

  10. Young players characteristically have vertical movements with their skates (Marino, 1984). High performance skaters have horizontal movements with their skates.

  11. Minimize vertical movements with skates and practice fluid horizontal movements. Vertical movements are characteristic of novice skaters, and can be considered a performance decrement (Marino, 1984).


Upper Body Movement

  • The correct movement of the arms/shoulders is side-to-side, to accomplish the action-reaction of the legs pushing to the side.

  • Observation of high-performance hockey players clearly shows side-to-side arm movement.

  • Forward lean of the trunk while gliding and striding.

  • A major contributing factor to poor skating performance is an inability to produce smooth coordinated movement of the arms and legs.

  1. Upper body activity is superimposed on intense lower body activity. The upper body activity can be fast, high torque, movements such as shooting, sustained static contractions such as gliding in a "ready position" and/or high intensity activity such as struggling for puck of position (Green, 1979).

  2. The correct shoulder (arm) movement for high performance skating is "side to side."

    The sinusoidal (wave-like) pattern of skating causes the propulsion skate to push to the side. When the leg pushes to the side the equal and opposite reaction is the shoulder (arm) moving to the side.

    Observation of high performance hockey players clearly reveals a side to side shoulder (arm) movement is used during straight skating/striding.

  3. Shoulder (arm) movement appears to be an important characteristic of high performance skating. A lack of coordination between the movement of the shoulders (arms) and the legs causes a performance decrement in young hockey players.

    Skating performance may be enhanced when players practice skating with specific teaching cues to "move the arms with the legs."

    Observation of forward and back (shoulder flexion/extension) shoulder movement shows that it causes a narrow stride. A narrow stride is characteristic of low performance skating.

    Hockey players can only maintain shoulder flexion-extension during "power skating" instructional activities for one - three strides, after which they assume a natural skating pattern of shoulder abduction/adduction (side to side).

  4. Practice striding with 1) two hands on stick - blade off ice, 2) two hands on stick - blade on ice and 3) one hand on stick - blade on ice.


Gliding

  • A two-foot glide is the foundation of all skating characteristics.

  • All skating characteristics originate from a two-foot glide.

  • All skating characteristics go back into a two-foot glide.

  • A good two-foot balance position is important for other skating characteristics, body contact, acceleration, and puckhandling.

  1. Bracko (1998) found that NHL forwards spend 40% of the time on the ice gliding in a two foot balance position, interspersed with left and right turns.

    The gliding is not sustained rather, the average length of time spent in a skating characteristic is 1.5 seconds (Bracko, 1998).

  2. Skates should be approximately shoulder width apart.

  3. Slight forward lean of the trunk.

  4. Slight flexion in knees and ankles.

  5. Balance on middle of blades.

  6. Good balance position to be ready for acceleration, body contact and/or puck contact (stick close to , but not necessarily on, the ice).

    Observation of elite players shows they rarely have the blade of the stick on the ice when skating without the puck.

    Insistence by coaches and instructors for their players to maintain the blade of the stick on the ice can cause extreme fatigue in the back extensor, gluteus maximus (butt muscle) and the quadriceps. This fatigue can retard learning and performance.

  7. Isometric contractions of the quadriceps may cause fatigue. This means that hockey players (especially young hockey players) cannot maintain the "ready" position for an extended period of time during practice.


Maturity

  • Young, inexperienced, hockey players skate more upright using horizontal movements with their skates.

  • Performance-skating should focus on developing a fluid action-reaction movement with the arms and legs.

  • Young, inexperience, hockey players can only concentrate on one hockey skill at a time.


  1. Below ages eight or nine, hockey players generally skate more upright without fluid hip and trunk rotation and have vertical, rather than horizontal, movements of the skates (Marino 1984).

  2. The basic ice skating pattern/technique has been developed by age ten (Marino 1984).

  3. Young hockey players have difficultly coordinating the movement of their arms with their legs. Performance enhancing skills should concentrate on the coordination of arm and leg movement which will enhance performance.

  4. Secondary tasks interfere with ice skating proficiency until players have had nearly eight years of previous hockey experience. Young players should concentrate on one skill at a time (Leavitt, 1979).

  5. To assist unskilled players in performing two tasks simultaneously, the attention demands of one task must be reduced, ie: puckhandling while concentrating on skating (Leavitt, 1979).


Turning

  1. Gliding Turns

    Summary:

    • Weight has to be on the outside skate to resist the centrifugal force taking the player out of the turn.

    • Inside knee is bent, outside knee is slightly bent.

    • High performance players can execute a "slowing turn" by placing pressure on inside skate (slowing or turning by using the outside edge of the inside skate).

    Observation of High Performance Skaters shows:

    • The weight must be on the outside skate to maintain balance. Centrifugal force will "pull" the body away from the turn, therefore the outside skate maintains the centripetal force pulling the player into the turn.

      If weight is placed on inside skate, it will cause the player to slow or stop, which can be used only as a high performance maneuver when slowing or stopping.

      Young hockey players must be taught to maintain most of weight of the body on the outside leg, otherwise poor balance will cause the player to fall.

      High performance players can execute a "slowing turn" by placing pressure on inside skate (slowing or turning by using the outside edge of the inside skate). This execution is only performed when the player wants to slow down or slow and turn at the same time.

    • Inside knee stays bent and outside knee is almost straight. During a high speed turn centrifugal force will pull the player away from the turn. To counter this force, the player must "lean into the turn" as well as keep the outside knee relatively straight. If the outside knee is bent, centrifugal force will pull the player out of the turn and off balance.

    • Maintain "Ready Position" going into and coming out of turn.


  2. X-Over Turns


    • Horizontal movements should be emphasized. Vertical movements (hopping around a corner) increase recovery time therefore slowing the player.

    • Outside leg moves in front, inside leg moves behind.

    • High speed x-over turns: legs must move in quick x-overs.

    • A study of NHL forwards showed that they executed more left turns than right turns (Bracko, 1995) (Table 2).

    • X-over turning is not sustained rather, it is interspersed with gliding (Bracko, 1995). Game performance skating may be enhanced with the use of drills that emulate the activities of a game, rather than continuous x-over turns.


Stopping

  1. The breakdown of stopping techniques prior to executing a "hockey stop" can be as follows:

    • Drag back foot (stopping with inside edge of back foot).

    • ½ Snow Plow (stopping with inside edge of "snowplow" foot).

    • Snow Plow (stopping with inside edges of both skates).

    • Hockey Stop

    • High Speed Inside Foot Slowing Technique


  2. Hockey Stop

  3. One of the hardest skills to teach to young hockey players.

  4. Knees bent.

  5. Keep head up (do not look at feet).

  6. Stopping with inside edge of front foot and outside edge of back foot.

  7. Lean into stop.


Backward Stopping

  1. One foot stop. High performance stop used by elite players. Enhances ability to accelerate out of stop.

    Back knee straight, front knee bent.

  2. Snow plow stop. Both knees bent. Stopping with inside edges of both skates. Also used by high performance players.

  3. High Speed Inside Foot Slowing Technique

    Used as a high performance technique to slow down or change directions, but not necessarily to stop. Forward skate is externally rotated (turned to the outside). Most of weight is on back knee which is bent. Pressure is put on outside edge of front skate to slow.

  4. Used as a high performance technique to slow down or change directions, but not necessarily to stop.

  5. Forward skate is externally rotated (turned to the outside). Most of weight is on back knee which is bent. Pressure is put on outside edge of front skate to slow.


Backward Skating

  1. Acceleration

    • X-over starting technique may be faster than C-cut starting.

    • 2 - 3 x-overs, then use C-cuts.

    • Sideways arm movement appears to enhance performance.

    • Forward lean similar to forward skating.

    • Similar "ready position" as forward skating.

  2. Backward Striding

    • C-cuts

    • Maintaining bent knees will enhance performance.

    • Slight forward lean.


  3. Backward Turning

    • Game performance backward turning involves small changes in direction.

    • Game performance backward turning uses both gliding and cross-over turns.


  4. Backward Pivoting (Backward --> Forward Skating)

    • Knees bent.

    • Externally rotate outside foot.

    • Push with gliding foot and stride.


  5. Forward Pivoting (Forward --> Backward Skating)

    Stride, turn body, and plant both feet flat on ice. Followed by c-cuts (or x-overs) to maintain speed and position.

  6. Stride, turn body, and plant both feet flat on ice.

  7. vii. Followed by c-cuts (or x-overs) to maintain speed and position.

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Bracko's Top Shelf
A monthly newsletter with practical information about skating instruction and improving skating performance for all ages. It also has information about dry-land training, nutrition, and specialized training for high performance skating. The newsletter gives useful information to parents, coaches, and players.

Register

Dr. Bracko's Top Shelf
A monthly newsletter with practical information about skating instruction and improving skating performance for all ages. It also has information about dry-land training, nutrition, and specialized training for high performance skating. The newsletter gives useful information to parents, coaches, and players.

Register

Hockey Institute
403.246.3880
bracko@hockeyinstitute.org