In the sport of ice hockey, skating is the name of the game. So we're going to offer some insight on a few common technical flaws amongst skaters, and focus specifically on improving your stride.
Q: How do I improve my skating stride?
A: Long, powerful, smooth strides are the mark of a great skater. But many hockey players have a bit of a sloppy, choppy stride. The most common mistake that skaters make is buying into the idea that quicker feet equate to greater overall skating speed. Having quick feet is important for agility, but the fastest skaters on the ice are fast because they use proper technique when pushing off, extending their legs with each stride.
Some players are born with great natural skating ability, but most players must learn how to break the bad habits they’ve picked up and create good habits that will help them become the best skaters they can be. Here are a few common mistakes that can be corrected fairly easily once they’re identified:
- Wide push-off stance – many players push off from a wide stance which limits the length of their stride and in turn they are unable to generate very much power. It’s like trying to jump up in the air with straight knees rather than bending your knees, loading and thrusting upward with full force. The heels of your skates ought to be just a few inches apart as you push off with each stride – which leads us to another common mistake…
- Straight knees – players who properly bend their knees as they skate are able to generate much more power, have better balance and are able to perform high speed maneuvers with greater confidence and ease. Straight-legged skaters are simply lazy skaters, and lazy skaters aren’t going anywhere fast. Although it is far less common, there are some players who bend their knees a bit too much. This also causes a shorter stride, a decrease in power and accelerated muscle fatigue.
Watch some of the fastest skaters in the NHL, like Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers or Andrew Cogliano of the Edmonton Oilers, and take note of the amount of bend in their knees when they’re in full stride. It’s not too much, not too little; just enough to keep them a stride ahead of everyone else on the ice.
- Forward/backward lean – this issue is cause by poor posture. Proper skating technique requires a skater’s toes, knees and shoulders to create an imaginary line that runs perpendicular to the ice. This is one of the biggest keys to being a strong, balanced, powerful skater. As soon as that imaginary line disappears, so does your balance. Without balance, it's impossible to generate a powerful stride.
Like any other skill, perfecting your skating stride takes time and practice. Every hockey player has room for improvement as a skater and there’s no doubt that skating is the quintessential ingredient for success on the ice. Even professional hockey players still have power skating coaches. So if they still feel the need to improve their skating ability then everyone else could probably use a little fine-tuning as well.