The leg muscles are under a heavy load as your skate blades dig into the ice. These muscles are also among the strongest in the body, and if used correctly, can greatly enhance performance. Many beginner skaters have an exaggerated forward lean that comes more from the spine than from the hips. As a result, the back is compromised and the hips are in a less than optimal position to generate a powerful skating stride. The optimal skating stride requires the low back to be in a neutral or slightly extended position. From this position, the powerful hip muscles are able to contract forcefully to deliver a long skating stride. When the low back is rounded or flexed, the hips are no longer able to deliver as much force resulting in a short, choppy stride commonly seen in the beginning skater.
The one exercise that seems to have the most impact on learning the correct hip position for the skating stride is the Romanian deadlift or RDL. The RDL is started with a hockey stick at the waist, knees slightly flexed and the arms relaxed and straight. The athlete slowly lowers the stick down the thighs to below the knees with a hip hinge movement while keeping the back flat in a neutral position. The knees remain in the slightly flexed starting position and the movement comes from the hips (see hip hinge video above). If you are doing the RDL correctly, you will feel a stretch in the back of your thighs (hamstrings). Once the technique is mastered with a hockey stick, you may use a barbell or 2 dumbells to add resistance to the movement. Some of our more powerful players are able to do 3 repetitions of over 400 pounds in this lift! Of course, seek the guidance of a professional before attempting this exercise with any type of load as the technique must be accurate to avoid potential injury.
Dr. Chad Moreau is the President of HockeyOT.com, an online training site dedicated to improving the fitness level of hockey players of all levels. He was the former Strength & Conditioning/Nutrition Consultant for the Edmonton Oilers (NHL) and the Long Beach Ice Dogs (ECHL). For more information please visit hockeyot.com