Find out why the term “Fast Feet” sucks.
Let’s begin by taking a look at a runner you may know: Usain Bolt…and his Jamaican running buddies
Looking at Usain in this clip, we see that he is not trying to get in as many steps as possible on his start. Rather, he is concerned about getting “full extension” and power with each stride. This is the reason that Usain is the fastest man in the 100 and 200m events: he has been gifted with a longer stride than all other sprinters on the earth. He runs the 100m with 41 strides, while most other sprinters run with 44 or so. This means that with each stride, he covers more ground than the other sprinters.
You may call me out here and say, “well Usain may be the fastest man at 100m, but he isn’t the best accelerator. Instead, shorter athletes who stride more are better accelerators at short distances, and hockey is a game of short distance acceleration.” You would also be 100% correct. However, those shorter sprinters still maximize THEIR stride length on the start. You will never see a world class sprinter taking more steps than they have to.
Here is the reason: The longer the stride, the more TIME the athlete has to put FORCE into the ground to drive him or herself forward.
I’m going to use a rough example to illustrate this. Let’s assume we have two athletes with two different running styles. They are both running as fast as they can. One athlete has a shorter stride, with shorter ground contact time. The other has longer strides, and has a longer ground contact time.
So let’s say Athlete A:
- Takes 10 steps to complete 10m
- On each stride, Athlete A’s foot is on the ground for 0.2 seconds
and Athlete B:
- Takes 5 steps to complete 5m
- On each stride, Athlete B’s foot is on the ground for 0.5 seconds
(I have no idea if these numbers are realistic, but they will be used to illustrate my point. Also, I’m having to dig up my Biomechanics textbook for this calculation, so bear with me and please correct me if I’m wrong)
Athlete A will then have 2 seconds total of ground contact time.
Athlete B will have 2.5 seconds of ground contact time.
If they can both generate 1000W (irrespective of joint angles and other factors) of power then:
Athlete A will put 2000 Newton-Metres (joules) into the ground.
Athlete B will put 2500 Newton-Metres (joules) into the ground.
A newton-metre or joule indicates the displacement in the direction of force. As such, more newton metres or joules put into the ground (all things being equal) means that an athlete will be able to travel more ground in the same amount of time.
Now that we know that longer strides means giving the athlete more opportunity to put force into the ground, the next question is: How do we then train hockey players to get longer strides?
- Train the skating skill (technique)
- Train strength/mobility so that the skater can maintain a lower position with control
- Train power and body angles/lean
Train the Skating Skill
This one is pretty simple, but is limited to the athlete’s strength, coordination, and comfort on their skates.
A few things can be done to improve the skating skill:
- Ensure that the skater gets full extension and toe point on every stride. This means that the leg is straight and the toe is pointed at the very end of the stride. This maximizes the amount of time that the blade is on the ice given the skaters size.
- Ensure that force production occurs from right below the hip. This means that the foot plants and begins to produce force directly under the hip that it’s supporting. This is the optimum position for your body to produce force because it places the gluteus maximus (which is the largest muscle in your body) in the best force producing angle. (Yes – Sidney Crosby wide tracks and does not plant his foot under his hip when he skates. However, I wouldn’t say that Sidney Crosby is the fastest skater in the NHL. If you look at skaters who are faster than Sidney, like Andrew Cogliano, or Jannik Hansen, they are not wide trackers. Obviously Sidney is a better player, so I’m not saying that you have to be the best skater to be the best player in the world. I’m also not saying that Sidney is a bad skater, he’s just not THE best skater. I’d rather be the better player than the better skater, but I happen to be a better skater than player…thems the breaks)
Training Strength and Mobility
This one is less simple. For a hockey player to get into a deep enough knee bend to maximize their stride length, they need to be very strong. They also need to have excellent pelvic control, and core stability.
One could (and many trainers do) say: “Just squat lower and heavier, you’ll get stronger.”
But to squat properly, and in a way that will actually improve your on-ice performance, you need to ensure that you have pelvic control. Pelvic control requires strength, awareness of pelvic position, and mobility. Pelvic control is a whole new article in itself, so I won’t go much further into it.
Squatting is a bi lateral movement, meaning that it occurs on two legs. But during a hockey stride, players need to have stability on one leg, so that they can generate force with the other. As such, hockey players need to be able to get into a deep one-legged squat with pelvic control.
If players cannot squat on one or two legs with pelvic control, a few things can happen while training and while skating:
- compromised core stability
- compromised spine health and safety
- decreased power production
- decreased strength in a low squat position
As I said, I won’t get into what pelvic control IS in this article, but just know that if you’re not paying attention to it and ensuring that you are squatting and training with pelvic control, you could be leaving a lot of your potential on the table.
Training Power and Body Angles/Lean
Just like training strength, properly training power is something that not many trainers get. They throw “power” exercises at their athletes without understanding how or why that exercise is supposed to generate power. (What I tend to see and hear is, “I heard jumping is powerful, let’s add jumping…that will make that exercise powerful!”)
Power is extremely important to train into athletes. However, the exercises need to be carefully selected and taught properly. (Again, training power is beyond the scope of this article, but I thought I’d rant a bit while I have the chance.)
A powerful athlete has a big advantage over a less powerful athlete:
- Powerful athletes can use advantageous force production angles
Skating is a weird skill. The weirdest part is that hockey players need to get traction on a surface that offers no traction. To do so, they need to either: externally rotate their leg and push directly back, or push to the side.
Obviously, pushing directly back seems to be the most efficient method at propelling the skater forward, and it is. (The physics are simple: if I want to go forward, I should push behind me.)But as the skater starts skating faster and faster, the skater’s ability to produce force quickly (power) limits his or her ability to push directly behind their body. The ice begins moving too fast for the skater to be able to apply useful force to the ice directly behind them. As such, they start applying their force laterally. Since power is the ability to apply force quickly, the more power that an athlete has, the more able they are to push directly behind themselves. A skater who can push directly behind themselves is going to be faster in a straight line.
My last section covered linear skating. But does this “less is more” approach apply to other areas of hockey? YES!
When skating with the Canucks during the lockout, it was simply amazing (to me) to watch Alex Edler do blueline shooting drills with us. He could pick up a pass along the boards, and in one-and-a-half cross-over strides (and in the blink of an eye) be in the middle of the ice releasing a laser like wrist shot on net. This showed me that he was an expert at using his angles of force production to use the least amount of force possible to get himself in the middle of the ice for a shot. He got the most results possible with the least effort possible.
Sometimes I talk to people who say that Junior hockey is more exciting than NHL or Pro hockey. They say that the players are working harder because they haven’t made it yet. This is just not true. I can guarantee you that 99% of NHLers are the hardest workers you’ve ever met. They just don’t SEEM to be working that hard, because they have become experts at doing more with less effort.
One of the biggest differences I see as I coach different levels of hockey is the amount of steps that players take to execute a skill. I watch an NHLer take 1.5 steps to pick a puck off the boards on the blueline, walk to the middle and shoot. I then coach a Bantam player who is taking 5 steps to walk 3 feet to the middle and get a shot off. But guess whose feet were moving faster!!!
The NHLer doesn’t do less. He gets more done with less. (Although technically he gets to apply more force to the ice with better knowledge of angles, and as such accomplishes more with more…#moreismore – if this parentheses makes no sense to you, just disregard them)
Take Home Message: Learn how to do more with less steps.
So this is why the term “Fast Feet” sucks. I’m not against moving fast, or changing direction quickly, or making fast decisions. But I am against the term fast feet for evaluating effectiveness in the game of hockey.