As a coach or player what do you think makes a great skater?
Is the length of the stride the most important or the quickness to return the foot under the body (heel return)?
As a coach do you cue one technique tip more over the other?
It really is a chain of events. Every part of that stride must be perfect in order to perform optimally. What are the limiting factors on-ice as well as off-ice?
What is limiting the athlete from achieving the perfect skating stride?
This is where it gets fun!
As a coach and player you must take some thought into joint mechanics.
Hip joint mechanics
What is the build of the joint itself? The joint may limit the amount of hip flexion the athlete can get making the skater look more “upright”. This upright position minimizes stress to the anterior labrum/hip capsule
Femur length relative to torso
This will put a player in a more forward torso lean to improve the center of gravity over their skate. This forward lean also means more hip flexion that the player may NOT have or will put them into a position of more spinal flexion/rounding of the low back
As a coach the dreaded “bend your knees” or “get lower in the stride” may seem like an easy fix but maybe there are underlying issues that cannot let the athlete perform these simple tasks. A professional athlete who has spent countless hours skating (repetitive motion) and hasn’t followed a properly designed off-ice program may be increasing their risk of injury to the hip structure.
How can a properly designed off-ice program transfer to on-ice?
Knee Bend Increasing strength & stability is a main factor for athletes. Strength allows for a deeper knee bend and stronger & longer push. Stability allows the hip to control the motion downward throughout the lower body.
Heel Return The ability to return the skate directly underneath the body allows the skater to transfer into the stride push quicker and gives them less friction into the ice which can slow them down on the glide leg. The skate returning directly underneath the body also allows for a greater length in the stride out.
Stride length and hip extension If the athlete lacks the strength or knee bend of the stance leg this obviously shortens the stride length giving them less power into their stride. But what if the athlete lacks hip extension within the joint itself? The extension becomes false extension through the low back. Maybe hip extensors are weak and strength is needed. Maybe the joint isn’t moving correctly to allow full hip extension.
Core strength This allows the athlete to absorb force and transfer power above and below the hips. Can the athlete dissociate the pelvis from the trunk so the legs move in stride without energy leaks through the core? Are the muscles around the spine and throughout the core trained in such a way as to create stiffness & transfer power? This is where the athlete must avoid doing 100% floor based core work. There are benefits to this depending on the level of conditioning but high level athletes should be reducing the overall time spent here.
There are many important factors in order to have a highly efficient skating stride, some not mentioned in this article, and simple off-ice ways to improve. Your first step should be a movement screen/assessment. This is where the red flags are caught and individual needs are addressed. Work with an on-ice and off-ice professional. If the stride can be analyzed through on-ice testing and screening this information can be passed along to the off-ice strength & conditioning expert. This analysis may help with any assessment and increase the benefit and results of the strength and conditioning program. Work together, not blindly!