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"The legs feed the wolf gentlemen" - Herb Brooks

If your kid has ever trained with me here at Fox Valley Hockey Training you have probably heard me use the quote above ad nauseam. I think it's so perfect, it encapsulates the most important part of hockey and that is a player's ability to skate. Now, when these players are working with me we are typically burning every fiber in their bodies because leg strength is the base of everything in the game of hockey. You can't be a hockey player that trains like a lineman, you also can't be a hockey player and simply not train. There is a big difference between athletes that are hockey players and athletes that just play hockey.


The three most important components of being a good hockey player are:

  1. Skating

  2. Passing

  3. Shooting

If you can't skate it doesn't matter what you can do with the puck because you will never catch up to the puck.

Landen & Kohen getting work in over the summer!

If you can skate to the puck but can't give or receive a pass it doesn't matter what you can do with the puck because you will never have the puck on your stick.


If you can skate and pass but can't shoot you aren't a threat because you'll never be able to put the puck in the net.


What does this have to do with leg strength? Well, balance is a big part of these three things. Sheer speed, foot coordination, physical/cardiovascular endurance, and the development of both flexibility, and physicality of the intricate muscles in your legs, feet, and ankles make a HUGE difference in a players skating ability. I have had countless people come up to me and say they've invested THOUSANDS into their child's skating ability but haven't seen a huge improvement. The first thing I ask is how long can your kid hold a squat? Any coach worth a damn knows that a good skater position is the fundamental building block of a solid skater and if you can't stay in that seated position for hours on end how the heck are you going to be a good skater? If your legs get tired after three strides how the heck are you going to hold the pivotal skater position that basically determines your skating ability?

 

The physics and strength it takes to be an elite skater...


Now taking a more defined look at how leg strength directly correlates to skating ability... Hockey requires great leg strength to properly execute different turn variations at high speeds, the ability to start & stop instantly, as well as change direction in an instant. Foot, ankle, and leg strength directly affect all other training components such as speed and balance. I didn't come up with the concept of gravity Sir Issac Newton did hence the reason for my next comment; a lower center of gravity (aka bending your knees) is going to keep a player tighter to the earth making their turns and overall balance easier to negotiate. Think of it this way: (take a video of this and tag us on Facebook here) Stand up, put your feet together, and keep your legs stick straight, now have someone very lightly push on your right shoulder. I've been at this for a long time I guarantee you lost your balance. Now, stand up spread your legs out, bend your knees, and have that same person take a running start and jump into you. You may have still been pushed off balance but look at how much more force the person had to use to do so. Why wouldn't you skate in that second position at all times? It goes back to physical endurance, flexibility (to get to that low stance), and overall strength in your legs.

Max a peewee from De Pere working on his velocity output!

I'm continually dumbfounded when someone tells me they can't practice their skating technique because they don't have access to ice.


More often than not when watching a team like the Avalanche play at some point in the game you will hear the broadcast comment on Nathan MacKinnon's explosive speed. If you ever talk to an aging professional hockey player you might hear them say something along the lines of: "If my legs are able to let me compete."


Forward skating is the base skill of all skill development in hockey. Being able to have the flexibility in the hips to fully extend - fully recover, glide, and practice proper arm swings. Sounds easy right? Well, if you lack the strength, mobility, and flexibility to accomplish these skills you simply won't see the results that you are expecting.


When teaching skating, or basic running fundamentals you may hear me say "Get off the railroad!" The "railroad" is an athlete's inability to bring their legs back under them causing them to look like they are skating on railroad tracks. Technically speaking all strides SHOULD be basically the same. However, the biggest difference you see in athletes learning how to skate is the length of their glide... How long a player spends gliding before the next skate takes to the ice.


Having weak legs you may see athletes move their feet quickly but aren't skating particularly fast. This comes from a player's inability to generate force down into the ice because of their weak leg strength. Being an EFFICIENT skater is a massive part of being a fast skater. If you can only go fast for 15 seconds and then are gassed because of your lack of efficiency you will see a lot of poor tendencies start to rear their ugly head. Of course, a player needs rapid leg movement to gain speed, but he or she must learn to use their edges, legs, and body weight properly and forcefully. There is no point in practicing any other stride work until an athlete has the ability to stand, balance, and be flexible.


Once an athlete perfects the forward skating technique the next thing to be done is to build

Aiden (who recently made the A team for Fox Valley) working hard with the weighted vest.

speed. "Perfect the slow stride, create a fast stride." If you aren't perfect going slow you won't be perfect going fast - you cannot skip Point A. Speed is quickness, how do we develop quickness? The answer is simple - your feet are quick and your quadriceps are your power. With that being said if the skater lacks a strong push out of their inside edges it will be difficult to build power and therefore no speed.

 

Understanding what leg strength actually is...


Elite hockey players understand the keys to success and the ability to recognize the importance of leg strength in skating is a great first step (no pun intended.) The focal point of any good offseason program for hockey players should be centered around the development of ankle strength, calf strength, and quadricep strength - followed by: flexibility and muscular endurance. When you mash all of these into one off-season training plan you will see immaculate development in your hockey-playing abilities. Skating, passing, stickhandling, and shooting all require you to bend your knees and move fast while pulling these skills off. Even if you lack puck skills, strength influences explosive power for a strong push–off, quick starts, and anaerobic endurance for repetitive strides putting you "ahead of the 8 ball already" because of your simple skating ability.

Darrin sweaty and smiley after a session of Be Ready Hockey.

The lowering of a hockey player's center of gravity gives more strength and ability to bend their knees which in return makes it easier to judge different edges most notably when making a tight turn. Developing mass in the lower body will help an athlete with their knee bend which will make lowering their center of gravity become "second nature." When skating; outside of very few fundamentals with your "arm swing" you don't find yourself using your upper body very often. Of course, there are skills in the game of hockey that require upper body mass, but far too often you see athletes fall into the trap of "beach body" training. Having a large mass on your upper body without mass in your legs will more often than not cause a player to struggle in tight, high-speed turns. Your lower body needs to be strengthened for the most important skill in the game which is skating.


The largest leg muscle is your quadriceps (thighs). Yes, I'm well aware that the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body, but for the art of skating, you don't use it as much as every other muscle. Therefore, I'm not considering it a "part of the legs" in this scenario. As stated before in this article power comes from your quadriceps; however! Developing intricate muscles is what puts an athletes skating ability over the top. This supporting cast of muscles includes the calves, hamstrings, hip abductors, as well as your core. Having these intricate muscles strengthened will allow your muscles to develop quick twitch muscle movement. Quick twitch muscle movement refers to the contraction, or how quickly and often the muscle moves. Slow-twitch muscle fibers are all about endurance or long-lasting energy. In comparison, fast-twitch muscle fibers give you sudden bursts of energy but get tired quickly


I believe that understanding the different sounds of your skate and understanding your weight

balance in your skates is mightily important when skating. Having strong legs DOES NOT mean "heavy legs." Strong legs should give you the ability to have light, strong, coordinated feet. Not feet that dig deep into the ice causing you to slow down. Having stronger legs gives an athlete the ability to gauge their edges; being able to dig into the ice while doing it properly. Finally...

Shawano Youth Hockey players enjoying their on ice skills session!

With increased leg strength an athlete will exhibit their ability to properly learn skating fundamentals. They will have more speed naturally, more balance, quicker starts, and overall more explosive. Developing strength off the ice with proper technique and improved strength will take a skater from a good skater to an elite skater.


Leg strength is the base of every single skill in the game of hockey. If you have weak legs you can "skate" but are you skating fundamentally and efficiently? No. Strong legs give an athlete the ability to lower their center of gravity which will open up their skating ability, passing ability, and shooting ability. Regardless of age, an athlete must be willing to ask themselves "do I just play hockey, or am I a hockey player?" The hockey player understands everything that goes into being a hockey player and 75% of it is not done on the ice...

 

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ABOUT Fox Valley Hockey Training: Fox Valley Hockey Training is an organization that began in 2021 and operates out of the House of Hockey located at 1080 N Perkins St, Appleton, WI 54914. Fox Valley Hockey Training is owned and operated by Blake Hackbarth who has played, coached and managed hockey programs and facilities all over the USA. Blake Hackbarth's playing career stretched from high school to the junior level where he enjoyed being named captain by his teammates as well as competing in the USPHL National Championships. Blake quickly transitioned to coaching where he got his first taste of coaching varsity hockey for the Neenah/Hortonville/Menasha Varsity Co-Op. Following two seasons behind the bench, Blake took an opportunity as the Program Director for Pro Vision Hockey Academy, as well as Team Tennessee Hockey Club. Blake's last stop before returning to his native Wisconsin was with the Southern Professional Hockey League's Knoxville Ice Bears where he had a variety of tasks within the front office. In addition to Fox Valley Hockey Training Blake also owns and operates a company by the name of Recruitment Hockey dedicated to helping athletes all over the world reach opportunities to play AAA, Prep, Junior, College, and Pro Hockey you can find extra information and philanthropy on Recruitment Hockey here: https://www.recruitmenthockey.com/ For more information, visit www.foxvalleyhockeytraining.com or call (920)810-5250.

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