Few are blessed with the skating speed of Sergei Fedorov. Few have the quick hands and shot release of Paul Kariya or Pavel Bure. The same goes for Patrick Royís quick legs.
Chances are, if youíre reading this, you lack one or all of the above natural abilities. Undeterred, you continue to log hours during public sessions at the local ice rink, dodging pirouetting figure skaters, stumbling children and skating-deficient citizens hanging on to the boards.
Despite those hours, you continue to be a step slower than you would like. You struggle to get good acceleration off a face-off. In extreme cases, your teammates make jokes that the Zamboni could complete a lap around the rink faster than you. Maybe you have speed, and a hard, accurate shot. But somehow, the opposing goalie always stones you. It doesnít matter if itís a breakaway or through a teammateís screen. You struggle to dent the twine, even though your teammates say you arenít telegraphing your shot.
If you fit any of the previous descriptions, relax. There are ways you can increase quickness in your hands and legs. You can also improve your speed. You may not come close to Gartner or Fedorov, but you can gain the advantage that speed brings.
No Need For Ice
You also donít need ice to improve speed or quickness. The following are methods I used playing recreational hockey in a menís non-check league. I also learned more about these methods by talking to coaches and trainers in various sports working full-time as a sportswriter.
The trick to improving speed is to do the exercises as hard as you can for short periods of time. That way, the nerves used in speed can be adequately developed. Rest should be at least equal to the length you did the exercise. To improve quickness, you should also go hard, but for shorter periods and allow rest periods of up to a minute. In order to ensure you are doing the exercises long enough, and get adequate rest, a stopwatch is a valuable tool.
These methods can be easily incorporated into an off-ice training program. Exercises which are safe to use for younger players whose bones are still developing are specified.
The benefits of being a fast skater are obvious. Not only does it make a player tougher to defend in open-ice situations, but it also allows a forward to quickly get to the net to either set up a screen or take advantage of rebounds. Speed also allows forwards to backcheck faster, thus helping the defenseman. Defensemen can benefit by being able to stay with an oncoming attacker and get to loose pucks faster. Look at the top offensive defensemen in the NHL and the common denominator they have is skating speed.
The way I improved my slug-like skating speed away from the ice was through sprints. In the backyard of my house, I set up two markers indicating where I should turn around and head back to where I started. The drill went like this: I would start at one end of the yard, sprint to the first marker, turn around and head back, then sprint toward the second marker, which was further across the yard. Again I turned around and sprinted back to my starting point. I completed the drill by sprinting across the yard to the other fence.
Basically, I took a drill my rec team did frequently during practice and adapted it to use off-ice. Itís also used by teams in other sports. Once I started doing this drill off-ice my skating speed improved, although some teammates joked I was still as slow as a slug.
The trick to doing this exercise is making sure your lines are close enough to allow it to last between 30 seconds and a minute. Repeat the drill between four to 10 times and make sure you allow for adequate rest before starting again. Usually, resting for the same length of time as the exercise took to complete is adequate.
To get the most out of speed training, it helps to have a good aerobic base. I did this drill after spending a half-hour on my stair stepper. I usually worked on the stepper two to three times a week, and never on consecutive days. I did this to allow my body to adequately recover.
Improving leg quickness can benefit every player by making them more agile, but it is especially important for goaltenders, who often need to move laterally through the goal crease in order to stop a one-timer or rebound. You can improve quickness if you have access to stairs or a hill. Drive as hard and quickly as you can up either the hill or stairs for 10 to 15 long strides. When done, return slowly to where you started to allow your body to gain adequate rest before doing the exercise again. Depending on your skill and conditioning level, repeat the drill anywhere from four to 12 times.
Depending on how slow your legs are, you can do this exercise almost daily. Once you reach a level of leg quickness you like, doing the exercise twice a week for maintenance is adequate. This drill can be used with younger players, since they probably already run up the stairs at home, if your house has stairs. This drill is used by teams in many different sports to improve player leg quickness. Most of the time those players ran steps at their stadium, gym or arena.
Hand and Arm Quickness
Have a good shot but canít score? Hand quickness might be something youíre lacking. Improving quickness can help all skaters in nearly every facet of the game. Improving hand quickness can also help goaltenders stop high shots.
A simple way for all skaters to improve hand/arm quickness is to use a street hockey puck and shoot it at a nearby target on a wall. Shoot the puck from wherever it rebounds, and try to get off as many shots as you can in a 10-second period. Try to stand in one place the entire time so you can work on both your forehand and backhand shots. This was a popular game whenever I would get together with a teammate at a school to play roller hockey.
An exercise I regularly used was one used by boxers, and can help any player, skater or goaltender. Start in the push-up position, then push away from the floor as hard as you can. Your hands should leave the floor. The trick is to repeat this as many times as you can in five to 10 seconds. In the beginning, you should do the drill four to six times. If that becomes easy, you can try to clap your hands on your chest while in the air. If that doesnít challenge you (and Iím sure it will), try increasing resistance by elevating your feet off the floor.
This is a tough, but effective drill. Because I was a stay-at-home defenseman who passed instead of shot, it was hard to gauge what the drill did for my wrist shot. But I noticed improvement in my ability to get breakout and setup passes away faster. It also improved my stick handling by allowing me to dribble the puck faster.
I discovered this drill while working on a story about a boxer for a daily newspaper. I noticed the boxer doing the drill, and asked his trainer what he was doing. His trainer then proceeded to explain the exercise to me and how they use it properly. This particular boxer did the exercise every other day. After seeing the boxer score a second round knockout two nights later thanks to a quick flurry of jabs, I decided to give the drill a try.
This drill can be tough on the wrists, and should only be done by players with strong wrists and forearms. Because of the strain it can put on the bones in the wrist and forearms, I wouldnít recommend the drill for younger players. If you think a youngster can benefit from the drill, consult a doctor first.
John Santana is a freelance writer and a former recreational hockey player living in Silverdale, Washington.
This first appeared in the 11/1997 issue of Hockey
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey
Posted: Nov 12, 2001, 07:46
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