Looking for an edge in your game? Get a little faster. Even a little bit of extra speed can help a hockey player reach his or her goals more quickly. We recently caught up with Mike Boyle, one of this country’s most recognizable and respected names in the field of strength and conditioning, to address that very subject. Boyle has trained thousands of athletes who have played for dozens of college programs, some of whom have gone on to win Olympic medals, and he is a prolific lecturer and writer with tens of thousands of Twitter followers (@BodybyBoyle). His take? Get fast by training to get fast. Here’s how …
1. Get stronger
Skating is a very basic physics thing in terms of this: You have a blade that’s cutting ice, and the person who can most powerfully shave ice goes the fastest forward. It’s basic action and reaction physics. For most kids, the easiest way to improve their speed is to improve their strength.
2. Improve your power
Strength and power aren’t the same. With power, there’s a time factor involved. You think about strength, and that has no time factor. No one asks you, “Hey how long did it take you to lift that weight?” Power, on the other hand, is introducing time into the equation. In power, time maters. OK, you have developed the ability to produce more force, but how can you produce that force more rapidly?
Powerful athletes, they may sometimes look like they shouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing. Maybe the easiest way to think about it is this: Strength is muscular, power is neurological.
Jumping is the easiest way to train for power. You start getting into the basic plyometrics — jumps and hops and bounds. I always think, for a kid, you start talking about it in really simple terms. If a kid wants to get fast, he or she will have to lift weights with their lower body.
To get stronger, benching probably won’t contribute to putting more force into your blades.
More important, the idea that you want them to start doing, like we tend to do, is more unilateral stuff. We do split squats because, when you’re thinking about speed, it’s a unilateral activity: one leg at a time. We don’t squat a lot, but we will split squat a lot.
3. Don’t get slower
I wrote an article once with the title of “Want to Stink This Winter?” It was about running cross-country. It’s amazing how many times you hear in the hockey world, “Yeah, I wanted to get my son ready for hockey season, so I had him run cross-country.” If you’re trying to think of the worst thing to do, that would probably be it.
I always say, “You get what you train for.” If you train to get better at running a set pace for a long period of time, you’ll get better at it. One of the things you’ll notice is that most of the best sprinters weren’t good distance runners. Most look at that as common sense, and I would agree, but I would add, “Why are so many people who run faster running too far?”
4. Run faster, skate faster
It all sounds overly simplified, but it’s amazing how many people are trying to get fast, and you ask how often they do short sprints and they say never. You can get better form, you can get quicker feet, but if you’re not practicing the act of sprinting, you won’t get better at it.
Correspondingly, if you’re doing a lot of slow types of conditioning exercises, that will probably result in decreases in speed rather than increases in speed.
There’s a principle in training called the SAID principle. It’s “specific adaptation to imposed demand.” It basically means that your body adapts to what you ask it to do. In that situation, you want to be doing short sprints twice a week, and I’ve always been a big advocate of, “If you want to get faster, get rid of the puck.” A lot of coaches will argue that you need to be fast with the puck, but, if you analyze the game, there are an awful lot of puck races and not a lot of puck possessions. So, you think, from a speed standpoint, the guy who can possess the puck is the guy who can get the puck.
It’s almost the cart without the horse. If you never get the puck, then it’s not relevant how fast you are with it.
5. Concentrate on hard pushes, not fast feet
The analogy I use, and I wrote an article about this one time, is that Michael Flatley has fast feet. But he doesn’t go anywhere. People talk about a quick first step, but, if you took a quick first step without pushing with the other leg, you wouldn’t go anywhere.
Even in running, you wouldn’t go anywhere. What you’re not thinking about is that if I step forward with my right leg, I’m pushing with my left leg. It’s the pushing with my left leg that propels me forward. It’s not a quick first step as much as it is a quick first push. And I think that’s a critical point for people to understand when you think about speed.
The second step is, again, a push. If you have a lot of tap-dance-like foot contact, you go back to action-reaction physics – you’re not putting a great deal of force into the ice, and, therefore, you’re not moving forward.
Ultimately, it’s going to come down to how hard you’re pushing down against the ground. It’s all basic Newtonian physics. Action, reaction. With the ground and a solid substrate, you push against it, you go forward. With ice, you have a slightly different situation in the sense that you have yielding substrate. But the one thing you realize is that the initial acceleration portion of skating is very much like the initial acceleration portion of sprinting.
There are a lot of similarities in the first four or five strides. So what we try to teach people is: push, push, push. It’s always about pushing. It’s rarely about speed. I want that fast foot to be a reaction to a hard first push.
I think, sometimes, when someone is trying to have fast feet, they end up in a situation where they’re not pushing into the ground – so they’re not using that action-reaction. They’re not shaving ice. They’re not finishing their extension. There’s a lot of talk about knee bend, but I think that’s a function of strength. If you have week legs, you don’t want to bend your knees.
If we talk about posture, the solution is more strength. If that person gets stronger, they can tolerate the position better.