The Need for Speed


By Greg Siller of Pro Learning Systems



Full-out speed can be seen during aggressive forechecking, racing an opponent for the puck, and during breakaways. Defensively, backchecking from your offensive zone to your defensive zone requires speed. While quickness can be related to a players’ first couple of strides, speed is associated with their remaining strides. After your first two or three strides, players need to continue accelerating rapidly to attain their top speed as soon as possible. Get to a top speed as soon as you can, and then maintain that top speed for as long as you can.


Most players can develop good skating technique at slow and moderate speeds. But to progress to the upper limits of speed, and to handle sharp turns at high speeds, players need to execute an efficient speed technique by first developing other physical components. To see an example of this, have players simply skate around one face-off circle. Then ask them to skate around faster. As their speed increases, the players will not be able to stay on the circle, or they will fall. This will show that they do not have enough leg strength and power around the knees and hips to stay low and handle the forces generated at the current upper limits of their speed. Improving speed means improving skating technique, body position, staying low with a deep knee-bend, and increasing stride power, stride length, and stride frequency.


Speed development is possible for all hockey players. Your players may not progress to being the fastest skater on the team, but if they become even ten percent faster, you will see a big difference in the way they perform during practices and games. The goal of speed training is to produce as much force as you can in as short a time as you can. Speed development drills are done full-out. It is high-velocity conditioning.


A powerful stride directly contributes to speed. To increase speed, players need to take long strides with a strong push-off to build and maintain speed. Stride length also increases speed. According to Peter Twist (in his book entitled Complete Conditioning for Ice Hockey), an increase in running stride the length of a penny, will reduce a 40 yard dash time by 0.2 seconds. A hundred meter dash time can be reduced by 0.5 seconds by increasing stride length. Stride frequency takes speed to another level, contributing by quickly pulling the leg back in and planting the skate as rapidly as possible so you are positioned to push off again. Stride frequency involves how fast you can pick you your trail leg, pull it back in, and put it down to ready position for the next push-off.


According to Twist, there are ten components that build a base for optimal speed performance. These include;

1.      Technique – critical to skating efficiency

2.      Strength – to fight through sticks and bodies while continuing your stride

3.      Power – To push off for each stride and power through a long, full stride

4.      Quickness – For stride frequency

5.      Agility – To suddenly change direction to evade an opponent

6.      Flexibility – For stride length and technique

7.      Anaerobic energy supply – to fuel short bursts of high-intensity muscle action

8.      Aerobic energy supply – to recover quicker between sprinting actions

9.      Body composition – Low body fat facilitates relative strength and efficient movement

10.  Neuromuscular – To increase your ability to activate muscles at a high rate


The main types of activities used to develop speed are resistive and overspeed exercises, plyometrics and explosive strength training.

·         Resistive Exercises – To develop stride power and improve stride length, apply resistance to force the athlete to work harder and overcome the resistance. Resisted speed exercises and drills use partners, tubing, straps, weighted vests, speed chutes, and running uphill and up stairs to help improve leg drive. On the rink, resisted speed drills help players maintain a positive angle from the hip to the playing surface, get the best leg drive, and use the skaters’ edges (blades or wheels) to generate maximum force.

·         Overspeed Exercises – Overspeed drills key on stride frequency. They force players to run or skate much faster than they’re accustomed to. The brain must signal the muscles to fire much quicker. In these drills, players are pulled or run downhill, forcing them to increase stride frequency to move the foot forward and plant it in time for the next stride. These exercises help show players the speed they’re capable of. When this occurs, the neuromuscular system learns to fire the muscles faster and adapts to a higher level of speed capacity.

·         Plyometrics - is designed to produce fast, powerful movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system by training nerve cells to stimulate a specific pattern of muscle contraction so the muscle generates as strong a contraction as possible in the shortest amount of time. Plyometric movements, use the strength and the elasticity of muscles and surrounding tissues to enable hockey players to skate faster. Examples of plyometrics include lateral jumping, hang time bounding, speed squats and lunge jumps.

·         Strength Training – see earlier section on strength training.


To get the most out of the time you spend on speed development, follow these guidelines;

1.      Build a strength base, increase lean muscle mass, and develop your energy systems for supply and recovery.

2.      Use a low volume of work initially, keeping intensity low.

3.      Utilize a proper skating technique.

4.      Emphasize quality over quantity. Don’t confuse the most physically exhausting workout with best workout.

5.      Once speed is improved on the rink, begin carrying a puck through each of the speed and overspeed drills; balancing speed and puck control.

6.      Keep speed development drills between 5 and 15 seconds—long enough to allow players to draw on their anaerobic energy systems for full-out efforts but not so long that fatigue affects their speed.

7.      Allow approximately one minute of rest-interval between drills. This can be shortened as you get feedback from players on how they feel.

8.      Coaches must encourage players to challenge themselves. If a player is not stumbling or falling once in a while, then the player is most likely not fully challenging his or her capabilities.

Contact Greg Siller @ Pro Learning Systems