Speed has multiple factors that can be built upon to create a faster athlete. Some of these factors can be influenced and others cannot, in this article we define these factors to help you understand how to improve hockey speed.
Squatting is deemed as one of the best exercises for lower body strength and overall muscle development. Younger athletes can especially benefit from squatting, this movement will help increase range of motion (when performed properly) and build leg strength with stability for the future. When squatting there should be an effort to achieve full-depth, this will ensure for optimal growth and strength gain.
So why should hockey player squat? Let alone go to full-depth?
- Most bang for your buck: by achieving good form in a full-depth squat you're creating the most response possible in the muscles being worked. When you cut depth out you lose stimulus in muscles being targeted, for example, you'll miss out on musculature used to create increased hip drive from the bottom position. In short, the deeper the squat the higher the neuromuscular response will be; facilitating the most muscle fibers being stimulated.
- Joint stability: there's no debate that being able to maintain good posture with weight on your back will increase joint stability. The ankle, knee, hip, lower, mid, upper back, etc. will all benefit by handling weight through various ranges of motion. In hockey the back and lower body joints are in constant stress from skating and taking hits, stronger joints will help prevent injuries and instabilities. In hockey you're constantly hunched over skating, stronger (lower back/hip) joints will help improve your athletic posture and strength.
- Mobility: the best way to mobility/flexibility is to keep your mobility and flexibility. When you perform squats to full-depth you're putting yourself into positions that may not be achieved without weight. This will result in adaptation and will help increase your mobility to create the correct postures through the squat. Hockey players usually have tight hips from skating, squatting can help increase hip mobility by going to full-depth.
- Increased vertical jump/sprint speed aka explosiveness: we know vertical jumps and sprints all require aspects of power. Full-depth squats will help you do both of these better by facilitating more muscle fibers being worked, like stated above. This will have a crossover with your skating, the increased ability to produce power, the faster the ability you can skate/move.
Those 4 points are all an athlete can dream of: increased muscle/strength, reduced injury, stronger joints, more power, improved mobility. Squatting is a tool that shouldn't be overlooked, the earlier you start the better off you'll be for the future. If you're new to squatting and don't have access to proper coaching-check out the two videos below, the first is a video from Mark Rippetoe on back squatting and the second is from Charles Poliquin with tips on front squatting.
In a previous article we discussed the commonality every professional and elite-level athlete possesses. That of course was the accumulation of training years, a simple concept that states: the accumulation of time spent working and practicing a skill, the better/higher reward will be for the future.
The concept itself is simple, but what goes inside those years to create that accumulation? Is there another key that elite-level athletes possess? The answer is...yes, that is their movements patterns.
Every athlete that has ever had great success in their trade all have fundamentally developed movement patterns. These are the way one moves their body through time and space, but they don't just move, they move in a way that creates an optimal response. A huge key to success is learning this skill at a young age, the best athletes/lifters are those who understand their body. They pickup verbal cuing faster, they adapt to movements quicker, they create better ways to facilitate a response from the task at hand, and they possess body awareness.
At Institute 3e we make movement patterns a huge focus for our youth athletes; but why? Like discussed in our age-specific training article, there are points in an athlete's life when learning certain skills become almost impossible. We use animal flow with our younger athletes to improve their movements patterns and here's why...
- Locomotive skills - these are skills that can only truly be developed at young ages, this is the ability to coordinate limbs together in an optimal way (ex: crawling, running, skipping, animal flow movements, etc). An athlete who doesn't understand their body and how it specifically moves will have a harder time picking up on sport-specific movements and lifting patterns.
- Body awareness/propreoceptiveness - this is understanding where your body is at any point in time, an athlete will understand how to move to create an asked response. For example: if an athlete is back squatting they understand why and where they're moving the bar, they can quickly grasp what they should be feeling and how to move to achieve the best results.
- Improved mobility - the best way to stay mobile and flexible is to never lose mobility and flexibility. Animal flow demands the body to move in different ways to stretch and improve the body, which will carry over to other athletic aspects.
- Range of motion increase - maintaining flexibility and mobility is important, but so is improving them. Animal flow will do so by creating a specific movement demand that may not already be possessed by the athlete, aka increasing their range of motion.
- More coachable - as an athlete grows their demands become greater and more in-depth. A coach needs them to do progressively harder tasks as competition becomes greater, if you understand your body and move to your best ability-you better believe you'll be easier to work with. There will be no time wasted teaching basic movements, you already possess them.
The bigger picture - if there's one point to be taken away from this article, it's being able to see the bigger picture. Once certain ages/times of development have passed, certain skills are near impossible if not completely impossible to learn. Development needs to start at young ages, while you think its just another youth focused drill; you're wrong. Every bit of time practicing these skills at young ages act as bricks, these bricks create entire athletic foundations. Younger athletes are especially important, it's easy to learn a movement, it's hard to understand a movement.
When we work with athletes we don't use weight lifting belts, nor straps. Like everything, there's a time and place for both, although, we have reasoning for not employing these for our athletes. If you use belts and straps-hear our reasoning out and try avoiding them for a few lifts.
Belts are often used by elite olympic lifters, powerlifters and bodybuilders. There focus is to help maintain compression through the abdominal area (stomach) and to help prevent injury when working with heavy loads (usually 85+% maximal weight) by taking some of the force off of the body. We choose not to use them for our athletes and here's why...
- Foundational strength - most of our athletes are building their base of strength, using a belt could hinder their natural growth.
- True numbers - a belt might enable an athlete add more weight than their body is ready for, this will then lead to misinterpreted 1, 3, 5, + rep loads.
- Back/core growth/strength - the back/core need to have a base of strength before anyone should be worried about finding their maximal weight. By not using belts your back and core will learn to support weight on their own (and grow faster).
- Non-transferable - in most athletics it's not realistic that there will be a compressional force on the abdomen when performing, using a belt in the weight room could take away from lifting/performance carry over.
- Risk/Benefit - when pursuing true 1 rep maxes there is always a risk of injury, most athletes don't need to find TRUE 1 rep maxes. Their max without a belt should be the max used to assess other reps.
Belts have their time and place, for most athletes they're unneeded-it's a safer/better bet to build strength without them, especially in younger athletes. In regards to straps there is a littleuse for them in our gym, but we have a strong case as to why we don't employ them in 99% of cases.
- Grip strength - grip is a limiting factor, meaning you can only handle a weight your grip can handle. Always strapping up to make a lift will hinder grip strength and improvement, which a hockey player needs.
- Forearm/hand growth - constantly strapping up will take away from natural growth of the forearm/hand musculature. When you're constantly holding a stick and having others test your strength on the puck you need a strong grip.
- True numbers - not using straps will help keep you true to what needs work, this usually being grip!
When building a solid base of strength you'll benefit more by avoiding the constant use of belts and straps. The back and core need to be strong, especially in hockey-you'll have better gains by not relying on a belt. Vice versa a hockey player needs a good grip, straps can hinder the growth and strength of a grip.