How Hockey Players Can Train to Get Explosive First Steps
Updated: Oct 30
Speed is essential for hockey players in today’s game.
With Hockey Players, there’s a lot of talk about speed and getting faster – but it’s important to first define the different types of speed that players should focus on. If we breakdown the game, we can see that players only have limited opportunities to reach peak velocity or “top-end speed” a handful of times during a game. It rare that a player has more than 10 meters of interrupted ice to skate in an all-out sprint – instead, most plays are defined players' speed in the first 5 meters.
Acceleration for Hockey Players:
Because creating separation is defined by such short bursts of explosive speed, acceleration should be a foundational focus for players looking to take their game to the next level.
Often parents/coaches talk about getting these kinds of explosive first steps as working on “quick feet” – but becoming explosive on ice is more often defined by strength & power.
Speed is defined by two elements:
Stride Frequency – the amount of strides a player can take in an allotted time;
Force – the amount of force a player can generate into the ice to propel them forward with each stride.
Together, these two elements define a player’s speed. This is why developing “quick feet” is truly just one half of the equation. Explosive players also have the strength and power to express more force into the ice than slower players.
Why Off-Ice Training is the Key for Developing Explosive Power:
Understanding that acceleration isn’t just merely moving our feet quicker – the next question becomes: how can hockey players train to become more explosive?
While power skating can have a significant role in refining on-ice technique, Strength & Conditioning or off-ice training, should be considered essential for developing explosive first steps.
Becoming explosive starts with developing strength.
While power should be the primary training goal for hockey players – “Power” is defined the strength x speed, or the ability to express strength quickly. This means that players who want to move powerfully must first develop the requisite strength to do so.
While players can always be focusing on getting stronger, we’ll assume that players have a base level of strength – and instead focus on developing power on-top of this strength.
How Hockey Players Can Develop Power:
Developing power requires exercises and drills that involve maximal fast-twitch contractions.
This means that while heavy deadlift may be great for developing the underlying strength – unless you’re performing it as fast as possible, you’re not developing power.
While power can be developed in a variety of ways, they can really be boiled down to two different ways:
1) Moving your body as fast as possible – such as a 5-yard sprint or a jump;
2) Moving a load as fast as possible – just a hang clean, ball throw, or loaded jump.
Ultimately these require a max effort muscle contraction as fast as possible.
Hockey players often get misguided with repeated box jumps or “plyometric exercises” that act more as conditioning exercises. Training for power development requires low reps (3-5) and appropriate rest to ensure players are maintaining that peak contraction.
While there’s value in creating a power demand under some sort of conditioning load, this isn’t training the power required to develop explosive first steps on the ice.
Exercises for Hockey Players to Develop Explosive First Steps:
1) Box Step Off to Squat Jumps
This would be a progression after the class “squat jump”. The landing of element of this exercise creates a far greater load on the body and ultimately requires athletes express more force to stop their movement and then express power at the bottom of the movement.
2) HK Lateral Jumps
This exercise is super valuable for hockey players because the half-kneeling position forces players to drive from their hip, placing emphasis on firing their glutes as rapidly as possible. The reset into the half kneel also allows for a micro-break in between reps. Aim for 5 reps per side.
3) Box Push Throughs
This exercise is similar to the half-kneel jump in that it puts players in a position that they can drive through their hip and recruit more glutes than the quad. This exercise is also valuable in finishing the movement with extension through the ankles similar to the “toe flick” at the end of the stride. Aim for 5-6 per side.
4) Hang Cleans
This is a high level and complex exercise that we’ll usually only use with players who have extensive training experience. It’s still worth mentioning here because it’s a staple in most elite/pro programs. This exercise is so popular with Strength Coaches because it an exercise that forces athletes to be explosive through triple extension (at hips, knees, ankles). Unlike the other exercises, this is also an exercise that can be progressed with more load – ultimately creating a more intense training stimulus.
These exercises are awesome for developing the foundational power that can be translated to an explosive on-ice stride. Hockey Players should also focus on training acceleration with field work with short burst sprints and focusing on explosive starts. This type of work will allow players to take foundational power and begin to learn to apply it in the most efficient way to improving acceleration.
Acceleration is one of the most physical attributes for Hockey Players. This is a trait that can be directly enhanced off-ice.
Acceleration isn’t just “quick feet”. Hockey Players need to be strong and powerful to express more force into the ice.
Strength is the foundation for power. Every hockey players should be working to get stronger.
Power is your ability to express force with speed. Training power is fundamental for hockey players.
Structured off-ice training and exercises strategically designed to challenge how you express force will enhance your ability to express power. This isn’t high rep or medium intensity work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kyle Kokotailo, B.Kin - Performance Coach & Founder of Relentless Hockey
Kyle is a Hockey Performance Specialist who’s worked with hundreds of hockey players from Peewee to Pro. A former elite hockey player, Kyle earned his degree in Kinesiology before becoming a Strength Coach that specializes in hockey performance. Today, he runs Relentless Hockey where he works with players across the world, including pros in over 20+ leagues including the NHL, KHL, and OHL.