How Hockey Players Can Improve Foot Speed
So you want to get quicker, faster, and more agile?
All hockey players do – and the modern game demands it.
Not only does each season get faster and faster, but the game also gets faster at each level you go up. A “fast” player in AA is going to be average or below in AAA. The same with going from Midget to Junior, Junior to College, and College to Pro.
You can’t expect your current level of speed to allow you to play the same game at the next level.
If you’ve got the ambition to play at a higher level, you need to get faster. Speed training needs to be the priority of all players both on and off the ice.
This is why players are always asking us “how can I get quicker feet?”
In this article, we’re going to break down why the pursuit of “quicker feet” is only one piece of the speed training for hockey players we use, what else you should be focused on for developing elite speed on the ice, and of course - how you can improve your foot speed.
Quick Feet vs Agility vs Speed
Speed is the variable of success for hockey players.
This has become the motto for us at Relentless Hockey and a reason why all of our programs place such an emphasis on athleticism and speed training for hockey player.
But it’s important to recognize that Hockey Players, unlike other athletes, have intensely unique demands to developing elite speed because of the following:
- Playing on a frictionless surface, players need the physical strength & power to generate intense levels of force into the ice to create propulsion;
- Changes of direction require more force than any other sport;
- Complex movement patterns & strides. Unlike just running, there's a high degree of technical ability/motor skills needed to become an elite skater. Including the ability to utilize and combine multiple movement patterns (edge work, crossovers, pivots).
- Despite the need to generate a lot of force into the ice, players must alright remain "light" and quick on their feet - creating a unique challenge of being strong on your skates, while light and mobile.
Despite this, the majority of players and coaches still consider quick feet, agility, and speed training all the same thing. Usually reverting to a couple ladder drills and calling it a day.
Let’s break down the differences here quickly.
Quick Feet Training - We often call these “athleticism” drills because they’re challenging your base level of athleticism. We want you to move more efficiently, effectively, and athletically. Our goal here is to refine movement quality and have you moving better.
Agility Training - Coaches and players often group everything quick/speed together and call it “agility training” when in reality, it’s not. Agility training is essential for Hockey Players. It’s the ability to read and react to a given situation, which is obviously the fundamental to thriving on the ice. That being said, the “read and react” facet of agility means that there is a cognitive element. This means reaction drills, partner drills, and anything that challenges you to see a situation, cognitively understand what response is needed, and move your body effectively to match it. Read. React. Move.
This should be a staple in your training.
Speed Training. This is often a general umbrella term, as we use it to describe all facets of speed training including: quick feet, agility, multi-directional athleticism, change of direction capacity, acceleration, deceleration, and top end speed. All of our workouts incorporate speed training as opposed to just honing in on a single element as it challenges players movement skills and capacity at a greater level than just repetitively focusing on one thing at a time.
The Importance of Quick Feet for Hockey Players
So while the components of speed training and agility sound more important than just focusing on quick feet – does this mean that training foot speed is irrelevant for hockey players?
No – quick feet training is super valuable for hockey players.
- Improved kinaesthetic awareness and movement fluency. This is why we use quick feet drills with all of the younger players. Improving your kinesthetic awareness as a young athlete gives you the ability to layer and learn more complex movements and gives you the foundation for movement mastery. But this isn’t exclusive for youth athletes, we still see pro players who go from very rigid movers to becoming more flowing and fluent movers. Improving the mind-body connection at any age is valuable for hockey players.
- Refined movement mechanics & postures. This is likely the most important element on this list. While hockey players are some of the most athletic athletes on the planet, they often default into sloppy or suboptimal movement patterns. They stand up tall, don’t access powerful low hip positions, and can get heavy in their feet. If quick feet drills are good for anything, it’s finding more athletic mechanics and postures that can be used elsewhere.
- Greater capacity for nervous system firing. This is maybe the most controversial of the list, but time and time again we see players who use quick feet and speed drills refine their ability to express movement faster. While some of this can be attributed to the skills above, it can be theorized that players are also decreasing the latency between movement demand and physical output (or the ability of the nervous system to “fire” quicker).
All this to say that, quick feet training often gets dumped on by Strength Coaches, it’s still an invaluable tool that should be in all hockey player’s training toolbox.
That being said, quick feet training, athleticism work, or speed training must be intense and intention. There is nearly no value (aside from conditioning) when players are just going through drills, obstacle course, ladders or anything that’s designed to just move fast.
Players need to understand why the movement pattern is valuable and translatable, focus on finding cleaner movement mechanics, and then firing as aggressively as possible for a short burst.
Three key movement mechanics focuses for hockey players
So we’ve talked about the importance of focusing on movement mechanics and postures when it comes to quick feet training – but what does this actually look like for hockey players?
We’re aiming to improve player’s ability to find, refine, and fire from what we call the “athletic position”. This is the low hip position that you see elite skaters in, and it allows hockey players to move more athletically, powerfully, and dynamically both on and off the ice.
This can be broken down into three key components for hockey players to focus on:
1. The Low Hip Athletic Position
This is the most essential focus for Hockey Players when doing speed drills.
It really comes down to this - the lower an athlete can get, the more power and speed they can express.
As you get lower, you suddenly have more range to express power through. If you need an example of this - stand up tall and without squatting down try to jump as high as you can. Now do a rep where you get into a deep squat and fire through the entire range. As you see, you get a lot more height when you start in a deep squat position.
This isn’t just applicable to jumping, but all facets of speed and athleticism. The more elite athlete is most often the athlete that finds lower postures.
When going through your drills, focus on getting low in your hips. Not only does this allow you to fire from the glutes vs the quads (and thus generate far more power), but it let’s you get more athletic and ready to express power in any direction that might come your way.
We encourage you to consistently check-in if you’re standing tall or are in a low athletic position. It’s sometimes helpful to set up your camera to pinpoint where and when you’re standing up. If you’re struggling with this, film yourself doing a drill and send it to us in a DM - we’ll help break this down for you.
2. Getting Light On Your Toes
This is where a lot of hockey players struggle. They have the natural inclination to get heavy in their feet.
Heavy feet are slow feet.
We want to make sure that you’re staying low in your hip, but also up and light on your toes.
As you start to challenge your speed in quick feet drills, if they’re loud or if you feel yourself sitting back on your heels, focus on actively getting up on the forefoot with more of a forward lean.
3. Arms Pumping & Activated
This is another area that a lot of hockey players struggle with.
As they start to get going fast, they create these “t-rex arms” that are glued their body.
Speed is a full body activity. It requires complex chains that all play a role, and so to not be active in your upper body is to inherently slow yourself down.
Even if it’s a quick feet drill, make sure that you’re consistently getting active with your upper body. Sometimes it takes some relearning, especially with new drills/patterns, but once you find it you’ll start to feel that full body connection that translates to more speed.
Your ability to find and refine your athletic position is essential to finding better positions on the ice. As you go through new and novel movement patterns in speed training your ability to tap in these positions will ingrain better movement mechanics into you – allowing you to become a more athletic, fluent, and dynamic mover both on and off the ice.
The Best Quick Feet Drills for Hockey Players
Alright, so let’s finally answer the question you’re really here for – what are the best quick feet drills for hockey players?
Any quick feet drill that challenges players to find their athletic position, challenges new and novel motor patterns, and forces the player to fire as explosively as possible is likely valuable.
Our goal with quick feet drills is to utilize them to challenge the three concepts above. While this might not develop power or athleticism as much as multi-directional speed drills or sprints, with the right exercises this style of work is still insanely valuable to hockey players at all levels.
Let's explore some of our staples here:
Quick Feet Drill #1: Two Foot Quick Touch
This is considered a staple in all of our workout programs. It’s insanely valuable to practice light and quick touches, while also refining the athletic position. Players should go all out for 15-20 seconds, really focusing on getting in as many touches as possible, staying low in your hips, and keeping your arms pumping.
Quick Feet Drill #2: Two Foot Crossover Quick Touch
This can be considered level 2 of the drill above and is super valuable for hockey players. With such a demand on linear crossovers on the ice, this exercise utilizes that motor skill, while challenging players to stay low and light.
If you don’t have a hurdle, these drills can easily be done with just a line of tape, a field line, or even a crack on the sidewalk. Just make sure you’re getting in high quality touches and not getting sloppy.
Quick Feet Drill #3: Explosive Crossovers
This drill might not be considered quick feet in nature, but it’s also super valuable for hockey players to challenge their lateral crossovers and finding better postures/movement patterns to fire from.
We really want to emphasize that low and athletic position – making sure players aren’t standing up when players start going faster and faster. This drill can also be used to practice change of directions into a crossover pattern, where players quickly need to reset to go the other way.
Quick Feet Drill #4: Lateral Quick Figure-8
While the previous drills focus on just a single movement pattern, this drill starts to increase in complexity by creating multi-movement pattern demands as you change direction from forwards to backwards.
It’s important that you focus on starting ultra low here and staying light on your feet. Oftentimes we’ll see players start to go through this drill and either get super tall or start to get heavy in their steps.
Quick Feet Drill #5: Linear Quick Feet Figure-8
This is another multi-directional quick feet drill that we love to use with players.
Like the drill above, it allows players to combine multiple movement patterns while being challenged to stay low and light in their athletic position. The forward/backward transition here is also super valuable for defencemen.
It’s important to note for both of our Figure 8 Drills that we want to keep the cones fairly close together to make sure that you’re challenging your capacity for quick and light feet. Players can even put the cones closer together after 2-3 rounds to make it more of a challenge.
Quick Feet Drill #6: Lateral Hurdle Quick Steps
We love lateral speed. So much of the game today is the ability to move in any direction around the ice, and lateral speed is a huge component of this. That’s why any chance we get to challenge players ability to move lateral (side to side), we do it.
This drill is not only great for practicing lateral movement and finding better postures and lighter feet, but it also allows for players to practice change of direction with an aggressive plant and transition the other way.
Quick Feet Drill #7: Lateral Hurdle Crossover Steps
This is another progression based on the last drill.
In this variation we’re still challenging lateral quickness, but using a crossover instead of a side step. While we love to incorporate crossovers as much as possible in our speed work, for this drill we’re really just using crossovers to challenge players ability to stay and light. With the crossover, the space in-between hurdles feels even further condensed and create an “over speed” element that players must adapt to.
Naturally, most players consider speed/agility ladders when they think of quick feet drills – and they’re not wrong. Ladders can be super valuable tools for hockey players of all ages. Whether it's a pro priming the body and nervous system ahead of more complicated speed work (or even games) or youth players refining their motor skills and movement mechanics.
Instead of incorporating this ladder drills into this article, we decided to make a completely separate article to break down theses and you can find them here: The Best Ladder Drills for Hockey Players.
Putting This Into Practice:
So the next question is naturally, how do you use quick feet drills?
There are two ways that you can integrate this type of work into your training schedule.
- Standalone Speed Workouts – here you can make an entire workout of speed drills. Typically players will head over to a local field, do their warm-up, do some activation drills, do 20-25 minutes of focused speed work, and then finish in either core, conditioning, or mobility. It’s important to create a clear distinction between speed work and
- Start of Your Workouts – here you can add speed/quick feet drills to the start of your regular workout. This will typically come after your warm-up when your body is fresh and primed for work. We’ll typically only take 3-5 drills and make them intense and intentional here before moving.
Both methods are effective and which approach to take largely depends on your training schedule and if you’re able to add 1-2 additional “speed days” per week.
In the Relentless Hockey Workout Programs that are used by our players, we build speed training into 3 workouts per week and then add an optional speed day for players to add if they have time in their schedule.
Regardless of your schedule – we always encourage players to put new knowledge into immediate action.
With so many resources, exercises, and workouts out there today, it’s easy for players to just collect knowledge or screenshot workouts on their phone – without ever actually acting on it. If you’ve made it this far in this article, we encourage you to either go now to get in a quick feet/speed workout or plan your workout within the next 12 hours.
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.