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Building a Better Base
By Malcolm Sutherland, C.P.T.

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Great skaters must have a great base of support. This base area acts as the catalyst for power. A superior foundation of strength provides optimal stride length, which enables the terrific speed we witness in exceptional skaters. But where is this base of support in a hockey player, and how can players create a strong foundation to allow for ultimate skating power?

Typically we think of our base of support on the ice, right? You know, the standard shoulder-width stance with knees bent over the toes, at least two inches. Our base of support, then, is our feet, right? Well, think again.
To illustrate why your feet are not your true base of support try this next time youíre on the ice. Stand in a nice balanced stance and try to generate power exclusively with your feet and ankles. Iím certain you'll find you can't. It is simply impossible. Why? Because of one simple reason. Your feet are the last link in the skating chain, not the first. Remember toe bite? Toe bite is the last crunch you hear as you end your stride. It is the indication you have used your entire leg to full extension. So we all agree your feet are not the center of power, and the base of support for hockey is not the simply feet.

Legs Create Power
To find out where it is lets look at some other parts of the body required to skate. We know that the musculature of the legs are responsible for creating most of the power when skating. The muscles in your legs are large and therefore can generate a lot of raw power. Because of their size they require enormous amounts of energy (oxygen) when they are being worked. This is why playing hockey can be exhausting and it is why shifts last less than a minute.

The gluteus maximus (your butt) is the largest muscle in your legs and also in the body. The glutes work to extend the leg at the hip. They therefore play a dramatic role in skating. All hockey players are known by their enormous hockey bums. This hypertrophy (muscular growth) is a direct result of this muscle being worked overtime on the pond.

The quadriceps or the muscles in your thighs also have quite an important role in skating. The quads action is to extend the knee. In the skating stance the quads also hold the knee in a static flexed position isometrically. Next the muscles of the inner and outer thigh also play vital roles in abducting the leg, or moving it away from the bodyís center. This motion occurs during the pushing phase of the stride. Then lastly the inner thigh comes into play in abduction, or the pulling in of the leg during the recovery portion of the stride. All these hard working muscles require a centralized system of support. A mid area that is able to hold and assist with and align the lower body.

The Real Foundation
Have you got it yet? Have you guessed what area of the body provides the foundation for skating? Think about the place in your body where the legs attach, where your weight is supported and your body is held. This may help. Imagine the ideal power position when skating! Get into that stance right now. Now take your finger and poke at your body to feel the muscles at work. Start with your legs. They are tight and contracted, the leg muscles are at working. Poke your butt. It should feel tightened.

Now probe around and determine what other areas are at work. I think you found out through our little experiment that the abdominals, the muscles in your stomach are also hard at work. When we skate the muscles of the stomach act to align and hold a player in the ideal skating stance. In addition they assist in rotary movements of the trunk while moving on the ice, and they also come into play during recovery phases of the skating stride. In short the abs of a hockey player are under constant stress.

Consider this. Your abs are at the center of your body. Because of their location they are the basis of all strength since the mid section of your body is the center of your bodyís mass and also the center of balance. We know that on the ice if we get low no one is going to knock us down (we lower are center of balance and mass).

The abdominals job in skating is to give the hips integrity. This simply means that the abs hold the hips in correct alignment. They also help control and assist with optimal upper body swing. On every single stride the muscles in the stomach contact and lengthen in differing combinations of fluidity. Good abs allow for good skating technique and they provide the capacity to practice and refine developing skill.

The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: weak stomach, weak skater, weak hockey player! To be good you have to have strong abdominals. If you don't your skating will suffer, and even worse, you may be predisposed to injury. In recent years we have heard of many players suffering from lower back injuries. The reason for this problem is that most players neglect ab training.

The fact is that in hockey players abdominals on average are not strong enough to counteract the over-development of the larger leg muscles like the glutes. Many hockey players reporting back pain have also been noted to have an excessive curvature or swayed lower backs. Doctors and therapists call this excessive curvature lordosis. Over time, lordosis can result in permanent damage to the low back and chronic back pain. But take comfort, this mis-aligned posture can be corrected through some simple abdominal conditioning.

All hockey players should focus on year-round abdominal training. I recommend players do the following exercises daily. Many players I have worked with choose to do them after practice or part of their warm-up routine prior to hitting the ice. These exercises should be completed in a circuit for three sets. Increase intensity by decreasing rest between exercises and sets and/or increasing reps.

If you have any concerns, previous back injury, or experience discomfort while performing these or any other abdominal exercises consult a physician. If you are 30 or over consult a physician before beginning any exercise program. Always warm up prior to any exercise.

By developing strong abdominals you will begin your skating stride with a powerful base of support and have a greater capacity to become a superior skater and player.

Malcolm Sutherland is director of Superior Hockey Schools (Thunder Bay, Ontario). If you have more questions email him at

Abdominal Curl (upper Abs)
With feet on floor bent at the knees, place your hands on your ears. Imagine an apple under your chin and lift straight up towards the ceiling only 6-8 inches , hold for 1-2 sec focusing on the contraction. Then repeat. Complete 15-20 times and work up from there.

Reverse Abdominal Curl (lower Abs)
Begin in the same position as above, this time curl the lower body (legs) up ending with a final lift of the pelvis. Hold for 1-2 sec focusing on the contraction. Then repeat. Complete 15-20 times and work up from there.

The Crunch (Upper and Lowers)
Begin in the starting position. Curl both the upper and lower body at the same time as if combining the first two exercises described. Move slowly and deliberately. Hold for 1-2 sec focusing on the contraction. Then repeat. Complete 15-20 times and work up from there.

Jacknife Crunches (Obliques)
Lie on your side with your upper hand on your ear and your lower arm across your body. Legs are slightly bent. Lift, or point your elbow towards your hip feeling the contraction in your side. Hold for 1-2 sec focusing on the contraction. Then repeat. Complete 15-20 times and work up from there. Do both sides.

Hip Twists (Transverse Abs)
Lying on your back again with knees bent slowly lower legs from center position to right then left. Repeat with no hold. Move slowly. Repeat 15-20 times.



This first appeared in the 10/1997 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Mar 29, 2006, 13:36
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