If I had to pick one essential exercise for hockey players to improve their stride off the ice, I'd go with the Lateral Lunge. It forces you to move side-to-side in the frontal plane rather than front and back in the saggital plane. The hockey stride is more frontal than saggital and should be trained accordingly.
The Lateral Lunge also closely replicates the position you need for efficient skating, fixing stride positioning problems. A good lunge position involves knee bend, hip hinge, a neutral spine and full extension on the opposite leg. Take a look at an NHL player's stride; it will be comparable to the Lateral Lunge.
To master the Lateral Lunge, it is important to progress the movement. You must start basic and move on when ready. The following variations are listed in the order in which you should progress. Start with the Weight Shift Lateral Lunge and move on from there.
Good depth on these exercises is the point when the thigh is parallel to the ground. You will skate from a slightly higher position, but training extra range of motion will better develop the pattern. Give each progression two weeks or more until you can perform it in your sleep. Check out the video player above for a demonstration of the Lateral Lunge progression.
1. Weight Shift Lateral Lunge
Get into the position on one leg and, while staying low, transfer your weight to the other leg. Build up to performing this for 30 seconds without rising up and out of the position. It's important to stay low, maintain a neutral spine, and keep your hips back the entire time.
2. Lateral Squat
Start with a wide stance and lower into the Lateral Lunge. Push back up to the starting position and repeat on the other side. One set of eight reps on each leg is sufficient.
This variation introduces lowering the body into the lunge and stopping it with good technique. This is important training for the muscles and will be reinforced in the next variation.
3. Full Lateral Lunge
This involves the step into the Lateral Squat you previously practiced. It requires the muscles to work extra hard to decelerate the lower body. It is also the most challenging of the variations.
The last step in the process is to transfer this to the ice. Once these movements are learned, you must hammer home the pattern by skating lower and getting a big push from your striding leg. Making a conscious effort to master these changes will dramatically improve your speed on the ice.
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