Wayne Gretzky’s skating style was distinctive. He was dramatically more bent over at the waist than most male hockey players. When I watch girls hockey players skate, their body position looks very similar to Gretzky’s. And while I can’t argue with the way the best player of all time skates, I have to admit that the way girls are “getting low” when they skate is doing a lot more harm than good.
It all boils down to a basic physiological difference between boys and girls.
Girls hockey players are very “quad” dominant – they use the muscles on the front of the legs (the quadriceps) more than the muscles on the back of their legs (hamstrings and glutes). Boys naturally use their hamstrings and glutes much more than girls do. This is one of the main reasons that boys can run faster and jump higher than girls – because the muscles on the back side of the legs are much stronger and more powerful than the quadriceps are.
What does all this have to do with skating like Gretzky?
Boys are naturally more able to “sit back” into their skating because of the strength of their hamstrings and glutes. When we ask girls hockey players to “get low”, they want to use their strong quadriceps to get there. The problem is that the quads are not nearly as strong or powerful as the hamstrings and glutes, and as a result, girls tend to bend over at the waist to get low instead of sitting their hips back.
When a girls hockey player bends forward from the waist at the expense of bend from her hips and knees, she not only loses the ability to get power from her glutes and hamstrings, but she sets herself up for injury. The more forward a player is when they skate, the less likely they are to keep their head up. And “heads-down” hockey is always more dangerous than “heads-up” hockey. The other problem is that many girls lack the strength and stability in their abdominals and lower back to be able to skate in that flexed-forward position efficiently. In fact, another main reason they skate so far forward in the first place is that they lack the core strength and stability to keep themselves upright.
So what can you do to solve the problem?
Strengthen the muscles on the back side of the legs – hamstrings and glutes – and build strength and stability in the core through proper off-ice training.
Here is an example of a glute/hamstring strengthening exercise I use with all of my girls hockey players. It’s very basic and extremely effective.
Single Leg, Bent Leg Hip Extension:
Start lying on your back with knees bent, feet together and heels on the ground. Bend one knee and hold it in towards your chest. Push down through the heel of the leg on the ground and squeeze your glute to lift your hips off the ground. You want to lift as high as possible without arching your lower back. Lower under control and then push back up through the heel. Perform 15 repetitions with one leg and then switch sides.
As much as we’d all love to be able to play like Gretzky, skating like him actually does more harm than good for girls hockey players.
To start taking your game to the next level with an in-season strength program that will dramatically improve your skating, visit: http://www.totalfemalehockey.com/strength.shtml
Work Hard. Dream BIG. Get Strong.
Your friend and coach,