This is a continuation of our previous blog where we talk about the two biggest building blocks of skating. The second most important building block of skating is knee bend. Believe it or not, good knee bend can help your posture! Your lower body, specifically your knees can be thought of as shocks in a car, while your upper body can be thought as passengers in the car. Your knees need to be soft enough to minimize bumps for your passengers, while having enough rigidity to not collapse from impact. Separating your lower body from your upper body will help keep a smooth ride for your upper body to allow you to handle a puck more effectively.
Your knee is a hinge joint—it only allows movement in one plane (sagittal; allows for flexion and extension). Ideal knee bend is about 90° during a stride and about 70° for the rest of the time. More knee bend (flexion) allows your centre of gravity (CoG) to be lower (increasing your balance), while providing you the potential for a longer stride resulting in more power. Did you know that your skate blade is about 3mm wide? That means, at any given moment, you are standing on a maximum width of 6mm! With such a small room for error, any major shift of your CoG will cause you fall or sacrifice power in your stride or shot. With more knee bend, your CoG lowers, giving you more stability and balance—two things important for hockey players. Furthermore, more knee bend allows for more extension; as knee flexion increases, the potential for knee extension also increases. More knee extension will lead to a longer push and more power (if done correctly). Remember, power can be thought of as how fast you can move your leg forcefully over the longest displacement (P = Fs/Δt). So, to skate the fastest, push with as much force as possible over the farthest amount of distance in the shortest amount of time!
Good knee bend does not guarantee speed; remember velocity = distance/time. It is how fast you get from point a-to-b; that being said, knee bend will give you the potential to skate faster. Some key points for good knee bend are keeping your knees in-front of your toes, keeping your hips bent in a neutral position and having good ankle bend. If your knees stay behind your toes, your hips will stay backwards keeping a large portion of your weight behind you. As we touched on in the posture blog, any push downwards on your lower back will make you fall backwards because your hips act as a lever point in your body. Another common mistake we see is anterior pelvic tilt (rotating your pelvis back to create a larger curve in your lumbar spine). Anterior pelvic tilt creates less stability in your torso and can cause hip extensor tightness resulting in a weaker stride and more instability. You want to keep your hips in a neutral position to maximize power and stability. Finally, because you want to maximize the surface area of our blade on the ice, you need a lot of dorsiflexion in the ankle. Since your knees are in front of your toes, there is a small angle between the top of your tarsals and your tibia; that means you need a large range of motion in your foot, ankle, patellar tendon, and calves.
Proper knee bend can be easily achieved through off-ice training. One of the best exercises to practice good knee bend and to strengthen your quads and glutes is body weight/weighted squats! You can try this in front of a wall (as a postural guide), where your toes are about 5 inches away from the wall, drop down into a 90° squat keeping your knees over your toes and your head looking forward. When you reach the bottom of your squat, pause for a second before coming up (try for 10 reps and 3 sets). If you want to challenge yourself, try working out barefoot. Don’t allow your footwear to be an ergogenic aid or hindrance. During the majority of on- or off-ice exercises you want to have good knee stability, while keeping your knees, hips, and shoulders in a line vertically. Any deviation inward or outward may be a sign of muscle weakness or tightness. Remember, always warm-up before stepping on the ice or working out. As always, if you have any questions about knee bend or any beneficial exercises, don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Instagram or Facebook!
See you on the ice!