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Hockey Dad with a Sport Science View – The Skating Treadmill

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October 15, 2015 by Ken Brunet

The Skating Treadmill

 I’m watching my daughter’s practice yesterday and a father asks if he can ask me a question. He explains that he heard of the work I have done with hockey and wanted information to help his daughter.  I was happy to answer any questions and it lead to multiple topics about “traditional hockey development strategies”. As the conversation continued, other parents approached us and started participating in the discussion. At the end of it all; one parent said: “you have to write a book about this…as hockey parents we often don’t know this stuff”.  Not sure I have time to write a book but it did make me realize how many hockey parents are in the dark on how to help their young athletes. So I thought I’d start to write mini articles about popular topics; many of which were questions I received at the practice.

Skating Treadmill

This was one of the first questions I was asked and one I get asked many times: “What do you think about the skating Treadmill?”  Now before I answer this question, I want to say that there are many things in hockey that are not perfect but most are harmless and at worst, will be a simple waste of time. However, for this topic I feel I need to be blunt. If anyone ever suggests you should be on a skating treadmill to for skating technique or speed, I want you to RUN and RUN as fast as you can and never look back. Anyone that would suggest this obviously knows very little about human physiology or biomechanics and is definitely not a person you want in charge of your child’s hockey development. This is easily one of the worse things you can do for skating.

Basic Science

If anyone ever wants a complete scientific analysis and learn about the results concluded from the research project we did on skating treadmills; I would be happy to discuss further. For the purpose of this “Hockey Dad” article; I’ll keep it simple.

When your skate hits the ice, the ice surface is stable…it does not move. Therefore, in order to propel yourself forward, you need to generate power during the full stride in order to create speed and acceleration. In order to do this; your brain tells your “skating muscles” to recruit a certain type and amount of muscle fibres to do the work. With time these fibres get stronger  which allows for a stronger skating stride and turns into better speed, power and acceleration. If you hop on a skating treadmill, the belt is moving and actually pushes your foot back for you…the treadmill does the work for you and therefore, your brain tells your body to recruit a different number and types of muscle fibres which makes it a completely different movement. Essentially, it becomes a different activity and promotes “running on the ice” which is not good if your goal is better skating. On a treadmill, once the foot is supporting the athlete’s weight the speed of the treadmill will actually pull the foot underneath the body so the only pushing action taking place is what is needed to support the body. In other words, there is minimal force being applied and no acceleration taking place or you would skate off the front of the treadmill.

Our research clearly demonstrated that skaters actually got slower after weekly sessions on the skating treadmill. It was no surprise to us or anyone else that understands the physiology and biomechanics of skating. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why 100 metre sprinters do not train on running treadmills. The answer is simple; it is not specific to their sport and it would make them slower.

Technical Correction needs to be Specific to the Sport

A skating treadmill manufacturer approached us a few years back offering us a skating treadmill at no cost. They wanted us to help promote it. Unfortunately; we told them we were not interested and explained the above science on how it would make hockey players slower. The answer from the manufacturer was: “yes you are right but we want to use our treadmills for technical corrections”. Wow, we started laughing at this poor guy. Obviously his knowledge of skill learning was limited. In my field there are important rules and one of them is Sport Specificity. You would never correct technique on an artificial playing surface like a skating treadmill. Corrections have to be done on the ice where the game is played. Would you correct your golf swing while standing on one foot? Would you work on your baseball swing while walking on a treadmill? Would you correct your running gait while cycling? The answer to all of these is: of course not. Not only is the treadmill surface the worse area to correct for on-ice skating, the technicians are usually high school students or current Midget or Junior players. No disrespect meant towards these part time workers but unless you have taken biomechanics in your university degree or have degree in coaching that specializes on the skating stride; you may be creating more harm than good. Anyone with the appropriate education would know that using a treadmill to correct ice skating technique is wrong.

Skating Involves more than a Straight Line:

Beyond all of the above; we have to remember that skating is not just about skating forward. A good skater obviously needs to skate backwards, be able to cross over efficiently, perform tight turns with as little deceleration as possible, pivots etc…etc… One of the fathers’s asked me about his daughter’s skating. At the time, she was doing crossovers around the circles and he wanted her to improve her technique going around circles. That’s when he asked about the treadmill. My answer was simple; you can’t do circles and crossovers on a skating treadmill, so how is that supposed to help? Skating involves agility, balance, control, fluidity, edges etc…which can’t be done or improved on a treadmill.

There are many other scientific points to consider such as:

  1. using incline on the treadmill: when was the last time your ice rink had you skating uphill?
  2. energy systems: traditional treadmill sessions use an energy system that is never used in hockey and lead you to become slower
  3. Body position while on a treadmill is different
  4. Forward lean is not natural
  5. Lack of strength for the younger hockey players and learning while fatigued will lead to problems

All points that add to the problems with Skating Treadmills

Conclusion

Usually individuals mean well and hope they can help hockey players. Sometimes; they simply don’t know the facts. If you were part of a National Team sport, they would never allow you to work with a centre that is not qualified or lacking accreditation or certification. However, in the world of minor hockey, we allow this mainly due to lack of knowledge. There is no association that oversees this and it allows certain businesses to take advantage of the hockey parents.

Those that promote the Skating Treadmill are not qualified and this can lead to a negative impact on your hockey game. I hope you take the above information seriously and consider other options for your young players. Trust me; I’ve been working as a Sport Scientist since 1993. Part of my job is to determine strategies and tools to help our young athletes. If I thought a Skating Treadmill could help even a little bit; I would have one in our facility. I don’t for very good reason. As mentioned above, if anyone ever wants you to consider the Skating Treadmill; run as fast as you can.

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