News & Updates
June 15, 2018
Are MarsBlades worth the investment? And what are you really getting out of them?
You can consider this part MarsBlades review. And part Magic Mechanics Deep Dive.
Why Would Anyone Want MarsBlades?
The mechanics of skating and the mechanics of rollerblading are different. Unlike what typical Power Skating Instructors suggest, rollerblading does not ruin on your on-ice stride mechanics. But they do ruin your inefficient Power Skating stride. So I understand the Power Skating Instructors’ concern.
Rollerblading does not ruin your Magic Mechanics stride. Rollerblades are excellent to work on your Downhill Skating.
People always ask me about off-ice training for on-ice performance.
As many of you know, I built the Downhill Skating System by reverse engineering the movements of elite NHL skaters, then teaching them to myself and to the players I work with. As a kinesiologist and pro hockey player, it is interesting to see that the movements I discovered were not the ones being taught. I realized that this is our advantage.
Naturally, I developed a set of building block mechanics and put it together in a system. It’s called the Downhill Skating System because the secret sauce is that instead of using muscle tension to move, Downhill Skaters shift their center of mass and use the rocker of their edge to move. The result is that players skate way faster with way less effort. This frees up neural resources to process the rest of the game.
The Gap Between On-Ice And Off-Ice
On the ice, you can practice 100% of the Magic Mechanics.
On rollerblades, you can practice about 60% of the Magic Mechanics.
On Marsblades, you can practice about 80% of the Magic Mechanics.
The Physics Of The Gap
Skating on ice has 4 physical characteristics: Low friction, a concave blade with two edges, a top layer that can be removed predictably with a blade, and that blade has a rocker known as a radius.
Rollerblades simulate the low friction with wheels. The friction of the ground simulates the edges. But the top layer of the ground can’t be removed predictably. Your slides have an element of unpredictability except on a perfect surface. So slides, and stops shouldn’t be attempted. And there is no blade rocker.
Marsblades have the same characteristics as rollerblades, except they have a blade rocker.
The Mechanical Implementation
The main difference between the MarsBlades and rollerblades is the rocker. You might be curious why this makes a 20% difference.
Most people immediately feel a difference when they cruise in a MarsBlade. And they LIKE it. It FEELS better.
If you consider the idea of the MarsBlade, the wheels don’t move differently on the ground than normal rollerblade wheels. But the way your body relates to the wheels changes. I can’t explain what happens differently with the physics because I can’t wrap my head around it. But I can explain the FEEL of the effect. And that’s what matters.
Here are a few ways that it FEELS different – and the effect it has on my movements:
- When doing an edge rollover, a mechanic I call the Scooter, my shin angle is more aggressive with the MarsBlade than with a Rollerblade. I’m able to transition from one “edge” to the other smoothly. With rollerblades, if the shin angle is aggressive, you are likely to skid out the wheels. And it’s harder to rollover from one edge to the other.
- When doing a 10&2, I place pressure on the heel, and I end up going faster while maintaining control – like skating. When placing heel pressure on rollerblades, they usually skid out.
- When doing “Gaudreau Turns”, I get a more aggressive shin angle again without the blades sliding out. With blades, if you turn too tight, they wheels skid out.
- When doing Corkscrews, I can actually cut the MarsBlade in an arc. Just like the ice. On rollerblades, the arc isn’t as tight.
- When doing crossovers and “MacKinnon shuffles”, I can land on the heel and feel the rocker. Just like the ice. With rollerblades, you feel a “clunk-clunk”. With the MarsBlades you feel the rocker.
The 20% gap between rollerblades and MarsBlades comes from the feeling of the rocker, the ease of rolling the edge over, and the tightness of the turn. The 20% between the MarsBlades comes from the tightness of the turn (you can still get tighter on the ice – especially with Downhill Skating) and not being able to shave the top layer off the ice – you can’t do punch turns, edge slides, or stops.
Is it worth it?
If I was limited in my ice time, I would definitely get MarsBlades to train my skating. I would justify the investment because others are spending money on ice time – you invest in a blade that gives you ice-likeness.
I recommend that you ONLY get the chassis. The Verbero boot is very uncomfortable. When I first put it on, I was pretty sure someone designed it for maximum discomfort. I’ve never felt anything like it. Luckily, my feet seem to fit into most things, so after a few blades, they started feeling better. Everyone who tries my MarsBlades complain about the boot. And my friends and clients who have slightly different feet find them unbearable.
If you’re an occasional blader and you don’t intend to make a big push in your skating development, the MarsBlades are probably not worth the investment. I didn’t use them for the longest time. I still did all my drills in them. Just less well, with less speed, and less smoothly.
You can practice about 60% of the Magic Mechanics of the Downhill Skating System with rollerblades. About 80% with the MarsBlades.
As the off-season is taking off, many people ask if you can learn the Downhill Skating System over the summer – even without ice. So I recorded all the on-ice drills of the Downhill Skating System on my MarsBlades for you to see. Like I said, you can do them on rollerblades – but about 20% less good. Considering the compounding effect of 20% per training session, is it worth it to you?
If you’d like to see the off-ice MarsBlade drills for the Downhill Skating System, click HERE.. You might want to take the Downhill Skating Style Quiz that we created to see your biggest opportunity to learn Downhill Skating.
Thanks for reading today,
June 15, 2018
I believe that coaches have a cognitive bias for skating. The smart parents and players exploit this.
I separate this blog into my experience, cognitive psychology, and mind reading. I let you know when I do because each has different levels of reliability.
In my experience, the only two things that matter are skating and points. You can get to a level when one runs out. And then you usually stay there.
For example, I am considered a strong skater. In midget and junior b, I was a very offensive defenseman and had lots of points. In Junior A my points, I fought my way into the lineup as a shutdown defenseman. I allowed myself to be pigeonholed there. My points started decreasing. But since my skating still looked strong, I was given the chance at the CIS level. A level normally reserved for Major Junior players. Despite my poor point production (we had lot’s of team success, setting a record in the league for goals against and my plus-minus was through the roof) I was afforded the chance at a higher level. I attribute that to my skating.
But then the points ran dry because I repeated the same pattern. I allowed myself to be pigeonholed in a role that I was comfortable with. Again, highest plus-minus on the team, but not enough points to get a contract in the pro league I wanted.
The opposite is often true. Players might still get points – but when their skating runs out, they stop moving up.
The reason I focus in on skating is that my shot wasn’t particularly good, nor was my stickhandling. Stickhandling doesn’t seem to have the same effect on coaches that skating does. Neither does the shot (unless the shot goes in – so that implies points). Here, I discuss why that might be using the framework of cognitive biases and persuasion.
The Halo Effect
When you have one attractive attribute, we have a tendency to rate that person’s attributes in every other area to be higher as well. Good looking people enjoy these advantages. They are rated higher in intelligence, effectiveness, etc. than others of lesser attractiveness. (On another note, most NHLers are pretty good looking, no? Hmmm…)
A player with one attractive attribute might cause coaches to evaluate their other attributes to be higher.
The most effective form of persuasion is visual persuasion. This explains the power behind images, visual graphs, and data visualization.
Skating is the most visual element of a player’s game. It is SEEN most easily by coaches. But also fans, parents, other players. It is risky for a coach to pick someone who LOOKS sloppy. Regardless of point production.
Putting this together: A player’s skating is the most VISIBLE element of their play. Stickhandling doesn’t show up in a game unless the player is a good enough skater to actually use their hands. And shots happen infrequently. So if skating is the most visual element, and it looks really good – it might trigger the halo effect for coaches.
Magic Mechanics Explanation – Why The Halo Effect Usually Works To Predict Success
Remember when I said that I am a strong skater? I was. I literally had my teammates tell me that they loved to watch me do open hip pivots when retrieving the puck.
The only problem was that I was a “strong skater” by typical Power Skating Standards. I possessed about zero of the Magic Mechanics for lateral movement and deception.
In Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he notes that heuristics (mental shortcuts) are used by experts for making quick decisions. Through repetition, you notice a pattern, then create a mental rule. You follow that rule to make decisions. It’s not always 100% correct – but it often is.
So the Halo Effect with skating might be a smart heuristic for coaches: If they’re seeing Magic Mechanic skating – not Power Skating.
With Magic Mechanics Skating, your movement allows you to be deceptive, but also hard to knock off the puck, with a great shot, and good hands. It even indicates a level of mental presence. Because it all blends together. And the base is skating. Specifically,
Typical Power Skating is invented from…I’m not sure what. And it works so against the physics and the natural mechanics of the body that it “looks right” – but doesn’t form the base of your movement. This was me to a tee. I took all the power skating camps, and most coaches thought I “looked good” at skating. But my Power Skating held my hands, lateral movement, and shooting back.
So the Halo Effect usually works when smooth skating is Magic Mechanics skating. Not when it’s Power Skating. Because even though it looks right, the Power Skater won’t be able to sustain their point production. Because the rest of their skills are not up to standard.
Taking Advantage Of This Bias
As a coach, it’s advantageous to differentiate between the two. You can avoid false positives if you identify Magic Mechanics skating vs Power Skating players.
Players and parents can take advantage of the Halo Effect by working on their skating so that it looks right. They can take advantage of the asymmetric payoff if they work on their Downhill Skating because it has downstream effects on other skills as well as the bias of the coach.
- How to skate smoothly
- 3 Hacks to instantly improve skating speed
- How to have explosive starts like Nathan MacKinnon
- How to skate like McDavid
- If you’d like to trigger some cognitive bias in your favour, I created a video course called the Downhill Skating System. You might want to take the Downhill Skating Style Quiz that we created to see your biggest opportunity to learn Downhill Skating.
Thanks for reading today.
June 5, 2018
The secret to improving skating speed without skating harder lies in the difference between weight shifts and mass placement.
We can probably agree that words are used to make concepts clear. Sometimes I use a simpler, but less accurate word to make a concept clear. When I say accurate, I refer to the definition that is accepted in scientific literature.
For example, the words significant carries significant meaning in scientific literature. It indicates statistical significance. You can’t throw that word around scientific literature lightly. But the word significant has a different meaning in the non-scientific literature community. Even though it is “less accurate” – it illustrates a point. So it is useful.
I aim to use words as tools to help people. There are two enemies to this:
- Word Guardians
Word thinking is when someone uses word definitions, labels, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. For example…
Here you see the commenter is right about almost everything. But because we don’t use the same word as him, he assumes that there is a lack of understanding on our part. This is word-thinking.
Word Guardians are like Word-Thinkers – but since they know what a word means and you don’t, they assume they are superior to you. You see Word Guardians doing two things to ensure their superiority:
- Use the precise scientific term that no one else knows
- Use invented terms that no one else knows
As a Word Guardian, when you use a word that no one else knows, it is convenient because no one can prove you wrong. Since they don’t know what to disagree with precisely. Word Guardian victims usually end up assuming that the Word Guardian is right.
I admit to being a Word Guardian and Word Thinker at times. Truth be told, it’s really great to have a better scientific vocabulary than other people. If you say things with enough certainty, people just believe whatever you say. It works particularly well with family members, friends and spouses.
One major flaw in Word Guardian word-thinking is the lack of falsifiability. If no one understands what you’re saying, you can’t be proven wrong. And if you can’t be proven wrong, you can’t use feedback to learn. That’s why in a hockey context, I aim to be clear with my words.
I promise that the point is coming.
Today, we discuss the difference between Mass Placement and Weight Shifts.
I might use the term weight shifts differently, the same, or similar to other coaches. But I’m going to differentiate between the two and provide my rationale for tilting them the way I do.
Weight implies that gravity is acting on a body. You can tell weight based on ground reaction force. When I refer to weight shifts, I refer to the weight shifting from one foot to another.
Mass implies matter. A “body” in space. And mass doesn’t necessarily have to relate to gravity or to the ground.
When I refer to mass placement, I refer to how the center of mass is placed in space. This is often relative to contact point of the skates on the ice.
Who Can Shift Weight And Mass Placement?
You can shift weight without displacing your center of mass. You can displace your center of mass without shifting your weight. And you can displace your center of mass while shifting your weight.
Most players can shift weight without displacing their mass. This is the first key to Downhill Skating. Being able to weight from foot to foot while skating.
Some players can shift their weight and displace their mass. This is a more advanced skill because it is hard to maintain control. The first weight and mass shift aren’t hard. But maintaining balance for the second, third, and fourth shift is hard. This is what we talked about in the article called “Elite Shooting is Elite Skating”.
This first clip with Dahlin shows weight shifts and mass displacement.
Fewer players can displace their mass without shifting their weight. Particularly going from the inside to the outside edge. This is the Downhill Part of Downhill Skating. This is the part we call the Edge Rollover.
This clip isolates the trickiest part of Dahlin’s skating: the mass displacement without weight shift. You only see the weight shift at the end.
The Problem With Standard Edge Drills
If you watch elite skaters like McDavid or Dahlin, they blend all three patterns into all their movements. Weight shift with no mass displacement. Mass displacement with no weight shift. And weight shift with mass displacement. Sometimes within the blink of an eye.
Most skating drills stick to one mode at a time. They aren’t dynamic enough to mimic the in-game demands. It’s all well and good if a drill looks pretty – but how is it used in the context of teaching players to feel comfortable with these modes of movement on the ice?
What Is The Secret?
When players should be shifting weight and displacing their mass – they push.
When players should be displacing their mass relative to their skate’s point of contact – they only shift their weight.
If you get these things right, you’ve learned the secret.
If you’d like to go down that rabbit hole, I created a video course called the Downhill Skating System. You might want to take the Downhill Skating Style Quiz that we created to see your biggest opportunity to learn Downhill Skating.
Thanks for reading today!
June 5, 2018
Players who want to improve their skating usually try power skating or off-ice training. Unfortunately, both of these have upper limits. Sadly, players who pursue either of these methods will never reach their potential because they ignore the principles of Downhill Skating.
Downhill Skating uses mass displacement, the rocker of the skate blade, and the body’s inner spring to skate effortlessly – as if you’re skating downhill.
While you can get faster with power skating and off-ice training, you’ll never catch the Downhill Skaters. You cannot power your way to Downhill Skating. You can only learn the principles of Downhill Skating.
When you’ve learned those principles, power and strength can give you a boost. But in most cases, strength training or power skating before you learn the principles of Downhill Skating is like strapping a Ferrari engine onto a golf cart.
A horse will never beat a modern car in a race. Better breeding doesn’t work. Better food doesn’t work either. The reason: Mechanical Advantage.
For the same reason, you cannot beat a Downhill Skater with more force or more power. McDavid and Dahlin both placed dead middle of their NHL combine testing. But both are elite skaters.
We started by researching the movements of top NHLers in game situations. Using my background as a kinesiologist and pro hockey player, we were able to isolate about 35 key mechanics that elite NHL players use consistently. What was surprising was that these mechanics were not taught in a systematic way with typical skating instruction.
Before I explain how we teach the system from mechanic to game implementation, let’s examine how most skating is taught.
- Power Skating
- Apparatus Instructors
Let me start by saying that I’m not against Power Skating. There are many aspects of power skating that are good. And every power skating instructor is different. Here I provide a critique based on my limited experience with Power Skating.
Power skating instructors usually teach based on what they can see and what looks rights.
This is entirely reasonable. But has some problems.
First, teaching based on what looks right ignores how the player feels. The Downhill Skating System uses the Feel Your Body Learning System, and our “Source Code Drills” are designed to force feel.
Second, what looks right isn’t always what is applied in game. Forward arm swing, deep knee bend, “joint stacking”, and plant under the center of gravity all “look good” – but we don’t see that in a game.
Drills are great! Except for one problem. Without instruction, each player will complete the drill a different way.
Some will use the correct mechanics. Some won’t. Without feedback, some players will improve. And others don’t.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of the “get better by lottery” approach to skill development. So while drills help some players, they don’t help all players.
Apparently, Darryl Belfry doesn’t like “Apparatus Instructors”. I admit to taking shots at “them” too. Darryl’s reason is a good one:
I’ve never seen an apparatus give detailed technical feedback. -Darryl Belfry
That’s probably a fair assessment.
Similar to drills, you can throw 100,000 players through an apparatus course – and one will end up being McDavid. That’s called probability. Not skill development
The Downhill Skating System
The Downhill Skating System isn’t perfect. But it does beat Power Skating in the training to transfer dimension, and effortless component. It beats drills because it is mechanics focused instead of pattern focused. And it beats apparatus instructing because you get detailed technical feedback. Specifically, a comparison to elite NHLer movement.
We started by researching top skating NHLers. We looked at what skating patterns they used in different situations to achieve results.
We looked for patterns that appeared again and again – and that provided consistent results. Then we broke those patterns into specific mechanics. We gave those Mechanics names to make them easier to learn.
To be clear, we didn’t invent the movements. We don’t consider ourselves the only ones who can teach the movements. But we do give them names for clarity and instruction purposes. And we have tested them for in-game reliability. If our words to describe movements catch on, that’s an intended (but good for us) side effect.
How We Teach The Downhill Skating System
The end goal is to see the mechanics and patterns that we researched transfer to a game setting. Our way of getting there is straightforward and leverages the latest science in motor learning and decision making.
To understand how the Downhill Skating System Learning Engine works, it’s useful to consider how unsuccessful learning works occurs:
- Spray and Pray
- Thinking Coaching
Spray and Pray
In the spray and pray approach, coaches throw a bunch of drills and movements at players. They have different levels of in-game applicability. And the coach just hopes that some of the drills and movements show up in a game. It usually doesn’t work that way…
In the “Thinking Coaching”, the coach tells the players about the 14 different key steps they need to master on every step. According to the “Thinking Coach”, there are 10 ways of doing quick starts. And you’ve gotta master all of them.
Hockey is the fastest game on earth. Zero (and I mean zero) in-game decisions can be made with “thinking”. All decisions need to be subconscious, automatic and instinctual. A player who has declarative knowledge of a movement (word-thinking), but not procedural (automatic – instinctual – feel based) is useless in a game.
The Downhill Skating System Learning Engine
We start by isolating the key Mechanics. We use an 80/20 approach to select the easiest to learn and highest impact mechanics. The 20% that give 80% of the results.
From there, we create a flow. A repetitive drill of the same mechanic that is linked together.
Next, we blend different mechanics together. We call this a skill blend or pattern. We use different mechanics in different orders. But we generally link mechanics together that we see in a game together. For example: Corkscrew > Hip Scissor > Anchor: As see on Dangle by Design.
We start without a puck and aim to make a 1% improvement. Then we add a puck and aim to make a 1% improvement. We never aim for perfection. We aim for progress. (Consider the impact of perfect vs progress. If we aim for perfection, the player and coach are disappointed 99% of the time. In the progress model, coach and player are positive 99% of the time. When you consider the compound effect of 1% improvements, we see great results over time).
Next up is our “Natural Instinct Training”. We call it Reactive-Option Training.
We start by giving players the option to do whatever skills they want. They don’t have to react to anything – they just get used to choosing different movement options with the mechanics they’re in the process of mastery.
Then we remove the different movement options and get players to react to another player. For example, a stick swing initiates a cutback. But the movement is pre-planned. So there’s no option. No choice. Just perception and reaction.
The last step is to add reaction and options. We use unstructured games like different versions of keep-away, British Bulldog, 1on1on1, and other small area games. In this step, even if the mechanic doesn’t show up naturally, we don’t care. We consider the player’s brain and nervous system to be self-organizing. When the mechanic is programmed in the right way, it will self-select in the right situation.
All Reactive-Option training is designed to be “Feel Based” instead of “Think Based”. Coaches shouldn’t even mention mechanics. Instead, allow a player to trust their natural instinct and feel. All encouragement is towards getting a player to trust their body and “let go” of the need for conscious control. That mindset is what will bring forth the fastest learning and quickest self-organization.
If you’d like to learn more about the Downhill Skating System, you might want to check out:
- What the edge rollover is and how does it improve your skating smoothness
- How to skate faster without skating faster in a straight line
- How McDavid can skate faster
- How to skate (start) like Nathan MacKinnon
- How to change direction faster in hockey
- How elite shooting is elite skating
- Getting Deep into Dahlin
- The Physics of Downhill Skating
If you’d like help implementing the system, I created a video course called the Downhill Skating System. You might want to take the Downhill Skating Style Quiz that we created to see your biggest opportunity to learn Downhill Skating.
Thanks for reading today!
May 29, 2018
The Explosive Start is a unique part of the Downhill Skating System.
Four factors contribute to the Explosive Start:
- Leg Extension Power
- Friction & Force Direction
- Limb Lengths
Leg extension power is a popular feature of the explosive start.
Power is usually measured in watts. Or the amount of work over time. More work in less time equals more power. So you can influence power by increasing the amount of force your legs can generate through extension. Or you can do the same amount of work faster. Or if you wanna go all McDavid on this, you can do both at the same time.
Luckily for you, the same mechanism that helps you generate more force usually helps you generate force more quickly. That mechanism is called: Fast Twist Muscle Fibres.
Your muscles are composed of different types of fibres. Some contract quickly AND with lot’s of force. Other contract slowly and with less force.
The ones that contract quickly and with lot’s of force are called Type IIb fibres – or fast twitch muscle fibres.
You also have Type IIa (intermediate fast twitch) and Type I (slow twitch). There might exist some hybrid types. But we’re not 100% sure on that.
Science tends to agree that you cannot change your composition of Type IIb fibres. But here’s what you can do…
You can improve your brain’s ability to turn on Type IIb fibres. Most people can only access about 20-30% of their muscles at a time. With specific types of training, you can increase that percentage.
Recent research suggests that some of the intermediate fibres may be able to convert towards fast twitch fibres with the right training.
What is that “right training”? There are specific and proven methods for improving leg extension power. We include these as part of the Perfect Off-Season program. But before we get too far down this rabbit hole, let’s remember that leg power is only one part of four parts.
Know that there are plenty of ways to improve leg power. But it is only one variable in this equation. Case in point: Jack Eichel outperforms Connor McDavid on all measures of power. But McDavid is the faster skater.
The second pillar of the explosive start is leverage. Levers provide mechanical advantages by producing more work with less effort. If you hold the effort constant, but improve the leverage, you get more work. So you can skate faster.
Many players give up their mechanical advantage when they push with their toes. Others do that when they hold their pelvis square instead of twisting it.
Limb lengths factor into the idea of leverage because players come in all shapes and sizes.
You might notice that players of asian descent have a deeper knee bend than some others. i know this because I’m half Chinese. I was praised for my excellent knee bend while others were berated for not getting as deep as me. The trick was that is was easy – almost effortless – for me to get that deep of a knee bend. I also happened to have a great squat in the gym. Is this due to a deep seated dedication to the knee bend religion? Or was this a product of my limb lengths. Probably the latter.
Whenever I see a coach discuss joint angles, I usually get turned off. I admit that I’ve done this in an effort to be helpful before. But let’s imagine that we create a model to predict perfect joint angles for optimal mechanical advantage. It’s ridiculous to say that this model should be built on one variable. How many, then, should we include in our model? Probably lots.
As we increase the number of variables in our model, if just one of our assumptions is off it ruins the entire model. In fact, that error compounds.
This type of thinking seems too complex to be useful.
A better method might be to suggest movement experiments for athletes and then let their “feel” dictate how to adjust. I admit that this approach leaves room for error. And this approach would probably be ridiculous for a more predictable sport like running or cycling. But as statistical research suggests, hockey is the most random sport in the world. A better model for our athletes to follow is to be adaptable. It follows that a player needs to trust their ability to figure out, based on feel, what form to adopt, given the circumstance in front of them. Encouraging this skill is something we need to do as coaches.
The biggest obstacle blocking most players isn’t a thing. It’s literally something imagined. The ego. Fear of embarrassment. Inability to step outside the comfort zone.
For some players, I say, “Test this.” They fully embrace the test. Ignore the possibility that they’ll look stupid. And commit to the movement.
They immediately find that the movement feels way better than ever. Or they find that it feels uncomfortable. Either way, they figured something out.
Many players are unwilling to even test. And so they don’t learn anything new about how things could feel for them.
Ice doesn’t have friction. But when your blade edges dig into the ice, you can grip the ice if your leg generates force perpendicular to the orientation of the blade. When your blade is on an edge, the rocker of the blade allows you options for force production.
Many players give up all their power because they do not orient their blade in the ice in a way that allows them to generate force. You see this when a player’s blade kicks without gripping the ice.
The body is a mixture of bi-directional relationships. For example, if you smile big you feel happy. And if you feel happy you smile big. If you win, your testosterone goes up. If your testosterone goes up you’re more likely to win.
In sprinting, the more you lean forward, the more power you need to generate in your leg extension. And the more power your legs can generate, the more you can lean forward. By leaning forward, I don’t mean dropping your chest. I mean moving your centre of mass forward.
Leaning forward is a mechanical advantage because you push the ground away from you more horizontally instead of vertically. This leads to more forward translation instead of vertical translation. (It’s important to note that this feature of running is only important in acceleration phases – vertical translation of runners at top speed is predictive of velocity).
When you’re accelerating, the more force you can direct directly behind you, the more efficient your force production angle. But the more power you need. The more power you have, the more you can push directly behind you.
Eventually you reach the upper limit of your power capacities. You need to orient your blade differently and direct force laterally to continue your forward momentum. The lateral force production becomes a more efficient choice given the speed of the skater relative to the ice.
Regardless of force production behind or to the side, only one leg pushes at a time. When the one leg pushes, the hips twist. The harder you twist your ribcage the other way, the harder your hips can twist.
The ribcage sits on top of the pelvis. It’s connected by the mysterious “core”. Most people think that the core is something to hold stable. But the core is actually an inner spring to be leveraged. Not held down.
The harder to twist your ribcage, the harder the hips can twist and vice versa.
The grossest misunderstanding of physics is the forward – backward arm swing. I try not to say that things are stupid. But this is just stupid. It’s kind of like saying that gravity doesn’t exist. The arms are attached to the shoulders which are attached to the ribcage.
It literally takes more control and talent to swing the arms forward-backward instead of side to side – meanwhile players bleed away mechanical advantage like crazy.
Force production is generated by rotation through the body.
And this leads to our last point: In McDavid and MacKinnon’s starts you clearly see the ankle extension synchronized with the hip twist. What LOOKS like linear force production is almost always torque in the body. The shoulders twist, the ribcage twists, the core twists, the hips twists, the femur twists in the hip socket, the knee joint twists, the ankle twists. Yes, the femur also extends at the hip joint. And the knee also extends. The ankle too. Many SEE this and assume that because it is the dominant motion it is the only motion.
It’s quite challenging to describe, but can be summarized as such:
The force vector is directly behind the player at a stand still. It becomes more lateral as the player gains speed. The force is generated through rotation in the body.
I’m leaving out a few aspects of the Explosive Start because this post is already very technical. We’ll revisit them another time. Now let’s talk about application:
One way to improve all four pilars of the Explosive Start this off-season is to do rollerblade sprints up hills. Imagine cruising around in the sun without a shirt, tunes on and improve all four aspects of the explosive start.
You could do sprints without rollerblades. This would improve the power component of the Explosive Start. Adding rollerblades helps you optimize the other three.
Going up a hill mostly teaches you proper blade orientation and force direction optimization.
I dedicate these articles to explanation and sharing the message of Train 2.0. I dedicate the Train 2.0 Membership and courses to the application of these ideas. You can take these ideas and test them yourself. I want you to. I can’t stand when people say that the secrets to execution are hidden behind paywalls. They aren’t. Everything you need to know is contained in my blogs, YouTube, and Podcasts. Some of you will want to apply this knowledge faster. For example, I’ve been experimenting for years on what specific drills, progressions and words lead to the fastest learning. If you’d like help with that, I created a video course called the Downhill Skating System. You might want to take the Downhill Skating Style Quiz that we created to see your biggest opportunity to learn Downhill Skating.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Would love to hear your opinion, thoughts, and questions: [email protected]
May 27, 2018
Today you learn the many ways Downhill Skating is analogous to skiing. But power skating coaches usually instruct a “skateboarding style”.
I must admit that many of my Downhill Skating insights came from the ski slope. I didn’t start skiing until I was 21, and in the last 7 years I’ve improved each year. As my skiing technique improved, so did my skating technique. My Downhill skating to be precise.
Downhill Skating implies momentum – like how skiing is downhill. With forward momentum, you use the profile of your ski/blade to til over and put yourself on an arc to turn. Downhill skating and skiing both require weight shifts plus edging to control your direction and maintain your momentum. They both require subtle shifts in weight by moving the pelvis.
Skateboarding is similar to Power Skating because you have a vector based on your wheels or blades. And then you use one leg to push to gain speed. Once you’re at speed, pushing to change direction is useless, and all you can do is lean the board a bit and hope not to fall off.
The similarities between skiing and skating continue past this analogy. And those similarities unlock the secrets to strides like Nathan MacKinnon.
When you’re skiing from the base of one chairlift to another and striding, you learn that you cannot flick the toe. You can generate a primary impulse through your heel. This keeps the entire ski (skate blade) on the snow (ice) as you extend the hips and knee. The toe only begins its force production at the end of your hip twist.
It was here that I realized:
Most coaches (skating, strength and conditioning, skill) assume that the pelvis remains fixed while the striding leg femur externally rotates extends and abducts. Or at least I did. What actually happens is that the ski/skate remains fixed while the pelvis moves.
The anatomical movement of the femur in relation to the pelvis is the same. External rotation, abduction, and extension. But the point of reference is all off. And I think it screws everybody up. EVERYBODY.
Very few understand just how earth-shattering this is. But now you do. I’m sure someone is gonna tell me that this knowledge is documented in an obscure figure skating books from the 1970’s – but this knowledge is not taught in hockey or power skating. As this idea catches on, watch as skaters transform in front of your eyes.
Key Takeaway: The pelvis moves in relation to the feet to generate force. Not the other way around.
When Mackinnon Strides out, he can keep his entire blade on the ice longer than many other players. This is because he keeps his heel on the ice longer. When he extends in the ankle, it’s more of an uncoiling or whip effect as the pelvis finishes its twist.
If you think of keeping your pelvis facing forward and then externally rotating, abducting, and extending your leg to push away from you at a 45-degree angle, you’ll immediately feel your groin pull. It might not actually pull – but you’ll feel a strain.
If you do the same motion, but twist your pelvis, the striding leg snaps into a fully extended position.
While the feet stay oriented in space, the pelvis rotates so that the striding leg’s femur externally rotates, abducts, and extends. Meanwhile, the front leg internally rotates, adducts, and flexes relative to the pelvis.
The Meta-Principle here is feet oriented in space, pelvis generates movement.
The corkscrew is a movement used by defensemen on the breakout, McDavid on breakaways, and MacKinnon while deking. In all these situations, the feet are oriented and the pelvis generates movement. But very few players do this movement. Likely because they think they need to keep their pelvis in place while their feet move instead of the other way around.
Since most players get tighter at speed, most players lose the ability to use this movement. So they lose optionality, reactivity, and flow at speed.
The reason that the corkscrew is such an important movement is that it gives players optionality while counterbalancing the hands’ movement.
Optionality: A move that can transition into 3, 4, 5 other moves
Counterbalance: Every time the hands move, the pelvis counter rotates to maintain equilibrium
It’s exciting that it took me a long time to figure out to explain something that I’ve been FEELING for several years. It’s exciting because when I can explain what I feel – it gives you a better chance of feeling it too. It’s useful to note that I have a degree in Kinesiology from a top 35 school in the world and I took special courses in functional anatomy. The reason I bring this up is that if I struggled to explain in anatomical terms what I’m feeling, I doubt that anyone else has done this. And this means that you’ve found an informational advantage. I hope that you put this to good use by executing on your information arbitrage.
If you’d like help with that, I created a video course called the Downhill Skating System. You might want to take the Downhill Skating Style Quiz that we created to see your biggest opportunity to learn Downhill Skating.
Thanks for reading today.
May 26, 2018
The term downhill skating comes from the idea that it is easier to bike, rollerblade, or skateboard down a hill than up a hill. This is a feature of our physical world.
Most skating instructors focus on getting your balance first. Then pushing second.
Almost all power skating instruction centers around the idea of pushing. Even the name implies pushing: Power.
Power equals work over time. Implied in that is a measurable linear force. The foot pushing the ice away from you.
Downhill skating is a very different approach. I hypothesize that skaters like McDavid, Barzal, and Mackinnon have structural features that predispose them to learn these techniques. I don’t discount the fact that they also have the psychological characteristics to put in hours of practice.
Downhill skating uses shifts in body weight that leverages the rocker of the blade to create movement.
When a skater has forward momentum, and they tilt their skate, the rocker of the blade creates an arc that the skate follows. If a skater maintains their original body weight position (center of mass), the player will fall over because the forces acting on the player are not in balance.
If the skate tilts to the right, and body weight shifts to the right at the same time, the player’s forward momentum turns into centrifugal force. If the player maintains their skate position and body weight, the player will glide on an edge and remain in balance.
An added feature of this movement is that the player will accelerate in the direction of their weight shift. When I use the term acceleration I use it to describe a change in velocity. Velocity is different than speed because it indicates a direction. Speed does not. So the player’s “speed” may not increase, but the player’s acceleration changes. And you’ve always heard that hockey is a game of acceleration.
You might pause here and consider that power skating usually involves inside edge and outside edge holds. Instructors have different terms for these. For our purposes, we’ll call them inside and outside edge c-cuts. They do a good job teaching alignment of body and control over edges. Power skating instructors will use different footwork and edging patterns to increase the challenge. I think these are all good things.
These drills teach players to align their bodies to maintain balance while on an edge. But the only problem is that they generally don’t teach players how to do this in dynamic game situations. Nor do they encourage a translation from training to gameplay. I think that some players naturally get that translation due to structural features of their hips – and I think this explains the varied success of power skating instructors.
The footwork for a typical rush in the NHL looks something like this:
- Shuffle Step
- Shuffle Step
- Soft Hip
- Hip Scissor
Each movement uses the principle of body weight shifts and using the rocker of the blade. But each movement is incredibly dynamic. At any moment, that movement might need to morph into 4 other movements depending on where the defenders move. So each movement in this chain needs to provide options.
Few players know these positions. Even less can transition between them smoothly.
A factor in transition is muscular tension.
When you are slightly out of balance or out of alignment, your body contracts muscles to bring it back into alignment. A good way to test this is to stand up and relax all your muscles. You’ll notice that your skeleton naturally aligns. If you move out of balance, your muscles need to contract (generate tension) to move back into alignment. If you hold an out of alignment position, your body must maintain tension to hold yourself there. Think of a plank.
Helping players find alignment in these positions and movements is critical to reducing tension.
Reducing tension in your movements provides more optionality and quicker reaction times.
When you contract your muscles, it is a graduated response. To contract a muscle, your brain talks to motor neurons. Some motor neurons attach to a small number of muscles and have fine control. Other motor neurons attach to larger numbers of muscles and generate more force – but give up fine control.
Larger motor neurons generate more force, but they also take longer to generate that force – and to turn off the force.
If you are in a position that is out of balance and you need need to generate tension in your muscles to maintain it, you reduce your ability to be reactive. More tension means that you’re recruiting more motor neurons that keep you in your movement track. If you have more tension in your muscles, it takes more time to relax your larger motor neurons and then fire new ones. These milliseconds are critical in high-pressure situations.
The most common “Tension Blocks” I see with players are:
- They don’t use their outside edge properly
- They hold their ankles stiff
- Their hips don’t move to allow body weight alignment
- They externally rotate their femurs
The idea of the Downhill Skating System is to teach players the postures and movements that reduce tension in their skating. This leads players to be able to smoothly shift weight over their edges to accelerate. I’ve included a list of other articles on the Downhill Skating System for your reference here.
If you want to learn how to apply the Downhill Skating System Principles to forward striding, you can read this article.
If you want to skate more smoothly, you can read this article.
If you want to improve your edges, you can read this article.
If you want to skate faster in a game, you can read this article.
If you want to know how McDavid could skate faster, you can read this article.
The intention of this article is to help you understand how the best skaters in the NHL move. If you’d like help implementing this knowledge, I created a video course called the Downhill Skating System. You might want to take the Downhill Skating Style Quiz that we created to see your biggest opportunity to learn Downhill Skating.
Thanks for reading today!