Upper Body Strength & Skating Speed

Upper Body Strength & Skating

How upper body strength affects on-ice speed development

By Connor Lyons CSCS, PES
Director of Sports Performance – Lyons Den Sports Performance

When we think about training for speed on the ice we typically think about squatting, jumping, sprinting, and even skating. But there’s another aspect of your training that can have a bigger impact than you think: upper body and skating speed.

Many coaches (and sadly some high-level ones at that) will tell you not to worry about pressing or pulling, and to get rid of exercises for the upper body in favor of more reps for the lower extremities. I’m here to tell you to think twice about that tactic. There is a world of benefits training your upper body can provide for your on-ice performance. This article will explain how upper body strength can affect your skating speed.

Ground Reaction Force

Any strength training in general is going to have a positive impact on pretty much every aspect of your fitness level. Studies have linked strength training to increased speed, power, conditioning, and even flexibility, all while decreasing the likelihood of non-contact injuries. But how do any of the attributes in your upper body affect your stride? The answer lies in something called ground reaction force, or GRF for short.

Simply put, GRF is the amount of force exerted from the ground on your body. When you’re standing still the ground puts your exact weight back into you, otherwise you’d fall straight through to the center of the Earth. And when we move, acceleration forces increase the amount of GRF because it takes more force to move than to stand still. Essentially, the ground will always put the same amount of force into you as you put into it because of GRF. If we can increase GRF, we can increase our speed!

Arm Action Improves Your Skating Speed

So what does your upper body have to do with how much force you can deliver into the ground? The answer is arm action! Arm action plays a vital role in speed development when sprinting off the ice and skating is no different. You can check the difference with this little experiment: Have a friend time you as you do a lap around the ice with your hands behind your back; then, recover and skate a lap with proper arm action. You’ll find your time is much lower with the latter approach and that is because proper arm action increases GRF. The stronger your upper body is, the more force you can put into the ground and thus the more force the ground puts into you.

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In his book Jumping into Plyometrics, Donald Chu touched on this when he explained that sprint times were reduced and jump height was increased by ~12-18% due to an increase in GRF from arm action. If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around that, you can do another experiment; this time, all you need is a scale.

Step on the scale. Then place your hands on your hips and squat down like you’re going to jump, and watch the number increase. Then do it again, only this time take your hands off your hips and throw your arms down like you would if you were jumping. You will more than likely see the second number be about 10-15% more than your first attempt. This is due to the increased forces put into the ground via your arm action. The same is true with skating!

In fact, there was a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2019 by Boland, Delude and Miele. It was titled “Relationship Between Physiological Off-Ice Testing, On-Ice Skating, and Game Performance in Division I Female Ice Hockey Players.” This study focused on off-ice indicators and their correlation with on-ice sprint times. In addition to other conclusions, the authors were able to draw a direct correlation between absolute upper body strength (bench-press strength) and 10-meter on-ice sprint times. These findings were similar to ones found in a study back in 2010, which focused on the same variables but with Division I Men’s ice hockey players.

While these two studies focused on the bench press, it should be noted that bench pressing isn’t the only way to increase your upper body strength. Dumbbells, pull ups, rowing, and push ups will help do the trick as well. There should still be a significant focus placed on squatting, jumping, and sprinting within your training. But increasing absolute strength in your upper body will help you obtain the speed to take your game to the next level. See how upper body strength & skating can work for you.

Editor’s Note: Before undertaking any new fitness regimen, it’s always best to check with a healthcare professional.

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  1. Interesting article. Ages ago I worked at Paul Vincent’s Dynamic Skating. Then we taught to keep upper body “still”. The idea was to skate as fast as possible this way, so when you had the puck or needed two hands on the stick, you would not “slow down”. My worry is kids use their arms “too” much but then with two hands on the stick (e.g. trying to deke the D) they slow down. Not looking to be “negative”…just trying to understand.

    • Good point, Craig. Somehow a combination of these two methods is best. Using the arms in some manner helps you skate much faster; at least for me, keeping the upper body still does not work too well.

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