What is all the hype about a Skating Treadmill?

In the past 5 years Skating Treadmills are showing up more and more in training facilities around North America. How does a Treadmill compare to a PowerSkater? Should I be taking my player to a center to work out on a Treadmill instead of buying a PowerSkater? These are all good questions that we hear and are asked. Being the manufacture of 3 skating devices we will try and answer this subjectively as we can leaving bias out of the equation.

         PowerSkater vs Skating Tredmill

 

How does a PowerSkater compare to a Skating Treadmill? The quick and short of that answer is that they don’t. One device is a plastic surface used horizontally or at an incline, which runs at varying degree of speed to mimic ice and the other device works on the lower body to strengthen & condition the muscles used in skating in a skating bio-mechanical movement. We think the Blade by Woodway is the best one on the market. Both products are tools to assist in skating training. Both have a place but they do not compare in how they function and what purpose they serve to training.  

Importance of Skating to Hockey: If you can’t skate you can’t play the game! We all know that. Skating skills can make the difference between every level of player from Squirts to Juniors to the NHL. If you don’t take skating skill seriously, you are missing out on the basic understanding of the foundation of the game. Successful hockey players are great skaters who work diligently on their skating skills. Nothing, including Slide Boards, PowerSkaters, or Skating Treadmills can replace ice. Getting adequate ice time is naturally very important. Off-ice training tools can assist a player in their athleticism and skill. 

Skating Technique: To be a good skater you must start with the basics. Skating technique at any age is critical to proper skating and the sooner you establish proper technique at a young age the better off the player will be. If a player has a skating flaw then repeating it on the ice will only enhance the flaw. To correct skating flaws you need to first analyze the flaw and then determine the best avenue to fixing it. Skating technique includes: push-offs (open hips) with full extensions, low returns with your feet underneath you, body lean, deep knee bend, back straight, head up, and proper forward arm swings.

The Five Pillars to Hockey: Peter Twist, a longtime NHL Strength & Conditioning and Player Development Coach, identified 5 pillars of Hockey Conditioning:

  • Balance
  • Whole Body Strength & Power
  • Agility & Reactivity
  • Speed & Quickness
  • Anaerobic Energetics

Balance and strength are at the top of the list. The key to better skating is to get stronger.

The stronger the lower body, the more likely you are to be able to execute the skills required for hockey. Weak muscles results in a higher skating profile, poor balance, short stride, slow starts and top heavy stops, leaving them in a poor position to change direction quickly. At the younger age, weak muscles not only result in poor technique, they prevent the player from learning to perform the skating drills correctly. Improve on balance and strength and you will also improve on puck handling, passing, and shooting. A well postured, confidently controlled body brings the assurance that relaxes the mind and allows vision to open up and see more of the ice. And that, is where ‘anticipation’ comes from.

Everything builds from a base. In hockey, the platform is strength + balance + skating technique.  

Purpose of a Skating Treadmill: A Skating Treadmill is a large moving belt surface designed for players to stand on with skates executing the skating movement. They are advertised as an off-ice surface that can vary in speed as well as elevation to add progression to a players work out.

The BLADE hockey skating treadmill (by Woodway) claims that their treadmill is ideal for all levels of skaters. “From beginners learning fundamentals to professional athletes seeking stride efficiency and endurance development, the BLADE is the ultimate tool for developing technique and improving overall skating abilities.” They do not address how they do this. It is interesting to note that our research into treadmills there is little to no content demonstrating how they do this. There is little content on skating treadmill sites speaking to skating and skating mechanics and how they can address the various elements of skating.

Woodway goes on to say that the key to BLADE training is the controlled atmosphere. Coaches and trainers can easily communicate with skaters, providing constant instruction, evaluation and feedback to get results. Many of the operators are part time students and player’s, they are not full-time experience skating instructors resulting in poor feedback.

PowerSkater Mechanical Design: A PowerSkater is a 90 degree track design with a truck (carriage) that rolls almost friction less free down the track. Specially designed resistance bands are attached to each truck to provide a load for each truck as it travels down the track. The unit is primarily made from extruded aluminum with a steel mounting plate connecting each track. The truck is centered in the track with 8 wheels containing 36 sealed ball bearings. The steel mounting plate contains a hook mechanism that locks the opposing truck when one truck is moved down the track. The player stands on the truck at the apex of the machine. When they push off with their pushing leg their leg travels 45 degrees back behind their body.

Purpose of a PowerSkater: The PowerSkater was designed to mimic the bio-mechanical movement of skating as well as condition the lower body muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, glutes, and the primary joints of the knee, ankles, and hips. Movement is out and back behind the body and not side to side. Each push is loaded out and back, thus each push and return has a loaded concentric and eccentric movement. Movement is specific to proper skating technique. Power comes from firing your glutes – maximus, minimus, and medius. Quickness and acceleration comes from the explosive push developed by driving against a load. Power skating focus is on stride depth + stride length, which is same for the PowerSkater. On-ice, however, using edges, players need human motion to power the leg from an explosive start through a full long stride – but harnessing the muscles to APPLY power – this is trained by pushing against a load. The PowerSkater is a tremendous developer of the Core since the abdominals and back must activate so the legs have something to produce leverage against for the push to drive the load to full extension.

 Key Points to using a Skating Treadmill:

  • The Treadmill is a travelling belt pulling the leg versus pushing.
  • The Treadmill creates an assisted stride due to the moving surface.
  • A Treadmill can operate at various speeds controlled by the instructor.
  • A player can hang on to a bar to help stabilize their posture when using the machine.
  • On a Treadmill a player has the ability to skate continuously for time or distance
  • Convenient and accurate measurement of speed, distance and time based on the speed of the belt.
  • A plastic surface is provided at the front of the machine to use a stick for stick handling and eye hand coordination.
  • An overhead harness with a tether system is provided for safety if a player fatigues for falls while using the machine.
  • The skating treadmill is more linear skating, albeit uphill and over a running belt that pulls the leg back.
  • The Treadmill provides an aerobic activity that increases overall fitness no different than a treadmill for running.

 Key Points to using a PowerSkater:

  • The PowerSkater is powered by the athlete using the machine
  • A PowerSkater is a two track design set in a 90 degree configuration and the user stands at the apex of the machine with a foot on a truck that moves 45 degrees backward from the user.
  • The PowerSkater works on the lower body by developing strong quads; builds muscles in the inner and outer thighs; and strengthens the ligaments of the hip and knee joints
  • Power skating focus is on stride depth + stride length, which is same for the PowerSkater.
  • The PowerSkater is superior for training quick starts and acceleration which comes from the explosive push developed by driving against a load.
  • PowerSkater is a tremendous developer of the Core since the abdominals and back must activate so the legs have something to produce leverage against for the push to drive the load to full extension.
  • The PowerSkater provides for concentric and eccentric loading of the push-off phase. This loading challenges balance and creates good weight transfer from push-off to return phase and transfer to the glide phase and repeat.
  • The PowerSkater conditions the muscles used for lateral movements which is common in skating for agility, turns, pivots, and crossovers and crossunders.
  • Single leg repeats (1 set of 20 left leg reps) or regular alternating skating legs reps can occur on the PowerSkater. 

Key Differences:

  • Skating is NOT an assisted stride movement; rather it is a manual and forceful push key to power.– the Skating Treadmill pulls the players leg back; the PowerSkater movement is from the players push, which loads both sides of the muscles – concentric and eccentric during the push-off and return phase.
  • PowerSkater loading is from progressive resistance bands of various loads powered by the players push-off as in skating. There is no loading on a Treadmill.
  • PowerSkater teaches skating technique in a controlled environment. Feeling the move, hearing the descriptive words of the movement teaches mind memory as well as muscle memory of the movement. On a Treadmill the player is trying to keep up with the speed of the rolling track.
  • Training on an incline develops an artificial body lean not natural to skating.
  • What do rapid strides on the treadmill lead to? Running on the ice?  
  • The Skating Treadmill provides for a greater degree of anaerobic workout due to the ability to increase the speed of the track. The PowerSkater is powered solely by the athlete’s ability to fire their legs.
  • The Skating Treadmill does not provide multi directional movement patterns, cross-under, loading, time under tension to develop strength, more focused purposeful reps with better attention to posture, etc
  • Players build skill on-ice and they build the physical assets needed to execute skills to a higher level off the ice. A dryland skating surface like the treadmill is not perfect ice nor is it perfect dryland training environment/conditions.
  • To build strength one needs progressive overload and in this case progressive resistance – as players get stronger you can use heavier Rhino cords. Not sure the treadmill options here – put it at a higher incline? No incline on a skating rink so why train unnaturally to form bad posture?
  • Treadmill is limited to linear stride and hockey training is all about multi directional work. Linear was the ’80’s.
  • The Skating treadmill linear action and uphill training, results in risk of groin strains as belt pulls leg far and fast and uphill belt produces a unnatural forward lean and skaters tend to return to ice with bad habit of forward flexion.
  • A typical rate per hour for a treadmill session is $160.00 (5 hours = ownership of a PowerSkater)
  • Cost and footprint – A Treadmill costs in excess of $125,000.00
  • The PowerSkater has less of a foot print, thus taking up little space in a facility and less administratively laborious needs.
  • The PowerSkater fits in a gym or other dryland areas seamlessly, and players can very easily pop in for a set then over to their next strength exercise and so on – seamlessly.
  • Because the PowerSkater does such a fine job with the general movement patterns – lateral, linear, cross under etc – the specificity of the movement pattern improves the oxygen uptake from the oxygenated blood delivered to the skating legs and into the mitochondria, the engine that produces fuel. This is an enhanced oxygen extraction capability which is a key training result
  • Good workouts are also about flow and classroom management, the right density and work to rest etc – PowerSkater “fits” all the rules for training strength and power and in all of the movement patterns the legs must power through on the ice in the game.
  • Everything in forward skating is a push movement that is why skates have edges. A player is keeping up with the speed of the treadmill pulling their leg backwards. The PowerSkater push is loaded and a player must power out with the stride similar to being on the ice.

Skating should be done on the ice and is done on the ice: The purpose of off-ice training is to build mass, strength, quickness, power, capacity etc and harness this on the ice. On-ice, however, using edges, players need human motion to power the leg from an explosive start through a full long stride – but harnessing the muscles to APPLY power – this is trained by pushing against a load. Skating is all about technique, strength, and balance. A skating instructor on the other hand is the only person who can take an athletic player with good athleticism and good strength for their age and teach the player edges, turns, pivots, crossunders, crossovers, and toe flicks on the ice. If the player has a flaw, repeating it on the ice without specific attention to correcting it will only enhance the flaw. Depending on what the flaw is, on or off ice training may require a specific drill to correct it. 

Skating is the foundation of hockey. Many books have been written on the importance of skating and proper skating technique. The PowerSkater will not replace ice, but it will isolate skating mechanics and allow the player to get mind memory and muscle memory of the skating movements. What a player learns on the PowerSkater can be quickly transferred to the ice.