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On-Ice Acceleration Technique: How to Get a Leg Up on the Competition

We’re going to get into a recent study which looks at differences in acceleration techniques between high-caliber and low-caliber ice hockey players. But first, a little background:

Forward skating acceleration can be crucial to a player’s success on the ice. Players with faster starts are more likely to create beneficial opportunities for their team that contribute to winning. For example, players who excel at acceleration are more likely to win races to the puck, outmaneuver their opponents, and achieve tactical separation from defensive players [1].

Skating sprint starts are very different from off-ice sprint starts; greater concurrent hip abduction, external rotation and extension are typically present with skating acceleration as compared to off ice sprint starts [3, 4, 7]. There are clear differences in acceleration strategies between elite and sub-elite hockey players; in fact, the authors of one study could correctly classify 83% of acceleration strides by player skill level [2].

The Study

Renaud et al. recently looked at differences between forward-skating acceleration techniques between high-caliber and low-caliber male ice hockey players. Here’s what the authors found [1]:

High-caliber ice hockey players spent less time in double-support phase (i.e. with both feet on the ice) and had faster stride rates than low-caliber players.

These findings coincide with early research from Marino and colleagues in 1983 [10]. They discovered that a high rate of acceleration in a front-style skating start included a high stride rate and short single support periods [10]. They also found that high acceleration rates were associated with significant forward lean at the point of touchdown of the recovery skate, and placement of the recovery foot below the hip of the recovery leg at the end of the single support period [10].


Both high-caliber and low-caliber players lowered their vertical center of mass (CoM) on the first stride. Low-caliber skaters remained vertically lower relative to their start stance whereas the high-caliber skaters increased their vertical CoM for the rest of the acceleration. High-caliber skaters also exhibited higher vertical accelerations and velocities.

This data coincides with previous research in off-ice acceleration, suggesting that vertical forces contribute to off-ice acceleration capabilities [7-9].


High-caliber players exhibited higher on-ice knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion angles throughout the acceleration, compared with low-caliber players.

Albeit done on a skating treadmill, previous research observed high-caliber skaters being more flexed at the hip and knee, and more dorsiflexed at the foot–ankle throughout support [5]. This makes sense because greater hip and the knee flexion angles are purported to result in greater force application during on-ice propulsion due to greater extension velocities during the ice-contact phase of a skating stride [6].



Overall, high-caliber skaters had greater accelerations and exhibited  larger overall forward velocity during the first four strides of forward-forward skating, compaed with low-caliber skaters. High-caliber skaters displayed higher stride rates, higher vertical CoM velocity, and shorter double-support times during the ‘‘running’’ start steps that may have contributed to their greater forward acceleration. The differences noted cannot be attributed to leg power discrepancies, as both groups had similar off-ice long jump distances. In contrast to over ground sprint start kinematic technique, greater concurrent hip abduction, external rotation and extension seems to be essential for skate-to-ice push-off orientation needed for on-ice skating propulsion.

Practical Implications

Gaining stability, strength, and movement capabilities in athletic positions similar to those experienced during skating acceleration, and strengthening muscles that are heavy contributors to skating acceleration, may facilitate sport-specific increases in force production that translate positively to on-ice acceleration capabilities. These athletic positions should incorporate substantial ankle dorsiflexion, and knee and hip flexion angles. Muscle contributors to hip adduction/abduction/extension, and knee extension may warrant particular strengthening consideration to enhance on-ice acceleration rates. These muscle groups primarily include the glutes, hip adductors, hip abductors, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Focusing on hip adductor strength is of primary importance, not because of its benefit for skating acceleration, but moreseo because of its impact on injury risk. Lack of absolute hip adduction strength and/or lack of hip adduction relative to hip abduction strength, may increase risk for groin strains [11-16].


  1. Renaud, P.J., Robbins, S.M., Dixon, P.C., Shell, J.R., Turcotte, R.A. and Pearsall, D.J., 2017. Ice hockey skate starts: a comparison of high and low calibre skaters. Sports Engineering20(4), pp.255-266.
  2. Buckeridge, E., von Tscharner, V. and Nigg, B.M., 2016, May. LOWER LIMB MUSCLE RECRUITMENT STRATEGIES DIFFER BETWEEN ELITE AND RECREATIONAL ICE HOCKEY PLAYERS. In ISBS-Conference Proceedings Archive(Vol. 33, No. 1).
  3. Nagahara, R., Matsubayashi, T., Matsuo, A. and Zushi, K., 2014. Kinematics of transition during human accelerated sprinting. Biology open3(8), pp.689-699.
  4. Stull, J.D., Philippon, M.J. and LaPrade, R.F., 2011. “At-risk” positioning and hip biomechanics of the Peewee ice hockey sprint start. The American journal of sports medicine39(1_suppl), pp.29-35.
  5. Upjohn, T., Turcotte, R., Pearsall, D.J. and Loh, J., 2008. Three-dimensional kinematics of the lower limbs during forward ice hockey skating. Sports biomechanics7(2), pp.206-221.
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  15. Ryan, J., DeBurca, N. and Mc Creesh, K., 2014. Risk factors for groin/hip injuries in field-based sports: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med, pp.bjsports-2013.
  16. Thorborg, K., Serner, A., Petersen, J., Madsen, T.M., Magnusson, P. and Hölmich, P., 2011. Hip adduction and abduction strength profiles in elite soccer players: implications for clinical evaluation of hip adductor muscle recovery after injury. The American journal of sports medicine39(1), pp.121-126.