There is an ongoing debate in the hockey world surrounding the use of skating treadmills as a development tool for hockey players with a common paradigm being that skating on a treadmill may alter a player’s stride. Without a doubt the skating treadmill should never completely replace skating on the ice but should rather be used in conjunction with on-ice training as a TOOL to help improve your skills as a hockey player.
The game of hockey is a multifaceted and fast paced game which is rarely played in straight lines. Skills such as pivoting, turning, and accelerating should all be included in any players skill repertoire. However, if the basic skating movement patterns are not mastered (ie. proper joint loading or muscle activation), then any of the subsequent complex movement patterns will also be flawed. Hip alignment, lack of mobility and lack of strength can all account for flawed biomechanical skating movements.
As I already alluded to, nothing will ever replace specific on-ice hockey training but the skating treadmill offers players an excellent opportunity to get multiple repetitions of a skating specific skill in an individual setting. One thing I will never endorse as a Biomechanist is training on an incline while skating on the treadmill. Mechanically, this doesn’t make sense as it causes you to skate more like a runner with a narrower angle of push. Plus, at no time in a game are you skating uphill.
Going back to the original debate of treadmills being a valid training tool, researchers at McGill University have done extensive studies examining the biomechanics of skating on synthetic surfaces (ie. treadmills) vs. skating on actual ice. To give you a brief synopsis of what they discovered in their study, they found that the friction was slightly different between the two surfaces (higher on the treadmill) which possibly caused a slightly shorter glide phase on a treadmill. One plausible explanation for this is the psychological effect of having a loud machine with a surface moving rapidly underneath your feet. To the untrained treadmill user, there is a tendency to feel the need to stride more often just to “keep up”. Once this initial effect is overcome, the glide time significantly increases. Despite the friction difference, the study found that the actual mechanics of the forward stride were not significantly altered. Click here to download the full paper and read more.
Considering that there is no biomechanical difference when it comes to skating on the synthetic surface of a treadmill, another benefit of using it, for us anyway, is it allows us to collect objective, scientific data in a controlled environment. With our 3D Skating Software, we can precisely identify where exactly in a players stride they may be losing speed or power in addition to putting themselves at risk of injury by evaluating the aforementioned alignment, mobility and strength. Being able to identify these basic skating movements we can then precisely correct any flawed biomechanical patterns before leading into more complex movements.
I’m sure the validation of skating treadmills will continue to be debated for some time but with the lack of availability of ice in some communities, having a tool such as the skating treadmill seems to be a very viable option for players to continue their development.