In Part 1 we considered the possible downsides of using treadmills to train for hockey skating. Now, let’s move on to the upside.
First, the source of the risk, which is non-identical skating task transfer between ice and treadmill conditions, is also an advantage. How can this be?
This relates to the idea of varied practice where players wind up working on a series of tasks all very similar to one another but with some key differences. In short, this winds up creating a more robust skill and has been shown to keep the rate of improvement high for the whole skill area. You can learn more about the overall concept here:
In fact, we have even written an article on the varied practice concept. (We still owe our faithful readers a part 2 to that one… I will follow up with that soon).
A skating treadmill inherently varies the skating task simply by adding resistance to the skating surface. But it facilitates additional variation through sustained forward body lean training of many different angles. This is not achievable on the ice because you must be accelerating to make body lean work and the lean reduces as you increase speed during the acceleration process.
So, when added to on-ice skating development, a skating treadmill offers great opportunities to vary practice. And this should be built into the training. Too much training at the same speed and angle range fails to take advantage of the opportunity to vary practice.
The same principles discussed in this article apply to crossover skating treadmills as much as they do traditional skating treadmills.
Another advantage of a skating treadmill is a far more rapid feedback loop between the performing athlete and the instructor. Because the athlete is stationary, numerous corrections can be made during the actual process of skating as opposed to waiting to make corrections between skates or doing them as the player skates around the rink making it harder for the coach to analyze and harder to communicate. In short, treadmill skating is simply a more efficient way to generate a very rapid feedback loop.
Finally, a skilled instructor can control the details of stride timing and exertion level by manipulating the settings of the machine in specific ways. These manipulations are specifically targeted to help to bring out technique corrections. For example, a lower exertion training condition (lower speed and lower incline angle) can facilitate a slower stride rate while maintaining a long powerful stride. This gives players more conscious control over what their body is doing by allowing more time while executing the stride to perceive errors and adjust. Efforts can be made to do the same on the ice, but the control is not nearly as strong.
Another key to this process is to not get so caught up in treadmill-based skating development that the ice is ignored. This is almost never a problem because kids are on the ice, in most cases, by default. But the ideal case is to use skating treadmill development as a supplement to on-ice development in order to most effectively leverage its advantages while mitigating the risks. And don’t forget that consistent instructor input is critical in mitigating the risks by ensuring the skater is performing an on-ice stride and not a treadmill stride during training!
Training on a skating treadmill can be great if the advantages are emphasized and the risks are properly controlled.