Speed On The Ice: Olympic Training With Cory Kennedy

Program of Excellence. Own the Podium. Gold Medal Profiles. Long Term Player Development. The funding bodies and high performance ethos that support Hockey Canada’s drive for Olympic success cohere around a culture of well-designed and dedicated training. KPI’s are identified and tracked. Benchmarks are tested and modeled. Physical trends and adaptations are monitored, measured, and managed. Working with players from the Women’s National Hockey Team in this interconnected system, Cory Kennedy (Strength and Conditioning Coach and Sport Scientist at the Institut national du sport du Québec) has come to recognize an elemental truth: fast is fast.

(Above image copyright Thierry Du Bois OSA.)

“One of the things I’ve noticed anecdotally is that as we worked speed, players felt faster on the ice,” Kennedy says. “The transfer idea seems to click, so I decided to do my own research to confirm this. With the preliminary results, I’m pretty confident that there’s a really close path between how fast you run and how fast you skate.”

Though raised in Canada, Kennedy’s personal athletic background is not in hockey, but rather football—running routes as a wideout for the University of Toronto, where he closed out his career with a record as the school’s all-time leading receiver. That natural feeling of acceleration and explosiveness, coming out of a cut or creating separation, is something he came to see as a trainable quality as he progressed first in his own sport and later as an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist.

“It’s just like soccer or rugby 7’s or football—with skating, sprint speed transfers. I’ve found a lot of coaches from the hockey world who didn’t sprint their athletes—ever. And I was thinking… don’t we want to become better athletes?”

Speed as a Skill

Though fast is fast, not every athlete knows how to sprint. Off the ice, Kennedy breaks down the phases and mechanics of sprinting for his women’s hockey players, training the skill like a track coach.

“I’m definitely a speed-centered coach with the athletes I work with, so I keep speed in all year round,” says Kennedy. “When I’m going through the more developmental period, I utilize the short 10 meter accelerations and patterns. I think building up the patterns of acceleration specific to sprinting is really important.”

Acceleration

Training acceleration for women’s hockey players with 1080 Sprint. Image copyright Thierry Du Bois OSA

While one overarching goal informs the scheduling and programming for these hockey players—the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing—they still have professional league seasons to prepare for and national team obligations to fulfill. To support speed development through the various cycles of the competitive year, Kennedy trains his athletes with the 1080 Sprint.

“Summer’s our biggest dedicated training block, so I train lots of volume then,” Kennedy says. “As we go through the summer, that’s when I love the variable resistance on the 1080, where in a short sprint I can start to let the athletes naturally get to a higher speed. But then I keep a little bit of a heavier resistance on the start, because it keeps patterning a good lean and a good first few steps. Then, as we get to the end of the off-season, I will use overspeed, or the assisted function, and I put a priority on hitting a really high top speed.”

Striding vs Gliding

As Kennedy works to develop explosiveness and linear acceleration, he also adds in drills to address the unique components of competing on ice, targeting the physical demands for change of direction and ground force production that are exclusive to skating.

“On ice, there’s a lateral aspect to every push-off. Especially when you get to top speed, you’re gliding, in which you don’t actually pick your feet up off the ice much any more,” Kennedy says. “Because of that, I’ll do more lateral plyos and I’ll do lateral jumping with the 1080 resistance. We start with the same concept, with a lateral pushoff that might be slow and hard, and as we pattern through and start getting those top speed qualities up, I’ll have them jump into the resistance. So let’s say the 1080 is coming off their right hip with resistance, and they’ll jump to the right, so now on their contact they have that extra force pulling them away, and then they’re going to resist it and overcome it.”

The lateral-based work and plyometrics that Kennedy programs off the ice are based in specific moments on it, aiming to build qualities that directly meet the technical and tactical demands of the sport.

“When they start to change direction quickly,” Kennedy says, “For example when they’re exiting the defensive zone or going from the defensive zone to the offensive zone where all of their momentum is going one way and they’re trying to overcome that to go the other, that’s where that [lateral] training is going to come in.”

From Profile to Podium

Kennedy learned about 1080 Motion and it’s applications in part from his acquaintance with Matt Price of the LA Kings and his use of both Sprint & Quantum; while Kennedy has yet to incorporate the Sprint on ice as Price has done, he’s managed to use the device with everything from his hockey players to wheelchair rugby to Paralympic swimming.

Kennedy 1080 Data

Kennedy tracking athlete data on the 1080 platform. Image copyright Thierry Du Bois OSA.

“I’m sort of a data-heavy coach,” Kennedy says of the live data with the 1080, which allows him to give athletes feedback on the spot. “Right away, you get what does that look like on a graph? I can see my whole workout, set to set, rep to rep, and athlete to athlete. To me, that’s incredibly helpful.” 

Specific to his hockey players, in addition to applying resistance and assistance to suit the needs of his workouts, he also uses the data to track dynamic performance changes and individualize the sessions, pinpointing when a workout is no longer having it’s optimal speed impact.

“I have the real time feedback of time with top speed, and that’s good because I find around 2 ½ to 3% is a point where most people feel a change from the best of the day,” Kennedy says. “So if we have a fixed load for the day, at a certain point I may prescribe a workout of say 4 sets of 3 reps. Other days I might say okay, we’re going to go 2 reps basically every minute and a half until we drop by 2 ½ %. And so we’ll let our athletes’ bodies decide how much work they’re going to do, as long as the quality is there. And I’ve just found anecdotally that 2 ½ % of the day’s fastest is about where they start to feel and look sluggish.”

“I want to know how I’m making decisions in terms of…are we where we need to be? Are we where we were last year? What was the best year we’ve ever had playing hockey? What kind of benchmarks did we hit at different times of the year in terms of speed or explosiveness qualities? So [knowing] how we deal with when we’re away from that or when we’re on it.”