“Load the Legs!”
Any athlete I have worked with, especially in hockey, has heard that phrase from me countless times. It is probably the most common verbal cue I give to athletes throughout my training programs. It doesn’t matter if the training emphasis that day is on agility, strength or power development, I can be heard telling athletes that phrase from warm-up throughout the workout.
“Load the Legs” refers to using the legs during any movement. A good bend in the knees with butt down and your head and chest up, you are in the optimal position to produce power- and therefore movement- in any direction. The legs are loaded, much like a spring that has been compressed, and are ready to develop force against the ground or ice to move the body. It is a fundamental position in nearly any athletic endeavor.
When you jump as high as you can, you start the motion by dropping down into a squat position then exploding straight up. The legs are capable of producing massive amounts of force, but they must be placed in a loaded position to do so.
When skating, a player is constantly loading the legs to prepare the stride leg for explosive extension. The stance leg remains in deep flexion at the hip and knee, supporting the body weight, before it will become the stride leg and the opposite leg becomes the stance leg.
When players are unable to load the legs repeatedly during a shift or over the course of a game, they start standing more upright on the ice. From this position, they cannot effectively use the legs to produce explosive strides. In addition, their center of gravity is higher and they are less balanced.
Throughout our off-ice training programs, I have components that require the athletes to have their feet on the ground and their legs loaded. From weighted medicine ball work to weight training to cardiovascular conditioning, having the legs loaded and supporting the body in a standing position is critical to successful transfer of training effect to the ice.
In fact, “Load the Legs” is a common verbal cue also used by our Power Skating Coach, Mark Ciaccio, when working with the players’ skating. By emphasizing the need for players to develop strong, explosive legs that can repeatedly stay in a loaded position, they can stay low and loaded, rapidly producing explosive skating strides throughout a hockey shift.