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Can ‘Fifteen Second Rep’ Make Goalies Faster?

If you want to move explosively like top NHL goalies like Braden Holtby, consider how you train in practice. IS the 15-second rep right for you?

If you want to move explosively like top NHL goalies like Braden Holtby, consider how you train in practice. Is the 15-second rep right for you?

This article was inspired by one simple question: when a goaltender is performing a continuous skating drill at full speed, how long should the drill last? This article will be a basic look at the specific physical demands of the position and ways to target these demands in training.

Power-skating should be a crucial aspect of any goaltenders training regimen. The term “power-skating” implies two things: Power, which is synonymous with other terms like explosive movement, agility, weight transfer, quickness, and foot-speed, and Skating which as we all know is a crucial backbone to the success of any goaltender with their ability to get around in control.

In kinesiology, power generally refers to generating maximum force as quickly as possible. Goaltenders have a very small area and short time-frame to reach a maximum speed. We are not gathering speed through the neutral zone or driving wide around a defense-man, we are moving from the top of the crease back to the post sometimes with minimal initial momentum. The ability to accelerate in control is a huge part of the game for goaltenders.   


Jimmy Howard Crease Movement Drill

Jimmy Howard works on crease movement drills warming up under the guidance of coach Jim Bedard.

Acceleration is not the same thing as speed. Speed (or velocity) is a constant term that describes the rate at which something changes position in a set period of time, while acceleration is a derivative of velocity, meaning it describes the rate at which the velocity changes.

The time in which this change in velocity occurs is the most important variable for goaltenders. Shortening the amount of time to reach a certain velocity means an increase in the rate of acceleration. A quick acceleration means an explosive push or change in direction, which can be the difference between a save or a goal, a win or a loss.

Let’s now move to the ice at practice with 10 or 15 minutes to work on some skating, with the focus on increasing foot-speed. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • SAID Principle
  • Energy Systems
  • Drill duration & Recovery time

SAID Principle

If you want to be fast, train fast. This is essentially the underlying concept of the SAID Principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). When working with goaltenders on their foot-speed, the idea is to move the goaltenders outside of their comfort zone, which calls for a neuromuscular adaptation to this new demand. What this means is that if a goaltender wants to stay the same speed, they should train at a speed that is already comfortable. If a goaltender wants to improve and get faster, they have to train at a higher speed and make their body adapt to working at those higher speeds and higher force outputs, quicker weight transfers and direction changes.

Just as drills can target something technical or tactical, there is also a component for state-specific physical fitness when moving with the resistance of all of the equipment that cannot be done off the ice in the gym. It is during these physical fitness drills designed to increase foot-speed, quickness, agility, etc. that the proper energy systems should be a major focus. Some energy systems are responsible for sustaining movements for long periods of time, and others are responsible for short duration, high-speed, high-intensity movements. So what is an “energy system” and how can we target them?

Energy Systems

Crease movement drills are an important part of all goalie's training. Seen here training in the summer of 2015, Devan Dubnyk is working on his skating skills and power.

Crease movement drills are an important part of all goalies’ training. Seen here in the summer of 2015, Devan Dubnyk is working on his skating skills and power.

For us to do any kind of movement, we have to call on one of our body’s energy systems. Our muscles use a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) as the immediate source of fuel to power our muscles. ATP is held together with high-energy bonds, and the energy released when these bonds are broken is essentially what drives our muscles.

But we don’t have an unlimited supply of ATP, and it takes some time to re-fill our ATP stores as our muscles are working. If muscle contraction is to continue, our bodies must continuously rebuild the ATP molecule, and replenish the ATP stores. The metabolic processes for producing ATP can be broken down in to two main categories: Aerobic, and Anaerobic.

Within these metabolic processes are the three major energy systems:

  • Oxidative system– The aerobic system. This is the system used when the demand of the exercise is low enough that there is enough oxygen present to allow the required ATP to be produced before used up by the muscles and completely depleted. Think low-intensity, long-duration movements like walking, or in the case of goaltenders doing a light warm-up skate at 50% speed.
  • Glycolytic system– An anaerobic system that uses glucose as the primary fuel. This anaerobic glycolysis is able to rapidly produce ATP to help meet energy requirements during more intense exercise, when oxygen demand is greater than the body’s ability to transport and supply oxygen. However, this high rate of ATP production cannot be sustained for very long, only about 60 to 90 seconds.
  • Phosphagen system– The rocket fuel system of our bodies. As the name implies, the phosphagen system makes use of the phosphate bonded to the ATP molecule. The third phosphate is held to the ATP molecule by a very strong, high-energy bond. The third phosphate is released, ATP turns to ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate), and the energy from the bond is used to power the muscles. Our bodies have a limited amount of ATP available for use in high-intensity exercise, and must be replenished. ATP is stored right in the muscle fibers, providing an immediate supply of energy. The phosphagen system dominates for high-intensity, short duration exercise.

The takeaway message is that the ATP fuel stores are depleted much faster than the can be replenished during intense exercise, where low-intensity exercise produces a near-continual source of fuel that allows us to sustain the exercise for much longer. Some movement calls for a lot of power very quickly (exploding back to the post to get a pad on a rebound/ deflection/ bounce off the boards), in which case the phosphagen system would be used. Other types of movement call for a smaller amount of power over a long period of time, so the oxidative system would be used.

Drill Duration & Recovery Time

We can design any number of movement drills to target the foot-speed element, but we have to be aware of the capacity of our energy systems when executing the drills. Skating drills that call for “game-speed” movement at 100% output designed to increase power should be designed to actually increase power! Because this type of movement is almost exclusively reliant on the anaerobic phosphagen energy system, we must be aware of the fact that goaltenders are depleting their ATP stores in about 10 to 15 seconds when working at a maximum output. If a drill like this is timed for 60 seconds, the goaltender physically cannot maintain the high rate of speed they start at for that amount of time, and only the first 25% of the drill is done at the desired speed. This means the majority of the drill (~75%) is done at a slower speed than the goaltender is trying to perform at! Just because the goaltender is sweating and breathing hard, it doesn’t mean they are actually getting faster. They might be improving the capacity of another energy system like their Oxidative system (which is by no means a bad thing, unless it is the phosphagen system that is the focus), but this will have little if any impact on their explosive foot-speed.

Train fast, be fast. Train slow, stay slow. Performing a 15 second drill at 100% speed will be far more beneficial than performing a 60 second drill at 70% speed if the intent is to increase foot-speed.

Train properly and you can be a more explosive goaltender regardless of age.

Train properly and you can be a more explosive goaltender regardless of age. Photo: Ron Hayes.

Goaltenders will use all the energy systems at some point in a game. Much of the game is spent relying on either the Oxidative or Glycolytic systems, but it is important to recognize the type of movement that relies on these. Goaltenders should train in all three energy systems and have a good aerobic base and muscular endurance, but we have to know that when training a specific component like explosive speed, it is trained differently than the other energy systems.

The research suggests that an extremely high intensity event that relies exclusively on the phosphagen system will deplete ATP in 0-6 seconds. It would be difficult to find a movement that would deplete a goaltender’s ATP in 6 seconds, as this type of event would be something similar to an Olympic lift that requires the athlete to move a constant, heavy load with full-body involvement. Goaltenders moving at full-speed probably don’t deal with enough resistance to deplete the ATP in 6 seconds, which is why the movement can be sustained at peak output for a bit longer, around 10 to 15 seconds.

15 seconds is likely more realistic as there will be a brief time in between the actual explosive pushes that a goaltender has to regain balance and shift the centre of mass appropriately to allow a maximal exertion in another direction. But another benefit of training fast is these weight-transfers will be forced to happen quicker and more efficiently, causing a neuromuscular adaptation so essentially these faster shifts become more comfortable over time.

The research suggests a work to rest ratio of between 1:5 and 1:20. The Olympic lift would probably require the longer rest interval, so for an activity that lasts 6 seconds the rest interval would be about 2 minutes.

For goaltenders midget and older, a good place to start is likely around 15 seconds on and 2 minutes of rest if the intention is to increase explosive foot-speed. Some judgment is involved when determining the skating ability of the goaltender and if they are able to shift their balance quick enough to explode in another direction and deplete their ATP in that amount of time. Younger goaltenders who still need to think about the mechanical nuances of their movement won’t be able to reach this peak output the same way they would if they were sprinting up a set of stairs, as the movement is not yet automatic enough to perform without thinking.

As for the number of sets, 3 or 4 is a good place to start but there are other factors at play. One factor is limited time, so with a 2-3 minute rest the goaltender might run out of time allocated to them during a team practice or ice-time. Also the goaltender will start to fatigue after a few sets and the top speed at the onset will slowly start to decrease.

I hope this article was informative and useful in some way, and didn’t bring back any bad memories from high-school science classes. For further discussion, contact me at [email protected]

Most of the information on ATP and energy systems is from Anthony Leyland, M.Sc., kinesiology Professor at Simon Fraser University. Bio at Literature and references are available upon request.


About The Author

Evan Kurylo

Evan Kurylo is the owner and instructor of Coretex Goaltending, a goalie school in Edmonton, Alberta. Evan has been coaching and instructing goaltenders for over 14 years, and played Collegiate hockey in Alberta and British Columbia. Evan graduated from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. degree in Psychology, taking much of what he studied (and continues to learn) and applies it to his coaching and writing. Evan is fortunate to have regular contact with many elite coaches and mentors, including Perry Pearn, John Stevenson, Dr. Brent Bradford, Sean Murray, Dr. David Cox, and more. For more information, visit, or contact Evan at [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. Greg Magri

    Excellent analysis and thought provoking. …pushing a goalie beyond his limits to set higher limits!