06 March 2012

Backwards skating

I'm a terrible backwards skater and I finally decided to think about how to improve. Here are some things I've learned.

Backward stride

  1. Glide backward on the flats of both skates.
  2. Prepare to push with your leg. Place your weight above the pushing skate.
  3. Pivot the pushing skate outward with the heel facing out to the side. You want the pushing foot to be nearly at a right angle with respect to your gliding foot.
  4. Dig the inside edge of the pushing skate into the ice by rolling your ankle and bending the knee so that the skate and lower leg form a 45 degree angle to the ice. Make sure your full body weight is concentrated over the pushing skate.
  1. Start the c-cut. Use the front half of the blade to push.
  2. Start the push from the middle of the inside edge and finish at the toe. Drive the pushing leg against the edge, using a forceful snapping action of the leg.
  3. The push must executed with full extension of the leg, finishing with a toe flick of the inside edge. Your knee should lock out.
  4. At the midpoint of the c-cut, transfer your weight from your pushing skate onto the gliding skate. When you skate backwards, your body weight should be over the back half of the gliding blade. However, the entire blade of the gliding skate stays in contact with the ice.
  1. Keep the entire blade length of the pushing skate on the ice after the thrust is completed.
  2. Keep the knee of the gliding leg well bent, even when the thrusting leg is extended.
  3. Keep the gliding skate pointing straight backward all through the c-cut, with the entire blade length in contact with the ice.
  1. It's imperative that you do a proper recovery, so that your pushing foot is in the right position for the next c-cut.
  2. After the thrusting leg reaches full extension, re-pivot the foot to face inward.
  3. Pull the returning skate under your center of gravity and re-pivot your foot again when your foot gets under your body. You foot will make a larger arc as it returns and a small arc as you re-pivot under your body. Keep the entire skate blade on the ice as you complete the return.
  4. After the return, your skates should be side by side and under your body. You should not have one skate in front of the other. If that happens, you might end up zig-zagging down the ice.
  5. Now you are ready to do the next c-cut.
Key points and discussion

The most important thing to do is to get low. You want to bend your knees so much that they extend two inches forward of your toes. Imagine trying to bend your knees so much that your knees nearly touch your chest. Or imagine getting so low that you sit on the floor. Yes, get that low. And yes, it's exhausting. It takes much more effort and energy to skate backwards than forwards.

The second key point is to pivot your foot 90 degrees before you start the c-cut. It's hard to get power if your foot is at a shallow angle when you begin the c-cut. You want your foot to start perpendicular if possible. This requires some flexibility.

The reason you need to pivot your foot perpendicular is so that you can made a wide c-cut with a large radius. What you don't want is a c-cut with a small radius. The wider you can make your c-cut the more push you get.

The third key point is to get as close to 100% body weight on the pushing (cutting) skate as possible. To practice this, you can do c-cuts down the ice on one leg at a time. This will help you learn how to balance on your inside edge going backwards. It's similar to the power skating exercise where you glide on your inside edges, making half circles up the ice. The difference is that now you do it backwards.

You might have trouble getting full extension of your leg on the c-cut. This is a matter of balance. Make sure you do the things already discussed -- a) get as low as possible and b) get full body weight on the pushing skate.

A former Division I and Olympic player gave me the following advice. Don't skate pretty. Don't make beautiful c-cuts. Your goal is to skate with power and efficiency. You want to concentrate on pushing as hard as you can (explosively) on the first 1/3 of the push. As you push, thrust your leg out hard to full extension. As soon as you get to full extension, shift your weight to your gliding foot. I found that if I didn't shift my weight fast enough, I would lose my edge to the pushing foot.

When you start getting good at your c-cuts, you'll find yourself zig-zagging down the ice. Keep the gliding foot pointing straight backwards. You want to go backwards in a straight line, not a zig-zag. According to Laura Stamm, it's not possible to go backwards in an exact straight line, there will be a slight curve.

Remember to keep your skate blades on the ice. They should not lift up at any point during the backward stride.

The proper posture is to bend your knees as much as possible, keep your shoulders back, your back straight, and your head up. If you don't have a stick (for example, if you're practice at public skating where sticks aren't allowed), imagine holding a stick.

Keep the upper body and head still, except for the arms.

As you skate, move your arms in sync with your legs. As one leg makes a c-cut, move the arm, on the same side, forward while the opposite arm drives back. For example, if you make a c-cut with your left leg, move your left arm forward and drive your right arm back. The arms should move parallel to your body and not be swinging side to side.

Robby Glantz suggests that you practice the return, you should click your feet together. Of course, this is only when you practice, not in a real game situation.

A friend of mine who played Division I hockey had the following suggestion. When you first learn the backward stride, exaggerate the twisting hip motion.

Another thing you can try is to do forward c-cuts for practice.

Backward starts

There are two types of backwards starts: the straight backward start and the backward crossover start.

The straight backward start is pretty much like the normal backward stride. The difference is that you move your legs as rapidly as possible, while still making proper c-cuts at full extension and recovering. You do everything faster (push, recovery, etc), at a quicker tempo.

For the backward crossover start, you do a backward crossover followed by fast backward strides. It's debatable how many crossovers you should do. Some people suggest doing just one crossover, while I've seen other people recommend doing two crossovers in one direction and one more crossover in the opposite direction to straighten out.

Be very careful about using the crossover backward start. When you do a backward crossover before the forward has picked a direction, you have made the first move and the forward might blow past you. Several Division I players tell me that you actually start slower if you do a crossover. If you need to get back quickly, do a straight backward start. If you need to move laterally and have time, do the crossover start.


There are a couple things you can do to help people one-on-one. You can hold your stick above their head to force them to stay low. You can also have them hold their stick on one end with both hands while you hold the other end of the stick. They skate backwards while you provide resistance to help them keep their balance.

As mentioned before, to practice balancing on one leg and getting full body weight on the c-cut, practice making backward c-cuts down the ice and alternating legs, balancing on the cutting leg.

If you have a lot of players and not too much space, you can have the players lay their sticks on the ice and practicing doing c-cuts with their gliding foot gliding parallel to the stick. This helps teach people to keep their gliding foot pointing straight backward. You can have them do forward c-cuts, backward c-cuts, or both.

Finally, when the players are more advanced, you can have them play defense in one-on-one situations.


Laura Stamm, Laura Stamm's Power Skating (3rd ed), 2001.
Robby Glantz Secrets of Hockey Speed, Vol 1 - "Backward stride"
Laura Stamm - "Smooth powerful stride", 7:45

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