Closed Chain vs. Open Chain Agility - Drill Selection for On-Ice Performance and Skating Movement Development

Preface: Inspiration for this post originates from an excellent article written by a fellow contributor to the SimpliFaster blog series, Cameron Josse. Check out the original article here.

Hockey, like many other team sports, is a dynamic game of read-and-react situational play. Training and developing our clients to enhance change-of-direction agility skills must be done taking into consideration the types of situations that they will encounter in their high-paced athletic endeavors against a formidable opponent. Many coaches utilize drills with the intent of challenging their players to work on change-of-direction skating skills in conjunction with building their puckhandling capabilities, but in turn (pun intended) merely contribute toward creating pre-defined and choreographed movement patterns that have little to no carryover to in-game utilization.

Closed chain exercises are drills utilizing cones or markers on the ice with the intent of creating a specific and intentional movement sequence. As noted by Josse in his SimpliFaster blog, these types of exercises are prevalent in training field sports athletes such as football players by using tools such as foot ladders and cones for drills such as foot shuffle patterns and various multidirectional sprint patterns. The hockey application involves created predetermined ‘obstacle courses’ in which the player must skate through a specific pattern, utilizing specific skating skills and often incorporating puck control or passing in conjunction. Further to Josse’s definition noting that closed chain exercises are not reactive in nature (whereby the athlete reacts to an external stimulus dictating what movement solution they implement), these ‘obstacle course type’ patterns only serve to degrade optimal skating biomechanics. Their primary cognitive focus is placed upon the successful completion of the obstacle course, and not upon creating optimal potential by leveraging a deep and controlled center of gravity, full range of motion on stride extension, and power production capacity.

Open chain exercises, also commonly referred to as “chaos drills,” are defined by when an athlete reacts to an external stimulus (visual or auditory). As Josse states, the athlete makes a decision (and the following skating movement skills utilized) predicated on the stimulus in their external environment to which they react. Apex Skating uses both visual and auditory stimuli as advanced progressions in our proprietary Coaching Paradigm, as foundational skating movement patterns performed at masterful slow tempos must ultimately graduate up to in-game replication produced at high speeds.

Josse articulates a training modality that Apex Skating is heavily influenced by, which he characterizes as the Closed-to-Open Progression, in which an athlete masters movement skills before being put into an open-chain/chaotic framework. By learning movements in isolation and at slower tempos, skaters can precisely execute skill sets with optimal postural alignment and biomechanical efficiency, ingraining neuromuscular patterning through quality repetition. Apex Skating utilizes technology tools such as high-speed video analysis and 3D motion capture to measure a client’s orderly progression and improvement in movement quality. Using evidence-based coaching allows our Apex Skating clients to progress their skating development in a safe, effective, and quantifiable manner, without instilling and compounding further inefficiencies by merely ‘going through the motions.’