20 May 2004 04:50:03
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Recreational Figure Skating FAQ - Off-Ice Training

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Last-modified: May 10 2004
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8. Off-ice training and endurance

Ice skating is probably one of the healthiest forms of exercise.
Before you go on the ice to skate, warm up your muscles and stretch
them. This can go a long way to prevention of sore muscles and injury.

While off-ice training isn't necessary for recreational skating, it
will help you to progress more quickly and besides, it's good for you!
For excellent references on stretching and training muscles, check out
the FAQ's in rec.dance and rec.fitness.

Training programs for competitive skaters are very rigorous. In
preparation for competitions the skater must improve their anaerobic
endurance, since the skater's heart rate is way above what they could
maintain for any length of time. Skating flat out for 4 1/2 minutes
requires an incredible level of stamina!

For the rest of us, aerobics classes are a good bet. Find one with
lots of floor work and stretching. Stair climbing is excellent. Try
taking them two at a time. Other good complementary activities are
cycling, swimming, power walking and other forms of low-impact aerobic
exercise, especially if you can include them as part of your
post-skating stretch and cool down period.

A ballet class can be very helpful. It will improve posture, break the
habit of looking at your feet, and teach you how to "find your center"
(shoulders, hips, and feet in a vertical line).

As always, the *best* exercise/training program is one that you can
integrate into your lifestyle and maintain over an extended period of

8.1 Weight training

Weight training is also good, especially for improving jumps. But
weight training is not recommended for kids because of the potential
for long term damage to a growing skeleto-muscular system

In skill sports, such as skating, there is controversy over weight
training. One school of thought is that the weight activity should
reflect the activity of the skill to be performed, so there is some
neuromuscular training effect as well as the muscular hypertrophy
(strength-gain) of the groups involved. The other is that the activity
should be UNLIKE the related skill. This supposedly will prevent
psychological and neuromuscular confusion over whether you're
performing the desired skill, or the weight activity that's like it.

The first school would appear to be appropriate for relatively static
skills like a sit-spin. This is because an activity that is similar to
this activity is going to have the broadest effect upon all the muscle
groups involved in the activity, rather than just isolating certain
muscles. With highly specific skills such as jumps, it may be better
to train all muscles in the legs with exercises that target the major
muscle groups but are not similar to any jumps in particular.

The second school would be more likely to favor machines, which are
designed to isolate specific muscles without the need for any form.
These machines allow you to build strength without developing the
neuromuscular skills (e.g. proprioceptive perception) necessary to
control your actions.

This isn't considered a good idea - a major part of weight training,
particularly for a beginner, is to develop the neuromuscular system to
fully utilize the strength that you already have, mainly through
efficient muscle fiber recruitment and control over the action.

Basic exercises should cover large muscle groups. A few exercises can
train most of the body. The bits that are missed can be trained by
more specific exercises, but this is not necessary at the
beginner-to-intermediate level.

Find a competent fitness instructor to create a program. If you are
looking for good information regarding weight training for young
athletes, hook up with the National Strength and Conditioning
Association (NSCA).

Their address is:

National Strength & Conditioning Association
P.O. Box 81410
Lincoln, NE 68501
(402) 472-3000

The NSCA has several publications dealing with training young
athletes. They have recently published several position papers on the

AVOID power exercises like plyometrics (explosive jumps) until you
have built the athletes' strength using basic strength exercises.
NEVER do more intense plyometric exercises like bench jumps with
pre-pubescent athletes.

8.2 Improving turn-out

Turnout, the ability to point your feet in opposite directions, has to
come from the hips joints, *not* the knees. You can tell if you're
doing it right by turning your feet out as much as you can and then
doing a knee-bend (ballet "plie"). Your knees should bend along the
same direction your feet are pointed. If they're further in, you need
to stretch more. Forcing turnout by twisting your knees is dangerous
because they can be permanently injured!

The following exercise is excellent for improving your Mohawks and
spread eagles by improving the range of hip rotation. After warming
up, lay on your stomach (on the floor) with your knees spread out, and
try to touch the soles of your feet together, while pressing your
pelvis towards the floor...

(Tough to describe this)..... I'll try an ASCII picture....

Right Knee
Head- > O-|-| >= <- Feet
/ /
Left Knee

You sort of look like a frog -- not a very dignified position, for
sure. The stretch is achieved my trying to push your pelvis and feet
toward the floor. Initially both feet and pelvis will likely be quite
some distance from the floor.

Here's another exercise for the severely hip-rotation challenged.

1. Sit against a wall and bring your feet together and as close to
your behind as you can comfortably.

2. Place your hands on your knees. Swing your knees apart to the point
where your hips start to protest.

3. Push inward with your knees but keep your knees from moving by
pushing back with your hands.

4. Relax your leg muscles. Push your hips a smidgen farther open. Hold
for ten seconds, then bring your knees together a bit with your hands.

5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 ten times.

When you strain to bring your knees together (step 3) and then relax
the muscles (step 4) the muscles relax completely, which allows you to
stretch the hips without your muscles trying to stop you. You should
do this exercise at least once a day.

Again, when you do these or similar exercises to improve turn out, be
very careful not to force your knees!

8.3 Knee strengthening exercises

The quadriceps (quads for short) are four muscle sheets running along
the outer and inner thigh. Although one would think that skating is an
excellent exercise for the quads, with all that knee bending, this is
only true for the outer quads. The inner quads are not used to the
same extent. This could result in a strength unbalance between the
muscles which can slowly pull the knee cap out of track and cause or
aggravate chronic knee pain. Here are a couple of exercises which are
useful to prevent and treat this condition:

--- Slide your back down a wall until you reach a sitting position,
without letting your knees pass beyond your ankles (the knee joint
will be at about 90 degrees). Sit unsupported for as long as you can
while squeezing a cushion or pillow between your thighs.

--- Sit near the edge of a chair or low table with your feet resting
on the floor. Raise one leg so that it is extended forwards (it does
not have to be totally straight) and as turned out at the hip as you
can manage (ie, the inside of your leg will be facing the ceiling).
Don't slouch. If necessary, use a wall to prop up your back. Stay like
that for 30 seconds, then do the other leg, rest and repeat again.

8.4 Plyometrics

The idea is that you get stronger and better at jumping by _doing_ it.
Repeatedly. In a row. In particular, plyometrics is supposed to
improve the explosive spring that is characteristic of all good

So, e.g., you stand there, feet shoulder width apart, take a deep
bend, and jump as high vertically as you can, keeping back straight
and bringing knees up as high as you can. Do this 20 times in a row,
rest one minute and do it again. The next time, bring your legs up
front together (a 'pike' position) and touch your feet with your
hands. 20 times and repeat. Then as in a Russian split. 20 times and
repeat. To a certain extent, you do this in ballet or martial arts,
but not to the same degree of repetition.

You can see that you'd be building some big jumping muscles, and
coordination. But your knees and back take an incredible pounding, and
that's why many ex. physiologists and trainers don't like plyometrics.
If you do enough reps to get the benefits, you may be very sorry. Much
of that depends, obviously, on your body, the surface you jump on, and
exactly how much you do.

8.5 Pilates

Pilates is becoming increasingly popular as off-ice training for
skaters. Although many variations of the original method exist, the
common aim of all the exercises is to work the deep core muscles, with
an emphasis in correct body alignment and stretching . They increase
both strength and flexibility, without adding bulk. While many
exercises require a special machine with pulleys and springs (somewhat
resembling a torture instrument!) , some can be done on the floor or
on a mat. The disadvantage of Pilates compared to other types of
cross-training is the relatively higher cost, particularly when using
private instruction. Callanetics and even ballet can also achieve
similar results.

8.6 Off ice warm-up

Warming up properly before any sport activity is crucial to avoid
injury, improve performance and reduce soreness after exercising.
Unfortunately it is all too common to see skaters whose idea of
warming-up is to do a single lap around the rink and then put their
leg up on on the ice rink barrier! There is also the misconception
that a good warm-up for skating involves only stretching. While
stretching is beneficial and should be included in a full warm-up the
really critical part of warming up,most important to prevent injury
and prepare you for skating is to perform some gentle physical
activity for long enough to increase the temperature of your body
("warm-up") and increase the blood flow to your muscles.

Although in principle it is possible to warm up on the ice, by doing a
few laps or certain Moves In The Field, you will be wasting valuable
(and often expensive) ice time on something which can be done for free
at the rink-side. Even if you think that working on stroking is never
a waste of time, it is much easier to concentrate in proper technique
and posture when you are not all cold and stiff. Also, it is
impossible to stretch you leg muscles properly with your boots on.
Finally, if you test or compete it is especially important to have an
off-ice warm-up routine in order to be able to use the short on-ice
warm up more effectively. Not to mention that the warm up helps relax
and keep those pre-performance nerves under control!
Here are some suggestions for a warm up:
* Start by "lubricating" your joints: gently rotate your head,
shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, bend your knees, raise on your
toe-tips and rotate your ankles. Do not force any movements!
* Do a few of minutes of jogging, jumping rope or similar. This has
to be intensive and long enough to break into a sweat, but you
should not run out of breath or tire out your muscles. Take breaks
to stretch your calf muscles if they feel stiff. You can also do a
few single or (if you can) multi-revolution jumps or run through
your program off-ice.
* Stretch all the major muscles in your body. There is some useful
on-line material about stretching. Just be aware that some
stretching exercises can be harmful if they are not done
correctly. Your instructor can probably give you some tips and
recommend some exercises
* Put on your skates and conquer the ice!

The full off-ice warm up should last between 5-15 minutes. As a rule
of thumb, the higher your skater level and the older you are, the more
you benefit from a longer warm-up. However, even a few minutes make a
big difference: you get a feeling for the ice much faster and skate
with more power and better balance right from the start, being able to
make more efficient use of the session.

8.6.1 The cooling-down

The cool down consists in a gradual decrease of the intensity of a
physical exercise at the end of a work-out.The gradual ramping down of
activity his prevents a sudden stop of the blood flow to the muscles,
which can cause cramps or a drop in blood pressure and a feeling of
overall tiredness. Also, it uses up the excess adrenaline, which can
contribute to heart problems when left unused. Cooling down after a
tiring skating session also helps to get rid of lactic acid that may
have accumulated in your muscles during intense effort.

A cool down can consist in doing a few laps of gentle MITF before
leaving the ice or simply working or something which does not require
full power during the last minutes of the skating session.
Alternatively, you can walk around or jog gently for a couple of
minutes off the ice. Finish the cool down with stretching. It is
claimed that stretching the muscles used during exercise reduces
stiffness and soreness -in any case,it feels great! . Make sure that
the muscles you stretch are totally relaxed.