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Recreational Figure Skating FAQ - Off-Ice Training

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Last-modified: Jun 13 2006
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Recreational Figure Skating FAQ

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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

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 time.

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 subject.

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 "pliƩ"). 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

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

/ /
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

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 jumping.

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.

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