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Recreational Figure Skating FAQ - Off-Ice Training

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Archive-name: sports/skating/ice/rec-skate/off-ice
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Last-modified: Feb 27 2007
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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 and

   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 "plié"). 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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