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Off-Ice Training For Figure Skaters – Why, What, When, and How?
Off-ice training is a hot topic in the world of figure skating. Many skaters do it, many coaches and coaches teach it, but do people really know how it should be done and what it really is? A parent may see an advertisement for an off-ice lesson and register for it based on the recommendations of the skater’s coach, but does that parent really know what the skater is doing in that lesson? After reading this article, you will have a better understanding of appropriate forms of exercise, how often exercise should be done, who should teach the drill, and the importance of off-ice training drills.
WHY should a skater do off-ice exercises?
Figure skating is a sport that requires a lot of strength and flexibility from the body. Athletes from other sports may say that figure skating is not a “sport” and rather an artistic performance, but they are absolutely wrong! Skaters are some of the strongest athletes in the world. I remember a sports physiotherapy class I attended in college where a strength and conditioning coach made us do some tough training exercises. Out of about 45 people, I was the only one who could squat on one leg! Her response was, “Oh sure, you’re the figure skater.”
Some skaters have natural strength, balance, and core strength that will allow them to move quickly through the lower levels of skating, but the majority of skaters need to improve each of these attributes in order to progress to higher levels. Once “naturally talented” skaters reach a level where double jumps and difficult spins are necessary, this natural ability will only take them so far. The core strength and plyometric strength requirements of the sport are significant, and at some point a skater must develop strength beyond what they naturally have. By following an off-ice training program at least twice a week, skaters will progress their on-ice skills at a faster rate and be able to handle the strength demands of jumps, spins and longer programs.
Checking a jump involves contracting the muscles of the abdominals and lower back, to resist the rotational force of the jump. Without core stability, a skater will have difficulty maintaining their body above the skate and will continue to spin past the landing point. Additionally, to reach the correct height to perform a jump, a skater needs significant plyometric strength throughout the lower limb, especially the quadriceps and gluteal muscles. This can only be achieved with functional and plyometric strengthening off the ice. Here are some examples of the attributes a skater needs to be successful in the sport of figure skating….
1) Core strength and stability
Core strength comes from the abdominal and back muscles. These muscles work together to act as a “control center” for balance and stability in the body. In the sport of figure skating, skaters need exceptionally strong core muscles to maintain balance, check rotation, and maintain a tight overhead position for jumping, controlling the center of rotation of rotation, and controlling the position of the top of the body during footwork, punches and crossovers. A skater must have a strong core to perform double jumps and beyond. Without sufficient core strength, a skater would not maintain the consistency of these elements.
Think about the amount of skating that goes on one foot: almost everything! Some people are blessed with a natural balance, but the majority of us need improvement through exercise. There are several factors that affect the sense of balance in our body. First, our vestibular system (the inner ear) helps us sense body position as we move. Second, the eyes help us sense our surroundings. Third, and most important for skaters, the balance receptors in our feet and lower extremities tell us where our body is in relation to the ground.
3) Strength and power
Without muscular strength, a skater would skate very slowly, take small jumps, have shorter, slower pirouettes, and tire easily in a program and during practices. Strength creates power and can improve endurance. It is the first necessity for a skater to improve and become consistent. Through exercise, the fibers of a muscle become tighter and stronger, and can withstand more repetitions for longer durations when asked to contract. Strength increases can be correlated with higher jumps, more stable landings, increased energy production, and increased ability to maintain a number of rotational variations required in the IJS.
Spirals, biellmans, donut spins, split jumps, spread eagles… to name just a few elements that require extraordinary flexibility. Still, you might be surprised to know which basic elements require a certain amount of muscle length to perform correctly. Muscle flexibility controls the angle of the knee, hip, and ankle joint during a jump takeoff and landing, and a slight deficit in muscle length can affect the quality of a jump. The position and movement of the joints, controlled by the length of the surrounding muscles, also affects the angle of the joints of the lower limb during basic movements, crossovers, pirouettes and footwork. Every joint in your body needs a balance of flexibility on all sides to move through the correct range of motion. If there is an imbalance in muscle length, a skater may be more prone to injury.
WHAT type of exercise should a skater do?
Over the past decade or so, athletic training has evolved from the exclusive use of weight machines to the use of an athlete’s body weight as resistance in exercise. Many functional exercises incorporate the use of multiple muscle groups at once, instead of exercises that focus on contracting a single muscle. What is more advantageous? In every sport, an athlete moves their body through different planes of motion that require multiple muscles to co-contract at the same time. Each joint needs the strength of several muscles to stabilize it in the action it performs. Functional exercises train the body in these planes of motion to mimic the movements performed in sports. Many sports require a high degree of strength that an athlete may not have naturally. this strength must be created by additional training. Figure skating is no exception….
WHEN should a skater do off-ice training drills?
Each skater’s training routine and requirements are different, depending on the skater’s level, schedule and goals. A national competitor can train off the ice five days a week, as opposed to a recreational skater’s program one day a week. It is recommended that you follow two to four days of off-ice training per week, depending on your level. Even if you choose to follow one off-ice training routine per week, you will show gains in strength, flexibility and consistency on the ice. You take control of your training and control your own progress. You can find sample off-ice training periodization schedules at www.usfigureskating.org or in the Sk8Strong Off-ice Training for Figure Skaters Manual.
HOW do I start an off-ice training program?
Several resources are available to guide you through an off-ice training program specific to figure skaters. Sk8Strong has produced specific DVDs for each level of skater, and several off-ice training manuals are in circulation. It is always recommended to consult a medical professional to assess the need for certain exercises and to determine if a skater is using the correct technique. If you’re working with a trainer, make sure the person has a degree in a health-related field, ideally a physical therapy degree. There are also several respectable strength and conditioning certifications available from the NSCA and NASM, such as the “Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist” and “Performance Enhancement Specialist” designations. It’s important to work with someone qualified to avoid injury and get the most out of your training.
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