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Off-Ice Activities for Skaters

Ballet Exercises
       Before lacing up your skates, it is highly desirable to perform stretching and warm up exercises. This can prevent muscle strains and tears. The off-ice warm-up saves time that would otherwise be spent in warming up on the ice.

       Low impact aerobic exercises are especially important and should become a part of a regular pre skating stretching and and post skating cooling down period.

       The most effective way to improve your stretching is to stretch every day before and after on ice practice sessions. You also can stretch after awakening in the morning or before going to bed at night. With stretching, more is better than less, but never stretch to the point of pain, and never stretch an injury unless under the supervision of your supervising physician.

      Ballet classes can be very helpful in improving basic posture, developing presentation and musical expression, plus learning how to control the core body by "find your body's center" (shoulders,
hips, and feet in a vertical line).

      Using the barre for stretching is especially appropriate to perform static positions such as a sit spin, camel spin, arabesque spiral, split jump. These exercises are very similar to the ice skating activities.
The majority of figure skating activities use all the muscle groups, rather than isolating certain muscles.

      When working on highly specific skills such as jumps and spins, the preferred choice to target the major muscle groups but are specific to the performance of the skating skill.

      The Plié in ballet is when a dancer bends his or her knees and then straightens them in a smooth continuous movement.  This is the same movement in skating that allows the:
  • Transference of weight from one foot to the other (stroking) while traveling in the same direction
  • Transfer of weight while changing feet and direction using (mohawks and choctaws),
  • Changing directions on one foot (rockers, counters, brackets, three turns). 
        Plie's train the body in shape and placement. Plies should be performed in in all of the 5 basic positions of ballet. There are two kinds of plies, demi and grand. In demi plies, the knees are bent halfway. In grand plies, the knees are completely bent.
Five Ballet Foot Positions
      The five basic positions of ballet are important because every basic move in ballet begins and ends in one of the positions. There is a strong transference of many ballet skills and presentation in skating performances.




The Ballet Combination Book, 4th Edition 
contains over 250 combinations for the ballet class. This book is designed to help you with a multitude of choices and ideas.  You'll find basic technique ideas for young dancers, as well as more difficult combinations for the intermediate dancer.

       Stretching and relaxing muscles does not diminish your muscle tone. It does the opposite. Muscles that retain tension are weaker than muscles that are relaxed properly with correct stretching.

       A stretch position should be held or 15-30 seconds and Never Bounce or pulsate. The foot on the floor should be flat. Going onto the toe does NOT provide any positive transfer for figure skaters. Stretching movements done improperly can cause serious injuries.

      Ballet requires the same high level of athletic ability to master the dance technique as it does any sports skill. The precision and strength of ballet moves requires the development great muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, and total body control. Perfecting form and the techniques require hours of repetitive movement that stresses muscles and joints. It is essential to warm-up gradually before stretching to prevent injury and assisting loosen tight muscles.

     Always perform stretches after your muscles are warm; a five minute warm-up will suffice in normal room temperatures. In a colder environment, lengthen the warm-up period. There are five types of stretching:
  • Static - Static stretching is when you push yourself into your full stretch and hold it;
  • Dynamic - Dynamic stretching is when you gradually increase the stretch to your maximum.
  • Ballistic - involves bouncing up and down repeatedly to touch your toes. This type of stretching is generally not considered useful and can lead to injury as it does not allow your muscles to adjust to, and relax in, the stretched position.
  • Eccentric Eccentric muscle action is a lengthening muscle contraction. The muscle fiber (sarcomeres) crossbridges are at their maximal overlap at the beginning of the contraction, therefore, the eccentric contraction generates more tension than both concentric and isometric contractions.
  • Proprioceptive - Proprioceptive muscular facilitation is one of the most effective forms of flexibility training for increasing range of motion. PNF techniques can be both passive (no associated muscular contraction) or active (voluntary muscle contraction). While there are several variations of PNF stretching, they all have one thing in common - they facilitate muscular inhibition.
Proprioceptors are specialized sensory receptors on nerve endings found in muscles, tendons, joints, and the inner ear. These receptors relay information about motion or position and make us aware of our own body position and movement in space. Proprioceptors detect subtle changes in movement, position, tension, and force, within the body. The proprioceptors of the musculoskeletal system are found in the tendons and in the muscle fibers.


Stretch in Straddle
Stretch Backward Splits
Hold Leg in Extension



Extend Leg Behind
Stretch in Attitude
Stretch Forward



Stretch in Penchee
Stretch Backwards
Stretch To Side

Source of illustrations - Dance About. com

      Off-ice training is surrounded by a lot of hype in the world of skating. Many skaters participate, many coaches highly recommend it, and are supported by trainers who teach group classes and private lessons.

      Off-Ice Training may occur because ice time may not be available at a reasonable price and time that is suitable to the age group of the athlete during the regular winter skating season or in intervening months after the conclusion of the winter competitive season and the start of training for the next competitive season.

The Validation of Off-ice Training Programs
      The typical sales pitches made by pitch men in the late 1800's and early 1900's "medicine shows" and carnivals that traveled throughout the midwest and western USA were deceptively false and misleading to close a sale. Is the off-ice training justifiable according to objective, scientific research that measures increases in athletic performance? Parents should question glowing testimonials that are proffered as factual evidence rather than based on data resulting of scientific research.

      Parents really need to know the details of what off-ice training involves, what it realistically will accomplish, and the full costs. A parent may sign up their child for off-ice training solely based upon the recommendations of the their coach without really knowing what the benefits and potential downside of their child's participation.

    Parents should have a better understanding of the proper forms of all exercise programs:

  • how often exercise should be done,
  • who should instruct the exercise,
  • why these off-ice training exercises are important.

Should skaters do exercises off-ice?
      Each of the ice skating sports has specific physical, mental, and emotional skill requirements. Each sport - speed skating, hockey, and figure skating  put significant strength and flexibility demands on the body. Skaters are among of the strongest and best trained athletes in the world.

      Some athletes have sufficient natural strength, balance, and core strength that will allow them to quickly move up through the lower levels of skating skill development, but the majority of skaters need to follow a specific training program to acquire those attributes that are necessary in order to progress to higher levels.

      Once the "naturally talented" skaters reach a level where natural ability can not take them further. The core strength and plyometric strength requirements of the sport are significant, and at some point, a skater needs to increase their strength, enhance their coordination, and develop higher thresholds of endurance/ stamina beyond what he or she is naturally endowed ability.

      Completing a professionally designed and approved off-ice training program at a minimum of twice a week, should result in skaters making steady progress that translates to their on-ice skills. Ideally this should occur at a much faster pace than they would otherwise achieve without the off-ice training. The goal is for the athlete to be able to handle the physical strength demands associated with advanced jumping and spinning associated with the need to meet the escalating technical and performance demands of programs that increase in length with each higher event level.

Physical Stability, Stamina, and Coordination
      It is the stability of the core (shoulders to hips) that allow a skater to maintain the control of their entire body to accomplish the specific tasks associated with each skating discipline:
  • Speed Skating - propel themselves forward at full speed
  • Hockey - propel themselves forward and backwards and quickly reserving directions while maintaining complete control of the puck, and shooting accrecary
  • Figure Skating - propel themselves  forward and backwards while quickly changing directions without any loss of control or power. 
Figure Skaters must achieve the minimum necessary height to perform single and multi-revolution jumps. A skater requires significant plyometric strength throughout the lower extremity, especially the quads and gluteal muscles. This can only be gained with functional and plyometric strengthening off of the ice. Here are some examples of the specific attributes a skater needs to succeed in the sport of figure skating:

1) Core strength and stability
Core strength originates from the abdominal and back muscles. These muscles work together to serve the body's  "control center" for the body's balance and stability. In the sport of figure skating, skaters need exceptionally strong core muscles to maintain balance, check rotation and maintain a tight air position for jumping, control the center of spin rotation, and control the upper body position during footwork, stroking, and crossovers. A skater has to have a strong core to complete double jumps and beyond. Without sufficient core strength, a skater would not maintain consistency of these elements.

2) Balance
Almost every skill in figure skating is performed on edges and one foot! Some athletes seem to have a cat-like natural balance, but the majority of us need improvement through exercises. There are several factors which affect the sense of balance in our body:

  • Our vestibular system (the inner ear) helps us sense the body's position while we are moving,
  • The eyes help us detect the surroundings and provide hortizonal and vertical references.
  • The balance receptors in our feet and lower extremities tell us where our bodies are in relation to the ground.
3) Strength and power
Muscle strength creates power over the ice surface and for propelling the skater into the air, plus provides endurance necessary to improve and become consistent. Through exercise, a muscle's fibers become tighter and stronger, and can withstand more repetition for longer duration when asked to contract. Increases in strength can correlate with higher jumps, more stable landings, increased energy output, and increased ability to maintain a number of the spin variations required in the IJS.

4) Flexibility
Spirals, biellmann, donut spins, split jumps, spread eagles are among the elements that require extraordinary flexibility. Other basic elements require a specific muscle strength and dexterity development to be performed correctly. Muscle flexibility controls the angle of the knee, hip, and ankle joint on a jump take-off and landing, and a small deficit in muscle length can affect the quality of a jump. Joint position and motion, controlled by the surrounding muscle length, also affects the angle of the joints in the lower extremity during basic stroking, crossovers, spins, and footwork. Each joint in your body needs to achieve a balance of muscle flexibility to move in the proper range of motion. If there is an imbalance of muscle length, a skater may be more prone to injury.

Not all Exercises will Produce a Positive Benefit!
       In the past ten years or so, sports training has progressed from solely using weight machines to using an athlete's body weight as resistance in exercise. Many exercises target the use of several muscle groups at one time rather than focusing on the contraction of a single muscle. In every sport, an athlete moves his or her body in various spatial planes which require several muscles to concontract at the same time. Each movement of the athlete's body involves joint movements that require the strength from several muscles to stabilize it for the action it performs.

       Functional exercises are designed to train the body to mimic the movement of the specific motions performed in their sport. Sports require developing a much high degree of strength, flexibility, and coordin- ation than otherwise would be required of a non athlete. These abilities need to be nurtured through add- itional training and ice skating is no exception!

What Schedule is Recommended for Off-ice training exercises?
       Obviously the training routine and requirements are different for hockey, speed, and figure skaters. Skaters who are participating on a team may get a better price for the training if arrange as a group. The training MUST be coordinated with the on-ice coach to avoid conflicting schedules and training goals.

       Depending on the skater's level, schedule, and goals, a national competitor may do off-ice training five days per week, as opposed to a recreational skater's program of one day a week. It is recommended to complete two to four days of off-ice training per week, depending on your level. Even if you choose to complete an off-ice training routine per week, you will show gains in strength, flexibility, and on-ice consistency. You take your training into your own hands, and control your own progress. You can find sample off-ice training periodization schedules through www.usfigureskating.org or in the Sk8Strong Off-ice Training for Figure Skaters Manual.

Lauren Downes, MSPT is the owner of Sk8Strong Inc. and is a licensed physical therapist,
figure skating professional, and off-ice trainer. she has created sport specific strength and conditioning DVDs for figure skaters of all levels, a training manual, and various reports to
educate the skating world about proper off-ice training techniques. For more information refer to http://www.sk8strong.com

Starting an off-ice training program
       Sk8Strong has produced DVD resources for specific levels of skaters available to guide parents, skaters, and coaches in developing an off-ice training program specific for figure skaters. It is always recommended that an athlete have an annual physical conducted by a health professional to evaluate if the skater is qualified to participate in the exercise program.

       To insure that a skater is using proper technique a parent must ensure the trainer 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 is important to work with someone qualified in order to avoid injury to the athlete, and receive the maximum benefit for the funds expended.

Recommended Reading:

The Effects of the 5 Ballet Foot Positions The Effects of the 5 Ballet Foot. Positions on Spinal and Lower. Extremity Posture.

Dance Stretching Exercises

Art of Ballet ~ Stretching Stretching is a vital part of any exercise program and athletics. ... You do not learn the steps in ballet and then execute them perfectly immediately - it takes lots of practice.

How to Do Splits An illustrated, step-by-step tutorial for learning how to do side and center splits.

Straddle Stretch Routine for Splits  A step-by-step guide illustrating how to stretch to increase flexibility for doing the splits.

Leg Hold  A leg hold is a beautiful step for showing flexibility. Learning how to do a leg hold takes practice, and a lot of stretching.

Jazz Stretch for Hamstrings  An illustrated step-by-step guide to stretching your hamstrings and strengthening your back and arms for jazz dancing.

Jazz Hip Stretch  An illustrated, step-by-step guide to performing a hip stretch for jazz.


References:
  • The Five Basic Ballet Positions   Our Ballet for Adult Beginners section has this free photo guide to the Five Basic Ballet Positions for Feet and Arms.
Resources:

The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

  
Developing Training Plans for Athletes
Evaluation of Training
Age Training Guidelines
Components of Training Plan
Stages of Acquiring New Skills
Strategies for Training
Strategies for Competing
Fitness Training & Sports
Advanced Training
List Daily Training Tasks
Construction of a Training Plan
Developing An Annual Training Plan
Principles of Global Training
Competitive Training
Starting to Seriously Train
Skating Environment
Peaking Performance
Benefits of Cross Training
Principle of Varying Training
Varying Training Improves Results
Approaches to Training
Approaches to Jump Training
Transferring Knowledge & Skills
Aerobic Activities
Anaerobic Activities
Exercises to Develop Coordination
Off-Ice Activities For Skaters
Fitness and Conditioning
Off-Season Conditioning Activities
Tips for Long Distance Traveling
Mental Barriers to Training & Competing
Mental Considerations for Athletic Training
Mental Considerations of Training
Mental Strategies for Training
Endurance Training Activities
Flexibility Training Activities
Body Weight Exercise Training
Weight Training Activities
Brian Grasso Articles
Evaluation Assessment

All materials are copy protected. 
The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.


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