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Off-Ice Training for Skaters

     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 justifyable 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.

    Do parents really know how the details of what off-ice training involves, and what it realisticly will accomplish? 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 core body stability that allow a skater to maintain the control of their body to accomplish the specific tasks associated with each specific 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 accrecarty
  • 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 ffofr 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 durations 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, biellmans, donut spins, split jumps, spread eagles are among the elements that require extraordinary flexibility. Other basic elements require a specific muscle strength and dlexibility 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 benfit!
     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 co-contract 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 thier sport. Sports require developing a much high degree of strength, flexibility, and coordination than otherwise would be required of a non-athlete. These abilities need to be nutured through additional 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 conducteed 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 trainerhas 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 inorder to avoid injury to the athlete, and receive the maximum benefit ffor the funds expended.

References:

Principles of Training Athletes:

Developing Course Materials:

Developing A Training Plan

Physical and Mental Training Considerations

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:

  
Off-Ice Training
PDF  Cool Down Exercises
PDF  Warm Up Exercises
PDF  Off-Ice Training For Figure Skaters
PDF  USFS Training Program

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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