Monday, September 6, 2010

Sk8Strong News

It's been a long time since I've blogged!  A lot has been happening at Sk8Strong.  We are now present in over 30 countries and at many training camps in the US, with thousands of skaters using Sk8Strong functional training.  Sk8Strong seminars are going strong, and we are excited to schedule seminars through the winter of 2010/2011.  Book a seminar at your rink for skaters and coaches, to learn the right way to train off-ice, prevent injury, and ultimately improve skating skills!  Check out detailed information at  Don't forget to visit our articles page for new articles every month or so.  Thank you to our large group of followers who diligently read our articles as soon as they are posted.  Sk8Strong is also on Facebook and Twitter, where you can be updated with special promotions, news, and training tips every day!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Analyzing the Strength of Olympic Figure Skaters

We watch the Olympics figure skating with awe, wonder, and excitement, wondering who will pull off that magical program for a medal or their personal best.  We think of what it took for these skaters to reach this point, and what they sacrificed to get to the highest competitive level in their sport.  As a physical therapist, I also look at the competitors from a different perspective.  I watch the skaters jump, spin, and complete footwork and think 'Wow, he's got a lot of core strength' or 'She's got tremendous flexibility and strength to sustain that move."  I thought I'd provide some commentary about several skaters regarding how I view their strengths and weaknesses, to gain insight as to what brought them to the Olympic level.

Evan Lysacek:  It is rare that we see a skater of Evan's height that is able to consistently pull off triples jumps with such a vertical axis of rotation.  The taller you are, the more core strength you require.  It is rare to see him deviate from that perfect axis, which indicates his excellet ability to use his abdominal muscles and lower back to stabilize the center of his body .  I can also note his flexibility, which is especially good for a tall male.  Typically, a taller person will present with tighter hamstrings, among other muscles, that would affect his ability to complete the spin variation positions which her acheives so easily.  Obviously, he puts a tremendous amount of work into his training, which I assume includes a great deal of off-ice work.

Evgeni Plushenko:  It is easy to say that this man is incredibly strong.  Anyone who can complete quads with such ease possesses exceptional lower, upper body, and core strength.  His ability to land jumps that are slightly off-axis iin rotation is amazing, and that is pure strength.  The one aspect of his conditioning he needs to improve upon is his flexibility.  You can see his lack of flexibility in his spins, as he does not attempt many difficult variations.

Patrick Chan:  I had the opportunity last summer to interview Patrick about his off-ice training routines, and he was a pleasure to talk with! (Please see posting from last July/August for complete interview).  From watching Patrick skate, it is easy to see that he has a great center of balance in his footwork, by constantly shifting his weight onto deep edges and completing effortless twizzles and turns.  Difficult footwork requires quick reactions from your 'balance control centers', and Patrick excels in that department.  For some reason, his jumping makes me uneasy.  When I watch Evan skate, I am not concerned that he will miss a jump, as he is so consistent.  I watch Patrick and find myself nervous that he will make a mistake.  After carefully observing his jumping, I have found that he sometimes does not reach far back enough on his toe jumps, which may indicate a flexibility issue with his psoas (hip flexors).  It also may be a timing issue, yet flexibility may also affect his jumping.  He is one of my favorite skaters to watch, and I would love to enjoy his programs without being on the edge of my seat!

Yuna Kim:  I can't reallly find anything that is lacking in this young lady!  She has tremendous plyometric strength to complete her jumps at such height, sufficient flexibility to be able to perform the difficult spin variations and spirals, and terrific balance which affects her overall skating.  What more can you say?

Joannie Rochette:  Joannie is the definition of pure strength and athleticism.  What she lacks in flexibility, she makes up for in strength.  Her jump landings, when her axis is on, are solid as a rock, showing great control and speed.  She doesn't have the jump height of some of her competitiors, yet she has a great ability to check out of the jumps with strength and quickness, upon a strong landing leg and hip muscles.

Rachael Flatt:  Rachael is another skater who lacks flexibility, but makes up for it in strength.  For her to rotate her triples without much height, she has to possess a strong core, as well as  strong hip and upper body muscles to acheive her tight air position.  Otherwise, she would never complete the rotation, as her plyometric strength is lacking, resulting in low jumps.  I'm sure that Rachael works on her flexibility, yet some people's muscles and joint capsules only have a certain amount of extensibility, no matter how much they are stretched.  Rachael is able to pick up points in other areas to make up for her inability to acheive certain positions that require flexibility.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Motivation is Key to a Skater's Success

In the spirit of the Olympics and witnessing the drive and dedication of many of the top skaters, I thought I’d share a story with you.

As a young skater, I had a lot of talent and potential. I was one of those skaters with natural musicality, a love for performing, and the ability to stay competitive with the top skaters at my level. Peaking at the novice level at regionals, I could do a clean double axel and double-double combinations, which would enable a skater to reach sectionals in the early nineties. I worked with top international coaches with excellent technique. Then why did I have trouble making it out of the initial round at regionals, when I knew I could be as good as the top skaters?

The simple answer is, I was weak. I’m not just talking strength-wise, but mentally. I was never willing to push myself to the limits. Knowing what I know now, I look back on my training and realize that I could have put so much more into my skating to make me realize my potential. Here is why I considered myself weak:

1: I never trained my program properly. At the higher levels of skating, the need for stamina and endurance is at a premium. Skaters need to be training double run throughs and completing every element in their program. I look back at all of the times when I left out a jump because I just didn’t feel right, or someone was in my way (when in reality, they were 50 feet away and I just used their presence as an excuse not to jump). Coaches and parents, does this sound familiar? If a skater can’t run a full program with all of the elements in practice, how will he or she be able to do it when the pressure is on? When I competed, I had the false notion that I could pull off a clean program, when in reality, I had rarely done it in practice. Was I afraid to fail in practice, thinking that failure would carry over to competition? That I’ll never figure out.

2: I did not have the motivation to train my stamina. Yes, I’d occasionally get on the exercise bike or jump rope for ten minutes, but this training was very infrequent and had no structure. As a skater with a three minute + program, you need to push yourself to reach new limit points with stamina training, to go past the point or level that is difficult. The next time you reach that level, it will become easier. I was satisfied coasting at a comfortable level, never pushing myself to be better, and this carried over to my lack of skating endurance.

3. I did not have the proper off-ice training. This was not the fault of my coaches, as there were little to no resources at that time to refer to regarding off-ice training. Skaters in this day and age have several excellent resources available (including Sk8Strong!), and physical therapists and strength and conditioning specialists in this day and age have significantly more education in proper training methods. Hopefully every skater can have access to proper training programs to help them to achieve their potential and prevent injury. In was unfortunate that I had to put my own competitive career for several years due to a back injury that could have been prevented with the proper training. In this era, skaters will be able to prevent such injuries from occurring.

I am happy to say, at age thirty, I was able to skate the best program of my life at Eastern Sectionals in 2007, competing in Championship Masters. The only reason I was able to complete that skate is because of a coach who pushed me to want to be better. I did my double run throughs until my quads gave out, and I spent every weekend at my clinic (with my baby watching curiously in the pack-and-play) torturing my body with plyometrics and slideboard drills. In the end it was worth it, because I was as well-trained as I could be come competition time. The feeling at the end of that program was worth the countless hours I sacrificed to be at my best. Every skater needs to find that motivation and drive within themselves, and it will help them reach whatever their goals may be.