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.

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