by Stephanie Siclari
As with most things in life, a strong foundation is a key component for success. It is no coincidence, then, that a solid foundation in our jump landings sets us up for successful completion of the jump. A wobble here or an over-rotated hip there can lead to the jump not being counted as “clean” or even worse, injury.
Meet the Gluteus Medius
The gluteus medius, perhaps an often-overlooked muscle compared to its widely known friend, the gluteus maximus, is considered by physical therapists to be one of the most important muscles for figure skaters. It is responsible for stabilizing the hip joint and pelvis as well as internal and external rotation, and abduction. The gluteus medius connects the hip joint to the pelvis. Since skating involves a significant amount of weight transfer from one leg to the other, there are several muscles working simultaneously to maintain proper alignment of the lower extremities (hip, knee, ankle, foot). You can look to the gluteus medius for controlling the alignment and stability of the lower extremities. When a skater is in a landing position, the proper alignment of the knee is to track over the second and third toes.
Having balance and proper alignment of the lower extremities will result in better control in your jump landings (among many other benefits) and reduce the risk of injury. Furthermore, having a solid foundation in your jump landings helps enable a technically “clean” jump.
Jump Landing Exercises to Increase Alignment, Balance & Control
Here are several exercises you can do to help keep alignment, balance and control in your jump landings:
- Landing Position Hold: Stand in your landing position for 1 minute. If this is too hard, try for 30 seconds, then increase to 45 seconds and finally to 1 minute. Make sure your spine is in alignment through your axis (center), bent knee (skating knee) is tracking over second and third toes, and head is in between your shoulders; keep your arms strong (firm pressure) and engage your core to assist with your balance.
- Landing Position Hold With Kicks: Stand in your landing position and gently raise your free leg up and down for 1 minute. As you raise your free leg with control, keep it at a level no higher than your standing knee (aim for mid-calf). Bent knee (skating knee) is tracking over your second and third toes, back is in alignment through your center, head is in between your shoulders, and arms are up (firm pressure); engage your core to assist with your balance.
- Landing Position Hold With Pulses: Stand in your landing position and gently bounce or pulse up and down for 1 minute. As you gently pulse, keep your free leg controlled and steady. Skating knee is tracking over your second and third toes as you pulse up and down, back is in alignment through your center, head is in between your shoulders, and arms are up (firm pressure); engage your core to assist with your balance.
- With Eyes Closed: To add a degree of difficulty, close your eyes. This will alter your proprioception, or your body’s ability to sense itself.
- With Skates on: Add an extra balancing and stability challenge by completing the above exercises with your skates on (please be sure to have your hard guards on your blades).
- Repeat on Opposite Side: Even though we land on one leg, we want to be sure we are also working the muscles on the opposite leg for muscle balance, stability and muscle depth. These exercises are also great for working our stroking position, which is done on both legs.
- Jump and Land: Jump straight into the air, and as you jump, pull your arms in and cross your free leg in front as you would in an actual skating jump; upon your foot hitting the ground, immediately check out of your jump into a landing position; engage your core to assist with your balance. Keep your arms strong as you open up into your check-out position so as not to over rotate your shoulder. As you land into your check-out position, track skating knee over your second and third toes. Repeat 10 times without putting your free leg on the ground.
*Disclaimer: Please consult a physician if you feel pain, light-headed, dizzy, or any abnormal symptoms when practicing off-ice exercises.
Stephanie has been providing figure skating and power hockey skating instruction for all ages and levels for 15 years. She has worked with skaters from across the globe, who have competed at national and international competitions as well as the the U.S. Figure Skating World Synchronized Skating Championships. She is a former senior ladies competitor and two-time U.S. Synchronized Skating champion and Team USA member (Miami University, Ohio, collegiate team). She is the creator of SKATERFIT, an off- and on-ice training program designed to help skaters build confidence and physical and mental strength while providing a fun platform to achieve their goals. For more information, please visit coachstephaniesiclari.com. You can also visit her YouTube channel for additional exercises.