by Stephanie Siclari
As skaters, we spend countless hours on the ice perfecting our jumps, spin sand skating skills. We pay mind to our pointed toes and extended fingertips. We put our bodies through rigorous training, often pushing ourselves beyond our limits to stretch a little further in a Beillmann Spin or rotate a little faster in our jumps.
Whether you are a singles skater, synchro skater or dancer, you are putting a lot of force on your body daily. To accomplish many skating feats, we need to have the physical strength, endurance and flexibility to be able to perform our skills, injury free.
In “Fancy Footwork: Two Figure Skating Experts on Injury Prevention,” sports medicine physician Dr. Ellen Geminiani, in response to being asked what needs to change to reduce the number of figure skating injuries, states: “We need to get over the idea that figure skaters have to spend countless hours on the ice at the expense of everything else. Training off the ice helps athletes develop strength and mobility that’s critical to preventing injury. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a culture shift within sports as a whole for many coaches and athletes to embrace this more balanced approach.”
Proper off-ice training is vital to the development of on-ice skills as well as in preserving the longevity of the athlete. Figure skating requires flexibility, muscle strength, balance and coordination, and mobility and range of motion of joints.
Let’s review each of these elements:
Flexibility: Watching a skater lift their leg into a beautiful Beillmann spin can be a jaw-dropping experience. It is amazing how we pull our bodies into incredible positions; this requires flexibility. Do not be fooled; even our landing or stroking position requires some flexibility. No matter what we do on the ice, we need to have some range of flexibility. We must spend time stretching and improving our flexibility off the ice to be able to put ourselves into such positions and to do so safely.
Jump Training: Working jumps and jump rotational drills off the ice helps you learn and feel the correct body positioning while in the air. As you advance and learn more difficult jumps, it is important for you to learn the rotation off the ice, so you understand the timing and where your body is in relation to space as you rotate through the air. Working landing positions off the ice enables you to focus on where your skating knee is in relation to your toe upon impact of the landing. The knee should track over the second and third toes as internally or externally rotating the knee puts pressure on the knee and can lead to injury of the knee and ankle. Once you are comfortable with the rotation, you can translate that understanding to the ice.
Balance: It is no surprise that figure skating requires immense balance. Working on balancing exercises off the ice will no doubt aid better balance and control on the ice. Additionally, working balancing exercises strengthens the ankle and can help prevent ankle injuries on the ice. The very definition of agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. Footwork and step sequences involve quick action of the feet. Incorporating agility exercises in off-ice training can help train the brain and body to move quickly with control and ease.
Core Strength: Core Strength is one of the most critical muscle groups for figure skaters. My motto is: “A strong core is a strong skater.” Core muscles are active in every skating movement, from holding posture in basic skating to keeping the body aligned in difficult jumps.
Mobility: The ways in which we move our bodies on the ice —so gracefully from one position to the next — require mobility and range of motion of the joints. If we do not have range of motion of specific muscles and joints, we are relying on other areas of our bodies to compensate, which can cause stress on our bodies and lead to injury.
For instance, when raising the free leg to parallel during a jump, if a skater doesn’t have enough hip mobility, they’ll arch their back to create the illusion that their leg is higher, notes strength and conditioning specialist Ariel Gagnon-Carr in “Fancy Footwork: Two Figure Skating Experts on Injury Prevention.”
“Meanwhile, the landing puts eight to 10 times their body weight on their lumbar spine,” says Gagnon-Carr. “Landing with an arched back puts extra stress on the lower back.”
Lower Body Strength: The gluteus medius is described as one of (if not the most important) muscle for figure skaters. In my article, “ABCs of Jump Landings: Alignment, Balance, Control,” I write that 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.” The gluteus medius is just one muscle that should be the focus of off-ice training; skaters should incorporate exercises that effectively strengthen the lower extremities while also increasing mobility.
Upper Body Strength: How often do coaches tell us to “stand up,” “hold your arms up,” etc.? Our posture and carriage on the ice can make or break component scores and our overall aesthetic on the ice. Working on our posture as well as strengthening back, arm and shoulder muscles off the ice, will help our bodies’ alignment on the ice. Upper body strength is especially important for pairs, synchro or ice dancers in preventing injury during partner lifts.
Warming Up and Cooling Down: Warming up and cooling down before and after an on-ice practice is equally as important as a regimented off-ice training plan. Before taking the ice, be sure to spend some time loosening up the body so your muscles are ready to skate, and after your practice, stretch your muscles while they are still warm. This will help you prevent injury by taking the ice with “cold” muscles.
Stephanie Siclari 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 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 and senior teams). 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 YouTubechannel for additional exercises.