We know that skating is a sport of balancing and all its thrill lies in speed. However, you cannot embrace speed skating just overnight. It requires a lot of practice, patience, and persistence. Only after hours of training, and mastering balancing skills can you imagine yourself moving at high speeds.
Are there any great exercises that can help improve your skating skills? Indeed. Various strength training exercises can help in building the required stamina, stabilizing balance, and improving overall skating skills. You should note that improving skating skills involves working on different aspects like physical strength, balancing, and stride.
First and foremost, your body must have the required stamina, mobility, flexibility, and agility required by the sport. Next, you should master the art of balancing. Combine both with running techniques to acquire top speed. Coaches often put the athletes under strict exercise regimen that addresses every aspect of skating from strength building and balancing, to improving stride and speed.
Skating Exercises to Improve Balance
Balance is the essence of skating. Your balancing skills not only keep you from falling but also protect from potential injuries. Therefore, the first and foremost focus on improving overall skating skills must consider enhancing balance and stability. You can start with some simple balancing exercises. You can modify them according to your skill levels. Once you gain control, you can increase the level of difficulty to challenge your skills.
Every move you make, such as your stride, transition, and crossover will require you to balance, glide, and rotate on a single leg. Therefore, your workout routine to improve skating skills must include exercises that focus on improving muscle strength and single-leg balance. Include the following off-skate exercises in your training sessions to improve your skating skills [source]:
- Single leg balance – Stand facing forward. Keep your feet hip-width apart. Extend your arms sideways. Tighten your abdominal muscles keeping your back straight. Bend your left knee making an angle of 90 degrees and transfer your body weight onto your right foot. Maintain the stature as long as you can and then switch legs to repeat with the other foot. Keep redoing the exercise until your muscle fatigue stabilizes. Once you are comfortable in maintaining balance for at least 30 seconds on each foot, you can make it more challenging by closing your eyes and standing on an unstable surface. Further, you can move your non-working leg in a circular motion while trying to maintain balance on the stable foot. Combine all three for an ultimate challenge. [source]
- Simulate stride – Try replicating the motion of your stride. This movement is termed as a skater hop and serves as a great plyometrics exercise to improve strength and stability. For this, maintain a skating stance. Bend forward keeping your torso parallel to the ground. Bend your knees and tighten up your abdominal muscles. Keep your right foot slightly forward and try balancing your weight on it. Push off the floor and transfer your body weight towards the front of the foot. Gently hop-forward moving your left foot outwards. Swing your right arm forward and left arm towards the back to maintain balance. Try to land on the ball of your left foot. Slowly transfer your weight on the left foot and lower your heel. Maintain your stance as you hop forward. Start the exercise with small hops. You can try bigger hops as you gain control.
- Single leg squats – Stand straight on your left foot. Bend and raise your right knee so that it stays in front of your body above the ground. Tighten your abdominal muscles, push your tush towards the back and bend your left knee at an angle of 45 degrees as if sitting on a chair. Keep facing forward and maintain balance for as long as you can. Resume to the starting position and repeat the exercise with the other leg. You can use a chair or wall for support. Complete three sets of 12 reps with each leg before you change foot. You can increase the difficulty level by doing this exercise on an unstable surface.
- One leg deadlift – Again, a great exercise to improve balancing skills wherein you carefully balance acceptable weight over a single leg. For this exercise, stand straight and hold a weight or a kettlebell in your left arm. Stand on your left leg and keep your knees slightly bent. Gently bend at your hips and extend your right leg behind to maintain balance. Keep lowering the weight in your left arm until your torso is parallel to the ground. Maintain the position for a while and return to the upright position. Repeat with the other leg.
- Lunge matrix – This involves sequential lunges pushing your leg forward, towards the side at different angles, and backward. Also, termed as 360-degree lunges, the exercise provides a good stretch to your lower back muscles that are actively involved during skating. You can perform a lunge matrix to develop strength or to warm up your muscles before a skating session. The idea is to perform lunges in every possible direction with a single leg. It involves front lunge, angled front lunges, side lunge, backward rotational lunge, backward hinge, curtsy lunge, and forward cross lunge.
- Lateral squats using a slide board – This off-skate exercise helps in improving and controlling your gliding movements on the skates. For this, keep a slide board on one side. Use it to move and extend one leg laterally as you squat. Switch legs and repeat the exercise, placing the slide board on the opposite side.
You should perform these balancing exercises before a mirror to observe your stance and monitor your form. Do not forget to warm up your muscles before switching to any balancing exercises. Combine these exercises with balancing yoga poses to help improve balance and strengthen your core. You can also try other agile sports such as martial arts. Also, remember to consult your health coach before switching to an exercise regimen, if you have any medical concerns.
Skating Exercises to Improve Speed
Skating is a competitive sport where speed is as important as balancing skills. Following exercises can help you enhance your speed and improve your skating skills [source]:
- Fire hydrants – According to research, speed skating involves 50 percent more active hip abduction movement in comparison to slow skating. This exercise targets the hip abduction movements to support speed skating. Get into an all-fours position. Lift your left leg to one side and hold for a count of two. Keep your right knee at an angle of 90 degrees. Resume starting position and repeat with the other leg. Complete three sets with eight times on each leg.
- Goblet squat – Skating often involves an active squat stance when you are gliding on both skates. You need to have a strong stature to maintain a bent-knee, forward flexed position. This exercise will help improve your stance and so also your speed. For this, Stand straight keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell vertically in your hands using its upper part. Keep it close to your sternum and stomach. Squat so that your elbows touch your knees. Maintain this position for about four seconds. Get back to a standing position by extending your tush and knees. Complete three sets with five to eight repetitions.
- Rear foot elevated split squat – Your stride in skating involves two important movements. One where you stabilize the forward foot and other when you push the ground with the rear foot. In this exercise, you try to simulate the movement of your stride. Stand in a lunge keeping your back foot on a box or a bench. Hold dumbbells in both hands and extend your arms sideways. Bend your front knee to lower into a lunge until your thigh comes parallel to the ground. Your front knee must align behind your toes. Get back to the start position by extending your tush and knee. Complete three sets with five reps on each leg.
- Goblet side lunge – This exercise helps in developing trunk stability and hip mobility. For this, stand straight keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell vertically in both hands. Take a wide step towards a side shifting your weight to the moving foot. Keep your torso straight, lower your back and sit back with your hips until your thighs come parallel to the floor. Come back to the starting position by pushing through the ground. Complete three sets with eight reps on each side.
- Wall drill – This exercise helps develop agility. For this, stand at a distance of 3-4 feet facing a wall. Slowly lean forward placing your hands on the wall, keeping your body at an angle of 45 degrees. Make sure that you do not bend your arms. Bend your knees to lift one leg so that your thigh lies parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. Complete four sets with five reps on each leg.
- Heidens – This exercise works wonders to improve strength, enhance stability, and ensure efficient movement during the stride. For this exercise, slightly bend your knees and stand on the left leg. Jump laterally to the side by extending your left knee, ankle, and hip. Try to land on the ball of the right foot. Keep your knees bent to help absorb the impact of the jump. Quickly push through the right leg to jump on the left leg. Continue jumping in the opposite direction from one leg to the other. Complete four sets of five reps on each leg.
- Unstable squats [source] – The idea here is to perform regular squats on an unstable surface such as a Bosu board. Some enthusiasts also try unstable squats on swiss balls. Beginners should start their squats on a flat floor. You can switch to unstable squats on a round surface once you are comfortable. Squats on an unstable surface give an extreme workout to your lower body muscles that are actively involved in skating.
- Calf raises – Skating requires you to push hard on the tips of your skates. Calf raise helps in working out these muscles to improve your stance and speed. Hold some weight in both hands and try lifting your body on the toes. You can also try this exercise on a leg-press machine. This ankle-extension exercise gives a good workout to your gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibialis posterior muscles of your lower legs or calf. Once you are comfortable, you can try other variations of the calf raise such as standing calf raises on the edge of a stair step or split stance overhead calf raise. In the latter, you keep a plate weight near your chest, keep your legs scissored out one-foot distance apart, bend your front knee keeping your back leg straight and raise both feet on tippy toes.
Core Exercises to Improve Skating Skills
No denial that your legs drive your stance, movement, and motion during skating, but your core muscles help maintain the balance. Therefore, it is equally important to give your core muscles a healthy workout now and then. A strong core helps you stay stable on your skates and unleash your skating potential. It also contributes to your stride, stance, glide, turn, and other aspects of the sport.
Further, core exercises help you spend more time on skates by building your strength, provide better control during motion, improve spinning and balance, and reduce the likelihood of a fall. Following core exercises can help you improve your tricks and skating skills [source]:
- Single leg frogs – This exercise targets and strengthens your hip flexors. Hip flexion occurs whenever you jump and your knees move close to your chest. The same movement is imitated when you make a jump in skating. You can start the exercise by doing frogs on both legs. Once you are comfortable, lift one leg, and hop on the other. Switch legs and repeat.
- Lateral frogs – This is an excellent workout for the hip flexors as well as lateral abdominals. It can help in performing tricks where you need to flex and lift your legs to one side. You can also perform lateral frogs by standing on your glutes to target lower abs.
- Frogs with duck-legs – This exercise also activates the adductors. In this case, you make a similar frog-like hopping movement by keeping your legs apart. In skating, you may need to keep your legs widespread during many tricks. This exercises positively involves your lower abs, groins, and adductors.
- Leg outspread and scissors – In this exercise, you simply outspread your legs. It is a simple exercise but works wonders for your adductors and lateral abs. This movement is extremely important in skating when you want to turn and spin. Leg scissors is another exercise where you quickly switch your legs forming a scissors pattern. This exercise not only improves speed but also ease out leg switches during skating.
- Reverse crunches and flexed legs – In reverse crunches, you move both your legs up in the air keeping them parallel. Flexed leg exercises improve your spins and help strengthen the lateral abdominals. In this exercise, you jump in the air and rotate. The exercise targets and strengthens your lateral abs and hip flexors at the same time.
- Seated leg press – Bend your knees to 90 degrees in a seated position keeping your feet flat on the floor. Grab the handles of your seat thereby relaxing your neck and head against the backrest. Lean forward pressing your legs to form the correct starting position. Return to the previous position and repeat.
- Hamstring curl with stability ball [source] – Working with a stability ball targets hamstrings and glutes to develop balance and support the skater standing in a crouching position for long. For this exercise, lie on the ground keeping your feet, ankle, and lower calves on the stability ball. Extend your arms sideways with your palms flat on the ground. Gently lift your back off the ground thereby contracting the abs so that your body aligns straight from shoulders to your toes. Bend your knees and roll the ball towards yourself so that the soles of your feet rest on it. Gently return to the starting position.
All these exercises give a good workout to your lower body muscles including glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, abductors, as well as to your core muscles. As a result, you notice an improved stance and an enhanced speed.
Kindly suggest a functional exercise to help skate faster? The most functional exercise would trigger the same set of muscles as evoked by the sport itself. To train the muscle fibers to respond in fast explosive movements, you must practice at that speed. Training at slow speed is essential until you learn and master the basics. But, when it comes to speed, you can only train your muscles to respond faster by working out at a high pace. Some functional off-skate exercises that can help improve speed include sprint variations, jump variations, and strength training exercises such as squats and dead-lifts.