Creating Longevity and Mobility in Figure Skaters

When working with athletes in the sport of figure skating, we must focus on creating longevity and mobility for the athletes and their future. Many factors must be considered when analyzing how to carry a talented 12 year-old skater through the ranks of figure skating, resulting in a successful international senior skater. To create a depth of future talent in the sport we need to start at the grassroots; we need to be passionate about the sport and we need to make it a fun and positive experience for everyone involved.

To create longevity and mobility for the athletes, the supporting practitioner must ensure that the team of professionals (coaches, physiologists, dietitians, psychologists, strength and conditioning experts, etc.) is striving for the same ultimate goal of perceived effortlessness by incorporating the following two key concepts.

1. Training for Injury Prevention and Mobility
2. Training to Improve Performance and Create Longevity

The ideas and theories presented here are done so within a specific training philosophy – with a goal of assisting the development of the complete athlete. A positive lifelong attitude towards health and wellness must be built not only for the athletic career, but also for life after sport.

PART 1:
WHY DO FIGURE SKATERS NEED OFF-ICE TRAINING?

We need to start at the grassroots by making training fun and effective. When training younger athletes, the goal should not only be to reach the ultimate performance for that competitive season, but also to develop a sound training base for the future developmental years. The key should be prevention of injuries and the prevention of over-training for future success.

1. Training for Injury Prevention and Mobility

A survey conducted by Vancouver based chiropractor, Dr. Wilbour Kelsick involved administering 900 questionnaires to Canadian competitive figure skaters in all disciplines in relation to injuries. One hundred and eighteen skaters responded and described a total of 314 injuries. The following relevant conclusions were made:

A. Most injuries were sprains, bruises and strains. The occasional ankle and tailbone fracture occurred.
B. The most common sites of injury were the ankle, knee, tailbone, lower back and the hip.
C. The lower extremities reported the highest rate of injury.
D. Improper biomechanics, as well as weak and unbalanced muscles all played a major role in the prevalence of injuries.
E. Acute injuries were more common than overuse injuries.
F. Musculo-skeletal fatigue seemed to contribute to the incidence of injury.
G. An increase in strength and endurance may help reduce the chance of injury. H. No correlation exists between the chance of injury and age, height, weight or sex.

Based on these findings, the following recommendations were made:

  • Skaters need to spend time training off-ice to improve their strength, flexibility and endurance.
  • Figure skaters should engage in activities such as inline skating, ballet and gymnastics to improve their fitness level.
  • Skaters should be better educated about the benefits of preventative and rehabilitative care.
  • Sport-specific conditioning programs should be developed for figure skaters.
  • Skaters should be encouraged to keep accurate records of their training sessions and injuries.

2. Training to Improve Performance and Create Longevity

Training to increase the strength of young athletes has proven to be successful. A symposium on pediatric exercise sciences found that under conditions of high volume and intensity, pre- and early pubescent children could see an increase in strength. Strength increases of 30-50% have been seen in children participating in a resistance training program lasting 8-20 weeks with no substantial strength differences measured between boys and girls during the prepubescent years.

A point that must be stressed to the coach and trainer is that when dealing with a young athlete, there will be little or no change in the size of the muscle(s) being focused on. This lack of muscle hypertrophy (increase in actual physical muscle size) is largely due to the relatively small amount of circulating hormones (testosterone, estrogen and growth hormone). A large portion of the strength gained is due to neural mechanisms rather than hypertrophy of the muscle. Therefore, repetition is particularly important for this particular group.

The benefits gained through a resistance training program for young skaters include:

  • An increase in muscular strength and power
  • An increase in muscular endurance and the prevention of early fatigue
  • The possible prevention of injuries due to a balance of muscles around joints
  • An improved performance capacity
  • A positive influence on body composition By incorporating muscular strength and endurance training the following improvements may be seen:
  • An increase in jump height
  • An increase in static strength for positions such as landing position, spirals, camel spins etc.
  • A reduction the level of fatigue or delay in the onset of fatigue throughout a long/short program and the final explosive elements at this point.

Research has suggested that shoulder girdle and in general upper-body strength is relatively untouched in the training of figure skaters and therefore could constitute the greatest potential for increasing the height of jumps. Therefore, when designing an office training program, it is crucial to keep in mind that one of the reasons for off-ice training is to develop what the sport requires from the athlete but that the sport itself does not substantially train through regular participation and/or competition.

PART 2: HOW DO WE TRANSFER OFF-ICE GAINS ON TO THE ICE?

Coaches and trainers who have incorporated off-ice training into their programs often do not see any significant difference in performance on the ice. Three key concepts must exist if one is to reap the maximum benefits gained through off-ice training and truly experience effortlessness form on-ice. It is important to remember that each skater has different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, an increase in on-ice performance is dependent upon the improvement of these weaknesses off the ice.

The three concepts are as follows:

1. Sports Specificity:

The design of the resistance training program must be specific to the sport. The program should be based on the dominant energy system being used and the specific muscles or group of muscles involved. A needs analysis must be performed at the beginning of any training program to help determine the appropriate program.

2. Education

Skaters are much more likely to be passionate about their training if they understand why they are training and what the expected outcomes may be. Motivation to keep training comes from educating the athletes about the importance of off-ice conditioning. Education should be given in reference to injury prevention and improved performance to create longevity and mobility within their athletic career as well as for life after sport. Educating skaters on why they need to improve their core stability and upper body strength will only encouraged each athlete to continue their training and to put effort into seeing results.

3. Application

The general format of an off-ice training session includes the following components:

1. Warm-Up
2. Main Focus of the Session
3. Application
4. Warm-Down

The most important component of an off-ice session is the APPLICATION step. Application refers to taking the lesson(s) learned during the main focus of the off-ice session and applying it to the sport. For example, if core stability was the focus of the session, the understanding of when a skater may require core stability e.g. what elements this would apply to, must be pointed out. Also, use of different tools such as the spinner allows the skater to mimic a landing position with some motion or a rotation position while incorporating the concept of core stability. Making the skater transfer the tight abdominal muscles taught during the session to their landing position is absolutely crucial as is reinforcing this application on the ice with every jump performed.

Jennifer Reinson has been involved with the sport of figure skating as a competitor, a certified coach and now as a consultant to Skate Canada specializing in the off-ice strength and conditioning programs for competitive figure skaters. She presented this material at the International Skating Union’s Medical Conference held in Vancouver in March 2001.

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