Recreational Ice Figure Skating/Basic Skills
It is tempting for the eager skater to advance quickly through learning the basics, and it is a temptation that is worth resisting. If you want to progress, it is time well invested to learn the basics thoroughly, even if the moves are a little uncomfortable for you. Like a pyramid, everything else you do as a skater will be built on these first skills.
First time out
- Ice rinks tend to be cold (even in summer!), so make sure that you wear warm and comfortable clothes. It is a good idea to dress in layers, so that you can take off a jacket or a sweater if you become warm from the exercise. Always wear gloves; they will keep you hands warm and protect them in falls. Do not wear multiple or very thick socks, and do not tuck your pants into your boot tops. It won't help you stay warm and it is not a good idea to have any compressible padding between the boot and your foot, since in the extreme, this makes the fit sloppy.
- Do not carry knives, key rings or pointy or bulky objects in your pockets while skating. They can hurt you if you fall on them.
- Get skates that are at least as small as your shoe size. You do not want your toes compressed against the front of the boots, but your foot should not be able to move or slip inside them either.
- Lace your skates up all the way, and snugly. If your toes go numb within a few minutes, you have laced them too tightly. If your ankles flop to the inside when you stand up on dry land, you have not laced them tightly enough (or else the skates are too big, or possibly just worn out). Do not let your laces flop around loosely. If there is extra lace, do something such as double knotting them to keep them from tripping you.
- Posture is very important in skating. It is important to resist the temptation to bend forward at the waist or to stand hunched over; you may think it is safer because you are closer to the ice ,but it will shift you weight forward and make you roll towards the front of the blade and you may fall. Try standing in your skates, with an upright upper body. Then, bend your knees (it is not only impossible to skate properly on straight knees, but it is a lot easier to control your balance on soft knees). Adjust your body position so that all your weight is right behind the ball of your feet, over the middle of the blade; think about how you walk or stand; you cannot stand on one foot if you do not center all your weight over that foot. Exactly the same thing applies to skating. Look at the skater in Figure 1, perfectly balanced over the blade. This is the position you want to imitate... of course you should not try artistic arm movements yet, but simply hold your arms out slightly to your sides; do not feel silly doing this, it is good for balance....and if you look around you, everyone has their arms out!
- Start out by just "marching" on the ice, lifting one knee and putting that feet back down flat in the same place. Do not try to step ahead heel and toe as if you were walking on land. Once you manage to transfer your weight from one foot to the other and find your balance, try to do proper stroking: instead of just lifting your foot, push against the ice with it to propel yourself forwards. The push should be not directed straight backwards, but slightly to the side. If you have figure skates (rentals often are), try not to use your toe-picks to stroke, but use the edge of the blade. In fact, try to keep off your toe-picks. You do not need them when you are just learning to skate.
- Skate with the traffic. Do not go into the centre of the rink where there are people practising jumps, spins, and footwork. They are staying out of your way, so stay out of theirs.
- Watch where you are going. If you get brave enough to go backwards, look behind you to see where you are going. Watch where other people are going, and try to get a sense of where they will be.
- Experiment with your arms. Glide forward on two feet, with your arms out to your sides. Turn your shoulders and arms to the left and notice that you turn to the left without doing anything at all with your feet. This is an illustration of the degree to which the upper body controls what happens with your feet.
- Ask for help. Most people will be happy to provide it. You can get some really good advice sometimes from kids who are flattered to be asked. While you are watching the explanation, stand with your skates in a T shape, not parallel. They are less likely to slip out from under you this way.
- When you fall, roll over onto your side, get onto your knees, then bring one leg up so that one skate is on the ice. Help yourself up with your hands, and stand up on the skate that is on the ice. If you try to stand up with both blades touching the ice, they will just slide out from under you. Get up as fast as you can, since lying or sitting on the ice is not safe for you or anyone else. The exception is, of course, if you fall really hard and really hurt; in that case ask someone for help to get off the ice.
Falling is something you probably going to do a lot on the ice. Professional and competitive skaters fall a lot, but they seldom get hurt. That is because falling is just another skill, and it is possible to learn how to do it safely. It turns out that the "bad falls" are often the ones that you are least prepared for, while the falls resulting from various failed or incomplete moves are usually fairly predictable and can be softened to some degree as a result. If you feel like you are going to fall, go ahead and do it. Fighting for your balance often makes the fall harder and more awkward. The basic principles are:
- Keep your head up. If falling backwards try to make yourself into a ball and tuck your chin into your chest so you do not hit your head.
- Get your arms out of the way so you do not land on them (except if you fall forwards, then you want to use your hands to avoid hitting your chin)
- Try not to fall on your tailbone, knees or elbows. The best "landing gear" are the muscle masses of the thighs, hips and arms and shoulders
- Beginners should wear helmets, and more experienced skaters wear protective gear (mostly knee and hip pads) when learning a new jump. If you wear eyeglasses, use a retainer. Ski or sporting goods stores usually have an assortment.
- It is extremely important for you to understand that you can fall and not hurt yourself. When you realize that you are losing your balance "get down" by bending your knees and then roll off to either side. You want to avoid going over forward, since your toe-picks will catch. When you bend your knees you get your body mass as closer to the ice and you do not have so far to fall.
- Practice falling. Once in a while you may see some little kids who fall on purpose as a game. Imitate them! Remember that it is a skill like any other in skating and it needs practice.
- You do not want to hit the ice directly downwards, but in a sliding or rolling movement. It is conventional wisdom to take the brunt of a backwards fall with one of the cheeks of your bottom. Roll the fall if you can to spread the impact. Slow down a forwards fall with your outstretched arms, and absorb the fall with your chest. Remember that wrists are fragile, so it is better to land on the muscle mass of the upper arm and shoulder. If you are worried about hurting your wrists, wearing wrist guards will provide some protection.
- The fear factor is often what holds a skater at a given level of performance. They may learn to move on the ice, but lack the confidence to balance on one foot, required for any advanced skating. They can get stuck with trying to skate backwards, which prevents getting past turns. The view is widely held that if you do not fall during a practice session, you are skating too defensively and thus are not pushing yourself hard enough to make real progress.
If you do fall...
- Don't worry if you are still afraid the first few times out. As long as you keep getting back out there, eventually you will get over it.
- Try wearing hip and knee pads and other protective gear. It will give you a sense of security.
- Think about why you fell and what you can do to prevent it from happening again.
- Take it easy the first couple times back out on the ice after a bad fall. There is no need to rush back into doing dangerous things. Do it when you feel that you are ready.
Once you are able to skate around with confidence you will start building up speed. At this stage it is is very important that you learn how to stop quickly.
Hockey stops are the ones where both skates slide in a parallel position. It is the most effective and fastest way to stop. Hockey stops involve an up-down movement and a slight forward shift of weight to the part of the blade under the balls of your feet. With both skates together and on the ice, rise up; this will cause your weight to rock forward a bit. Quickly turn your skates 90 degrees to the side, which will cause them to skid; then sink down again, leaning slightly away from the direction of travel, which will press the edges into the ice.
- It is very important that your upper body (head shoulder and torso) faces the original direction of motion. If you allow your upper body to rotate in the same direction as your feet you will not stop, just turn or travel in a circle. To reiterate, your feet, knees and hips should be pointing toward the side, and the upper body will be at approximately 90 degrees from the lower body. This "twisted" position is very common in various skating moves so you might as well get used to it.
The T-stop is a one foot stop. The stopping skate is set perpendicular to the other skate, so that the two blades form a "T", as shown in Figure 2.
- Glide forward on one skate, firmly holding the direction (your upper body should face forwards, no turning to left or right); turn the other skate out by 90 degrees and place it to heel of the skating foot. The middle of the braking blade should line up with the tail of the skating blade. Do not forget to glide on a bent leg!
- Gently, set the braking blade on the ice. Make sure that you place the blade on its outside edge. If you set it down on the inside edge, otherwise you will just drag the blade behind you and will not be able to press down on it. You want to have you feet as close as possible, but be careful not to step on your own blade tail.
- Gradually shift your weight onto the braking blade.
- Practice this stop on both feet.
Once you are very comfortable with the basic T-stop, you can try placing the skating foot in front of the skating foot. This is called a Show stop or a tango stop. Another showy variation is to lift the skating foot off the ice as you put all your weight on the braking foot.
When you first start skating backwards it is very difficult to watch where you are going. Get a friend to skate beside you and watch for you. Later on, when you don't have that escort, always watch where you are going!
- Start by pushing off the boards. Just a gentle shove, then coast until you feel secure with the general idea. Get your posture and balance right. Remember the basic position discussed above: your body should be upright, and your knees bent. If you lean forward you will find yourself scraping your toe-picks.
- Get your feet at a normal track width, not necessarily clicking heels, but less than shoulder width. Many skaters let their legs spread out when they feel insecure, but you cannot stroke properly from that position. Try to keep yourself moving with a "sculling" motion, moving both feet out-in-out-in as if tracing coke-bottle curves.
- Next, you need to get comfortable with gliding on one foot. Just pick up one foot and glide on the other. This will require that you get the gliding foot centered under your weight. See again the basic position.
- Finally, you are ready to stroke: push out and to the side with one leg while you glide on the other; then at the end of the stroke pick up the pushing skate and set it alongside the other one. Alternate feet, and as you get the hang of it, you will find that you can maintain and build speed. Expect it to take a while for you to get comfortable, just try a little backwards action each time you go out to skate. You also want to get in the habit of looking over your shoulder to see where you are going to avoid colliding with other skaters.
Cross-overs resemble walking sideways up a set of spiral stairs; you can actually do them on stairs: start standing with your legs side to side. Then pick up the downstairs leg, bring it up in front of the other leg and place it on the step above, with you legs crossed. Then pick up the other foot and bring it up so that you go back to the initial position. This sidewards motion is similar to what you will be doing on the ice. You will be sequentially transferring your weight to the inward (upward) skate, and then balancing on it as you move the other foot into position for the next step. If your weight is not balanced on your skating leg you will lose your balance.
- The key to cross-overs is to lean into the circle. It is simply impossible to step into the circle when your weight is over in the other direction. The faster you go, the further in you will have to lean to keep your balance (if you are familiar with physics, this should be no surprise). The shoulders are not square to the circle you are tracing, but should be turned inwards so that you are almost facing towards the center of the circle; the arms should extend along the line of the shoulders. Leaning into the circle will make you glide on the edges of your blades. The inner leg will be on the outside edge and the crossing leg will be on the inside edge.
- Your skating knee (the leg you are skating on) should be well bent. Your head should always stay at the same height, no bouncing up and down.
- Bear in mind that cross-overs are a power move and you are supposed to be able to build speed. That means that you are not supposed to merely pick up your outside ("downstairs") foot before each new step but actually push out off the blade edge until it leaves the ice. This can be a little scary to do when you are feet are crossed (this is called the underpush and is depicted in Figure 3.) but as long as you keep down on the skating knee and leaning into the circle you will be very safe.
- It may be helpful to think of pushing off with the tail of the blade of the inside foot in order to alleviate the common problem of pushing off toe pick. All the strokes should be on the edges of the blade.
- On backwards cross-overs you do not need to pick the foot that crosses over in front, just you can slide it across on the ice. Both backwards and forwards cross-overs will look better if you do not pick up the outside foot high over the other foot, but move it across close to the ice. Keeping your knees bent will help you avoid clicking your blades together when you do this.
- Most skaters find at this point that they have a strong preference from doing crossovers in one direction. Even competitive skaters will tell you that they have a preferred side! The important thing is that noone can tell which is your "bad" side by watching you. The rule of thumb to achieve this is to practice twice as much on the bad side. You will be sorely tempted to do the opposite, but on the long term you will enjoy skating more if you master both directions (and if you plan to play ice hockey or to become a competitive figure skater you will just have to!).
Once you have mastered the basics of skating forwards and backwards, you need to practice turning around without coming to a stop. You can start by turning on two feet and then progress to single foot turns.
The most useful piece of advice for any turn is not to focus on the turn itself. As is the case with all the basic movements described up to this point (and even the more advanced ones), posture and position is everything: If you are in balance in the correct position going into the turn, the turn will "turn itself" and happen naturally without any effort or forcing on your part. If you feel stuck and unable to turn or lose balance during the turn, do not get frustrated, but go back to work on the set-up for the turn.
- Start gliding forwards on two feet. Keep your feet close together (no more than shoulder-length apart). Remember the basic position!
- Turn your head, arms and shoulders gently in the direction you want to turn, but do not let your hips and legs follow, otherwise you will just skate into a tight circle instead of turning. Your upper body will be facing one direction and your hips and feet another. This twisted position was already mentioned in the context of hockey stops, except that for stopping your upper body faces in the direction of travel and your feet sidewards, and for turns, it is the other way round.
- Try to lean a little into the direction you are going to turn, as if you were going to do cross-overs. This will put you on the edges of your blades and curve your trajectory, which will make the turn easier. Avoid bending at the waist. Once in this position, you are ready to turn: Turn your shoulders a little further, until there is a lot of tension between your upper body and your lower body; then, rise a little on your knees and simultaneously allow your hips, legs and feet to rotate underneath you; then, sink down on your knees again.
- The up-down motion is important to do a smooth turn. On the "up" you will rock a little towards the front of your blade; you may graze the ice with the bottom toe-pick, but if you hear the toe-pick scratching or become airborne, you are overdoing it; this may result in a less controlled turn.
- While your lower body flips around, try not to let your upper body move, but maintain the same lean and keep on facing in the same direction as when you started the turn. This is known as checking (stopping) the turn. If you do not check the turn you will spiral into a small circle rather than follow your initial trajectory. A fast and effective checking of the turn might be harder to learn than the turn itself. If you are having problems with this, it helps to hold your arms very firmly over the trace as you go into the turn and make sure to maintain the tension in your arms throughout the turn and the exit.
You can also try two-foot turns to go from backwards to forwards. An important difference is that, while in the forwards turns you want to turn towards the inside of the circle, the back turns are easier if you turn towards the outside of the circle. Also, for back turns it is critical not to lean forwards onto the toe-picks! If your turn forwards on the front of your blade you may trip on the exit of the turn and fall. To avoid this, it may be useful to think of lifting up your toes as you do the turn.
As it is often the case with moves on ice, you will most likely find turns easier in one direction. Do not forget to practice twice as much in the other direction!
The 3-turns receive the name from the trace they leave on the ice, shown in Figure 4. Forward 3-turns and started by going forwards and end backwards; and vice-versa for backward 3-turns. Outside 3-turns are started by skating on the outside edge of the blade, and inside 3-turns, on the inside edge. Note that, in order to stay on the circle, you change edges when you change direction
- A 3-turn is basically the same thing as the two-foot described above, but done on a single foot, i.e., you approach and exit the turn on the same foot. A good introductory exercise for three turns is to do a two-foot turn trying to keep your weight shifted towards one of the feet. Before you start working seriously on three turns you should to be able to glide on a curve comfortably on one foot forwards and backwards.
- To do a good 3-turn, it is very important to keep the free leg (the leg that is off the ice) under control. This is not usually a problem on the two-foot version, as it is easier to be conscious of the position of both legs when they are on the ice and you have weight on both of them. However, once you pick up the leg, it is free to drift forwards or sidewards, dragging your hip along and affecting your balance. Therefore, it is easier to learn 3-turns keeping yours legs touching and in the same position throughout the turn. For forward three turns it is best to keep the instep of the free skate glued to the back of the skating foot ankle. Later on, you can try doing the turn with the free leg stretched behind you, as the skater in Figure 1.
- For backward three turns , keep the free skate slightly in front of the skating foot; the tail of the free leg should be roughly above the central seam of you skating boot. Make sure that your legs are touching at the thighs. As mentioned above for two-foot turns, your weight should be firmly on the middle part of the blade going into the back turns.
A mohawk is a turn where you change feet as you turn. The mohawk is named after a dance step done by the native American tribe of the same name. Like 3-turns, mohawks are classified according to the entry edge and skating direction. Inside mohawks begin on an inside edge and end on the inside edge of the oposite foot; on inside mohawks, the skater is facing toward the center of the circle. Outside mohawks start and end on the outside edge; the skater is facing towards the outside of the circle.
- To do a forward mohawk, start gliding on a bent knee with your free skating held at an angle of at least 90 degrees to your skating foot. You can have the free foot to the instep or the heel of the skating foot, as long as the feet as fairly close and your knees are pointing in opposite directions. You upper body should be held at right angles to your skating foot, and your arms and shoulders lined over the arc you are following. As it is always the case with other turns, you want to practice this position until you are comfortable with it.
- To turn, place the free foot on the ice. Try to step near the front of the blade but avoiding the toe-picks. Do not look down! Getting your free foot in the right place is a trial, but try to do it by feel. Your head weighs a lot, and if you look down at where your free foot is, it can pull you off-balance. As you transfer your weight to the new skating foot, slide the other foot off the ice.
- Note that you do not need to open up your hips by 180 degrees to do this step, because your lower body will be rotating as you do the step. Even if you cannot point your knees and feet out by 90 degrees, you can still do the turn. In this case, it will help if you exaggerate the knee bend going into the turn and if you make an extra effort to increase the twist between your upper and lower body as you initiate the turn (the same way as you do in the 3-turn).
- Try to keep your upper body still, with your arms extended along the tracing before, during, and after the turn. Your hips swivel, and your legs change underneath the upper body. This will help you check the turn properly.
Backward mohawks tend to be easier than the forward ones; in fact, once you can skate backwards on one foot, they may even feel easier than a two-feet turn. However, try not to get into the habit of scratching the toe pick before stepping forwards. This slows you down and also means that you are not correctly balanced and will become a big problem when you go onto learning more advanced skills, like spins and jumps.