Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The If-Word

For a loooong time now I've thought in terms of if I could learn to skate. As I trudged through countless doctors' appointments, x-rays and tests; worked through several rounds of physical therapy; and made more failed skating comebacks than I care to remember, in the back of my mind I always wondered if it was even possible for me to participate in this sport. Now I'm starting to shift my thinking away from that awful if-word.


I'm once again strong enough to skate, but I'm not able to skate for extended periods of time. The only way to become a better skater is to skate, so my intention is to increase my ice time in the fall. That means endurance training starts now. My priority continues to be abs-and-ass, because my left side is weak and Dmytri has a habit of hitting my stomach in various places and saying, "Use these muscles!"

So, here's a snapshot of some of what I'll be doing over the next few weeks. There are videos, because videos are helpful, as well as thoughts on intensity and volume.

ABS

We have a whole lot of abdominal muscles and they have different functions. All told, they are responsible for flexion and rotation of the trunk, compression of the abdomen and stabilization of the pelvis. Kinda helpful in figure skating. I've already mentioned a couple of exercises that hit these muscles very effectively. But I like variety so I'm adding some reverse crunches. Wait, what?! Yes, I'm on record as not being a huge fan of "regular" crunches, but reverse crunches are a different animal. They may not be my go-to exercise, but I'm comfortable throwing them into programming every now and then.


ASS

Aaah...glutes. For the longest time I neglected my poor glutes (gluteus maximus and gluteus medius, for the purposes of this conversation.) They're responsible for leg extension, lateral stabilization of the knee and hip joints, abduction of the hip and stabilization of the pelvis. My awful knee valgus on my left leg when I skate is, in part, because of weak glutes. 

Kettlebell Swings


I like kettlebell swings because I can really feel my glutes and abdominals working when I do them. The proverbial killing two birds with one...kettlebell? Plus, they're a ton of fun to do.

Step Ups


Doing this exercise with my left leg really forces me to work to engage those hip muscles. I have to pay close attention to what I'm doing, otherwise my knee caves in something fierce.

PROGRAMMING

Resistance training is all about building strength, power, hypertrophy and muscular endurance. Narrowing down your focus to one area at a time is often the most effective way to make progress in all areas. I want to up the intensity of my skating in the fall, so I'm using endurance training now to prepare my body for increased demands down the road.

With the above exercises, I'm choosing an amount of weight that allows me to do the following:

  • Sets: 2 - 3
  • Reps: 12+
  • Rest: about 30 seconds between sets

BANNING THE IF-WORD

I want to ban the word if from my skating vocabulary. It's taken a lot of hard work so far, and there's more hard work on the horizon, but I'm feeling pretty confident that I can stop thinking in terms of if I learn to skate. That's a pretty cool place to be.

***

So how about you? Do you do any of these exercise? Love 'em, hate 'em? What are the areas you focus on? As always, would love to hear from you in the comments or feel free to email me. The discussion is the best part!


Monday, June 29, 2015

Relationship Building

Two weeks and one awesome beach vacation ago, I had taken a test spin in my new skates. It was a disaster of epic proportions. So it was with some trepidation that I returned to the scene of the crime. Summer sessions tend to be busy. Add in the camp kids and there's very little room to maneuver. Of course, I didn't expect to do much maneuvering anyway. I carefully stepped onto the ice. This time things went better, mostly because I knew what I was up against.

I went back to all those things one does in the very first intro level classes - swizzles, swizzles with one-foot glides, pumping around circles, chasses on the circles, etc. I tried some outside edges along the goal line and even a couple of wobbly crossovers. None of this was for skating practice mind you, I was just trying to find my positioning over the skate and figure out how much muscle I needed to get momentum. (Related: I can probably skip leg day.) Eventually, I was able to do a couple of laps of slow forward stroking with hesitant crossovers at the end. Power and extension optional.

There were a couple of times where I expected to glide, but my skates stopped instead. That was awkward. And the time I backed away from a flailing kid, I was reminded that casually backing out of harm's way might be harmful. (But hey! I moved backward without much thought and I didn't end up on my ass.)

It's like I know how to skate, but I don't know how to skate. (Could I write a weirder sentence?) Every time I would start to feel stable, my skates would do something unexpected. If I can anthropomorphize skates, it's almost as if they're figuring out how to adjust to me as much as I'm figuring out how to adjust to them. A silly thought perhaps.

Regardless, we have forward motion (only forward motion!) That'll work...for now.





Monday, June 15, 2015

Blasted Blades

I stepped gingerly on the ice with my left foot. I was in brand new skates and not sure what to expect. Holding on to the boards I pushed tentatively with my right foot and...went absolutely nowhere. I was stuck to the ice.


The breakdown had been gradual. I noticed that my right skate would become loose quickly. I started tying it extra tight and taping it for good measure. That helped for a while. Eventually, I found myself stopping quite a bit to jam my heel back into its proper place. Before long I was having to adjust both feet. It got particularly frustrating when I found myself stopping my lessons, repeatedly, so I could readjust my skates.

I had a really easy time with my first pair of skates. There was no breaking in period. They felt comfortable from the get-go, no blisters or rubbing of any kind. They weren't fancy, but they were exactly what I needed. I figured they'd be the only skates I'd ever own. Likely, that would have been the case had it not been for the timing of a fortuitous email.

"I have a pair of skates to off-load. Want 'em cheap?" Brand new skates, tried on once, but the girl didn't take them. Ordinarily, my answer would have been, "No thanks, I'm good." But I'd just wrapped up a particularly frustrating practice session. My equipment was driving me nuts. Here was a possible solution. They were the same brand as my original skates, but a different model. They also were the same size, 4 1/2, but they were narrow width. Well, it wouldn't hurt to try.

My first reaction when I opened the box was, "These are going to be way too small." I slid my foot into the right boot and was surprised at how soft it was. Both skates on and tied. Ooooh...they were meant to be mine. I couldn't wait to try them out. That's when disaster struck.

The blades. What a freakin' nightmare! They felt like they were mounted differently than my old ones. Not in a bad way, actually. My left foot wasn't pronating nearly as much as it normally does and several times I almost toppled over to my left because I inadvertently hit an outside edge. I never hit a left outside edge. Ever. Sitting both pairs of skates beside each other, I can't see a difference. It's just a feeling.

But the really bad part was the sharpening. They're waaaaaaay too sharp. I could not move. I tried to push forward and all I managed to do was propel my upper body forward, my skates sticking to the ice. I looked like one of those big balloon mascots that have their feet anchored to the ground and air whipping their arms and torsos around wildly. I spent most of my time forcing my way back and forth across the width of the rink. A couple of the skating instructors, who know how I really skate, gave me confused looks.

Thirty minutes in, tired and frustrated, I swapped out my new skates for my old ones. But my old ones felt hard and uncomfortable compared to my new ones. I slipped back into the soft new boots and headed back out to fight the blades.

After an hour I was getting across the width of the ice with a little more stability. I couldn't get up enough speed to try holding edges or doing crossovers. Thankfully, the boots are wonderful! They don't pinch or rub and my feet stay comfortably nestled in the soft padding.

Once the blades start cooperating, I think I'm really going to like the new skates. May have to postpone the backward edge work for a while though.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jumps Revisited: A Spectacular Finish!

It was likely to be my last lesson for the summer, so I wanted to work hard. Apparently, Dmytri was thinking along those lines as well (or maybe he was just well-caffeinated) because we took off fast and furious - stroking, outside swingrolls, inside swingrolls (still skidding out on the left), crossrolls. And then something new...alternating chasses with Dmytri skating backward and me skating forward.

"Now we go the other way," Dmytri joked. "You go backward."

I called his bluff. I mean, why not? I'm just barely starting to skate backward again, it would be good to give it a shot with training wheels. I could work on my posture and edges. It turned out to be a little terrifying, given we were going much, much faster than I expected.

"You should give me props for even trying that!" I said. I was feeling all proud of my bravery.

Dmytri was unimpressed "No, you're an athlete. This is just what you do."

"No celebration for you, Michelle," I joked, but deep down, his response captures exactly how I want skating to be, no matter what level I'm at.

A lap of Rhythm Blues and a lap of Cha Cha. I butchered the cross-behinds in both.

"Now the fun stuff," Dmytri said. I knew he was up to something good because he was sparkling brightly enough to light the entire rink. "Waltz jumps." And he did one. One big, beautiful Waltz jump.

I never thought I'd jump again. And honestly, I was okay with that. Yet somehow it felt right working on it during my lesson. I didn't try any on my own. After about half a dozen attempts I was getting the take off okay ("I didn't help you with that at all," Dmytri would say) but I wouldn't have landed any of them without his help. I was damn near giddy as we got off the ice, not just because I was jumping, but because I was feeling strong enough to try jumping again.

"Do you think it's possible?" I asked.

"Yes," Dmytri said. I believe him.

This was the absolute perfect way to close out the season. Leaving the rink I felt like everything in skating is possible again. And I know exactly how I can spend my skating time this summer...in reverse! I need to buckle down on backward skating. Summer will be a good time for that. The busy ice will make working on "big moves" nearly impossible. Swingrolls, dance patterns, and such will be a rare treat. But I won't need a lot of space for backward skating. If I can clean up my backward stroking and start holding some reasonable backward edges, then this fall we can get back to mohawks, 3-turns and Waltz jumps.

Because everything in skating is possible again!


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Life's Good

Ting! My blade struck Dmytri's as we went into the slalom. He busted out laughing, knowing that sound induces near-panic in me.

"Keep going!" he called out. He was enjoying himself an awful lot at my expense. Somehow I managed to propel myself through the rest of the Cha-Cha.

"Come on!" I implored as we settled into a calm coast. "Didn't that make you just a little nervous?"

"No," he laughed. "Stay beside me next time. That happened because you got in front of me."

As my blood pressure returned to normal, we lined up for another run.

"Keep your blades to yourself," I said.

"Stay out of my way," he shot back.

I have to admit, despite my firm belief in an off-season, I'm a little bummed it's happening now. Skating is fun again! I'm enjoying my lessons, practice is starting to feel like real practice again, I might even be getting new skates (something I never thought I'd do.) After such a long time of feeling stuck in place or having ridiculous fits and starts, things feel like they're moving forward. Slowly, perhaps, but consistently in the right direction. This is good.

"No! No! No!" I exclaimed as we crossed the width of the ice. Again, Dmytri was laughing, because I was nothing short of entertaining at this point.

"You can do this! This is your dance!"

Out of nowhere he'd decided we would revisit Rhythm Blues. It is no longer my dance. I couldn't remember any of it and of course Dmytri went fast because he assumed I knew what I was doing. Silly man. Alright, progressing in some areas, regressing in others. This is good.


I'll probably be able to sneak in one last lesson before summer, time to transition into the off-season. Yeah, this is still good.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Clubbin'

"We are now accepting membership renewals for Washington Figure Skating Club," the email read.

In other words, "Pay up, Buttercup."

I became a member of WFSC because it was a requirement for taking my test. I haven't been involved with the organization in any other way. I'm trying to determine whether or not to renew my membership. I said I wasn't going to do any more testing, and even if I amended that rule, I'm a loooooong way out from being ready for something like that.

So tell me skaters, are you a member of a figure skating club? Why? (Or why not?) How did you first become involved with your club and what types of things are you doing with your club now? Help a girl out!

As always, comments or emails work. I'd just love to hear what you all are doing!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Summer's Coming

There's no such thing as an off-season in figure skating.

I've heard this, or some variation of it, countless times. Of course there's an off-season. Having an off-season is an important part of athletic training. You inhibit your ability to perform at your highest level if you don't maximize the role the off-season plays in conditioning and competing.

Mine is on the horizon, so I thought I'd take a moment to discuss what an off-season is, why it's important and what mine will look like. (Yours likely will be very different.)

Periodization

Pre-planned, systematic variations in training specificity, intensity and volumes organized in periods or cycles within an overall program.*
Manipulating training intensity and volume while being respectful of the seasonal demands of a particular sport and athlete.*   

The concept was proposed in 1960 by Russian physiologist Leo Matveyev. (C'mon skaters, we totally get the Russians, right?) Periodization in training is important for helping skaters gain and maintain appropriate levels of strength and endurance, recover from competition and heal injuries, prevent future injuries and minimize the chances of over-training or burning out. For top level competitors it helps them "peak" at (close to) the right time. For the rest of us, it helps us stay healthy and sane.

I would argue that all adult skaters, at every level, can benefit from periodization in their training. Whether you're competing, testing, or simply learning because skating is awesome, your skating coach and any off-ice trainers or coaches you're working with are probably thinking along these lines already.

My Off-Season

My off-season is dictated, in part, by the school year. The skating schedules change, resulting in a natural decline in ice time and instruction. I've made remarkable progress since I came back to skating - I'm pain-free (mostly), my ice-time has increased and while my progress videos aren't showing much improvement in my skating skills yet, my comfort level on the ice is higher than it's been in quite a while. I couldn't be happier with where I am now, so I'll use the off-season to maintain what I've been able to re-build.

Here's what I have planned:


  • Vacation! I will go on vacation and I will not skate at all for at least a week. I will swim, lay in the sun, read books and drink wine. It will be awesome.
  • Skating practice. I'll still skate in the off-season, hopefully 2-3 times a week. However, instead of hitting the ice for an hour at a time, my sessions will be knocked down to 30 minutes. And I won't be guided by practice agendas. I'll just get on the ice and do whatever I feel like doing. I'm not looking to improve my skills, just have fun and keep general muscle memory. And if there are days I choose to skip the rink and hit a museum with the Kid, so be it!
  • Skating instruction. It's rare that Dmytri and I are able to get our calendars to cooperate when the skating schedules change. I typically can get a lesson or two with him during the summer, which helps keep the ol' dance patterns from getting too rusty. I might take a class later in summer.
  • Dance. I'll continue to take a weekly ballet class and will do barre work on my own. It's great for both strength and flexibility and besides that, it's just fun! Monika Volkmar at The Dance Training Project has some thoughts on summer cross-training. Replace "dancer" with "skater" and some of this really is applicable to us.
  • The gym. Less time on ice means more time in the weight room. I credit strength training with getting back on the ice largely pain-free. I'll keep doing the abs-and-ass work that has been so critical to my being able to come back to skating. 


Six months ago I returned from my skating hiatus, limping around the boards for 10 minutes once a week and fighting hip and ankle pain the entire time. By completely changing my mind-set and my off-ice training, I've been able to increase my ice time and start taking lessons again. And I'm almost completely pain-free. Making the most of the off-season will enable me to maintain all of that progress and attack next season with energy and enthusiasm.

Now It's Your Turn

There is an off-season in figure skating, even if it looks wildly different to different types of skaters. How will you use yours? If you're not sure what to do (or even when your off-season happens), talk to your coach or your trainer. Or email me if you want to - I'm happy to answer questions or brainstorm ideas. And if you do have plans for the off-season, please share! It's more fun around here when we're all sharing ideas.




_____________

*Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning/National Strength and Conditioning Association; Thomas R. Baechle, Roger W. Earle, editors. - 3rd ed.







Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rewards

I was recovering from what had turned out to be a surprisingly brutal workout. Every step reminded me of the split squats I had done the day before. The last thing my legs were interested in was skating practice. But after my swingroll debacle during my previous lesson, I had to practice. Just 30 minutes, I promised myself. Edges and swingrolls and done. Fast forward to my lesson.

As Dmytri and I got on the ice, I told him about rumors swirling around that ice dance was going to be eliminated from Olympic competition.

"We're going to have to start training pairs," I said.

Apparently, picking my ass up and hurling it across the ice is not Dmytri's idea of a good time. We Cha-Cha'd.

Over and over and over again. I'm still at the point with this one where I'm trying to get the pattern in my brain. While I have been practicing the pieces of it, I haven't once tried putting it together on my own. I'm not there yet. The repetition during my lesson was awesome. We worked out a lot of the areas that were causing me confusion and after several runs it was starting to feel possible. I think I'll be able to start messing around with it on my own now.

I stayed after my lesson to practice. As Dmytri left the rink his parting words to me were...

"Good job on your swingrolls today."


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Peace. Love. And Edges.

"I just worry that I'm going to lose that edge and I'll fall and then you'll fall on top of me," I admitted as I explained my hesitancy about the final swingroll at the end of Dutch Waltz. That's how it works in my world.

"Don't think that far," Dmytri said all casual-like. Because in his world, I lose an edge, he catches me, twirls me around the corner and sets me down gently as if that's exactly how Dutch Waltz is suppose to go. (He once added a beautiful lift to our Rhythm Blues pattern.)

I love the partnering aspect of my skating lessons. It forces me to commit to movements and speeds that I shy away from on my own. Skating with someone else, you have to problem-solve, you can't just stop. It's dangerous to just stop. And yet, that's exactly what I did as Dmytri and I trudged through another awful Dutch Waltz attempt.

"Seriously, stop."

"I'm really pushing you," he said, sympathetically. He wasn't speaking metaphorically.

Dmytri is bigger than I am, stronger than I am and a better skater than I am. (No seriously, he really is.) Sometimes I'm surprised by how physical skating with him can be. He's shoving me around, I'm trying to fix my skating while shoving him back so he doesn't knock me over. It can be intense.

"Peaceful fighting," Dmytri says, which really is a beautiful way to describe it.

There was a whole lot of peaceful fighting going on and I couldn't figure out why. My recent practice sessions had been strong, my last lesson had been a blast and we were working exclusively on Dutch Waltz, all moves I'm feeling increasingly better about. Why couldn't I skate? Even my brain wasn't skating. Dmytri would ask for changes to my free leg, I'd try to implement them on my skating leg. I added random kicks into the pattern. But mostly, I couldn't get my body to be where it was supposed to be without Dmytri physically putting me there. Peaceful fighting, indeed!

"Why is today so rough? I feel like I'm really getting jostled around."

"We're working on edges," Dmytri shrugged.

Well, that explains it. If I weren't willing to take on edges in the extreme I wouldn't have chosen ice dancing. After my lesson I felt a bit like I'd been hit by a Zamboni, and honestly, I loved it. If Dmytri wants to hammer me with edge work, I say, "Bring it, Tough Guy!"













Fail

"You lost your edge on the swingroll," Dmytri pointed out.

"Yeah, I could feel it," I admitted.

"I could hear it," he said, referring with disgust to the sound my blade had made as it scraped sideways along the ice.

"That sound must be like nails on a chalkboard to you," I laughed.

"No. It's the sound of failure."