Figure skating is a sport that requires more than just grace and artistry. While most non-skaters don’t realize this, pulling off any technical element in skating requires a significant amount of strength and stamina. Awkward positions must be held for extended periods of time, and muscles that most people hardly ever use must be strong in order to execute well the jumps, spins, and lifts that impresses the crowd. All figure skaters, regardless of age or ability, should engage in a proper off-ice strength and conditioning program in order to give them the strength and stamina to execute elements, and also to help prevent injuries.
Flexibility is important for all figure skaters to work on. From a simple lunge to a perfect Biellmann spin, flexibility is a core component that makes many elements possible, let alone graceful. As part of your off-ice program, always include basic warmup and cooldown stretches, as would an athlete in any sport. In addition, certain yoga poses, ballet stretches, and element-specific stretches are good for figure skaters in order to build the flexibility they need. Some of these stretches, when held against gravity, also assist in building strength and stamina for that element. Your coach can suggest specific stretches that will benefit your ability to perform technical elements that you are currently working on mastering. Examples might include static lunges and specific hip flexor stretches.
Stamina, including both muscular endurance and overall cardiovascaular conditioning, is essential for figure skaters. Whether your program is 90 seconds in duration, or four and a half excruciating minutes, if you lack the stamina to actually complete it, your mastery of the technical elements if basically a moot point. There is a reason that certain technical elements are awarded a higher point value under the IJS if performed in the latter half of a program, and that is because the system recognizes the difficulty in performing those elements when the athlete is already exhausted, and therefore rewards the athlete appropriately. Figure skaters should engage in some sort of cardio at least twice per week, for a minimum of 20 minutes each session. Activities could include cycling, swimming, running, etc. Note that your on-ice practice in and of itself doesn’t count as your cardio, even if it feels like it should sometimes.
For decades, the value of strength training in many sports was often not recognized. Current scientific opinion holds that any athlete, in any sport, can in some way benefit from strength training. This is a bit more obvious in figure skating when one examines the specific muscles required to hold spirals, make a jump take off, perform a lift, etc. Skating is a sport where core strength in particular is important for all aspects of maintaining posture, checking rotations, and maintaining a proper skating position over the skating foot. Jumps require significant abdominal, lower back, quad, and gluteal strength. Spins and spirals both require core strength. Lifts and paired spins in pairs skating and ice dancing require not only core strength, but strong pectorals, forearms, biceps, triceps, and deltoids — in both skaters, not just the male. While singles skaters may not require as much upper body strength as pairs and dancers, they should still include upper body strength conditioning in their workouts. An active figure skater should include both strength training and plyometric training, to develop strength, stamina, and power. Machines, free weights, and body weight resistance training are all acceptable forms of strength training, and plyometric drills should be included, either as a stand alone off-ice training time or combined with resistance training. This type of training is recommended at least twice per week.
A figure skater can be “in training” for any number of reasons. Whether it be training for competition, training for tests, or training for personal satisfaction, the athlete in training should recognize that they are, in fact, an ATHLETE IN TRAINING. This distinction from the recreational skater is important, because it carries with it the understanding that achievement of the competition, test, or personal objective requires effort and commitment beyond that of skating without a particular objective in mind. Being on the ice is obvously critical to achieving any goal in our sport, but so is working off-ice on the factors that make a difference for the skater on the ice. While the rink may be the skater’s home, other places such as the gym, pool, weight room, cardio studio, and track should be on the skater’s weekly route through life.
OK, so my slow carb diet phase right at the end of December lasted precisely 4 days. But…but…but….this time will be different, I swear!
Yeah, I’ve said that a billion times, but I’m still at 225 pounds for a reason. The only way I’m going to pull this off is to wrap it up in one of my not-quite-infamous 30 day personal challenges. So, it starts…today, Monday, January 31, 2011.
“4 Hour Body” is the follow up book to author Tim Ferriss’ “Four Hour Workweek”, the tenets of which are central to my own experiments in lifestyle design and business building. “Four Hour Body” (4HB) is all about “hacking” the human body — finding the shortest path to desired results, often outside of mainstream medical science.
There are three basic aspects of 4HB I’m going to try following for the 30 days:
1. Slow Carb Diet — this is a low-GI diet that eliminates most processed foods, all simple sugars in any form (including fruit), boosts protein uptake, and replaces simple carbs with SLOW carbs, which generally means legumes. I’m not particularly a bean fan, and even less so of lentils, but I found a way to stomach it all when I did it for a few days last month.
2. Occam’s Protocol — this is the exercise component, and consists of single-set-to-failure compound exercises done with significant rest periods between workouts (as in, days and days and days, even a week). Each workout consists of only TWO exercises, and the A/B workouts are alternated. For the machine option I’ll be doing, workout A is close grip pulldowns and machine shoulder press, 7 reps at a 5/5 count at a weight that will induce failure, and workout B is the incline bench press and leg press, 7 and 10 reps respectively, also to failure with appropriate weight. Yep, each workout is like 15 minutes or less, and that’s the point: You build muscle when resting, not when lifting. Going to failure is supposed to induce massive gains in people with little or no weight experience. I just calendared out the workouts for the month of February, and it shows me making 8 trips to the gym, for literally a total of 4 hours in the month. This is where the title of the book comes from.
3. Polyphasic sleep — I started on a polyphasic sleep cycle at the beginning of the month, but it drifted into a weird free-running sleep thing with absolutely no schedule. I am going to try and get back into the sleep system, which involves a core sleep of 3 or 4 hours every night, plus 2 or 3 naps during the day. In all reality, I’ll probably do 3 hours at night, one nap around 10am, another nap around 2 or 3 pm, and another nap at 9pm. That schedule works well with my skating and business schedules.
I’m also about 6 weeks into my effort to “lifehack” the USFS Moves in the Field tests. I’m focusing nearly all my on-ice time on MITF, and am simultaneously working on skill sets from pre-pre, preliminary, and pre-Juv all at the same time. I could probably pass pre-pre at this point, and expect I could pass preliminary (barely) in a few weeks if I tried. The theory behind this hack attempt is that while the MITF tests are supposed to build upon each other, the reality is that they don’t build on skills in a linear fashion. Instead, the Moves tests have on-ice skills that overlap between levels and can be trained together. For example, both preliminary and pre-Juv have extensive 3-turn requirements, and both pre-pre and prelim have almost similar spiral requirements. The strategy is to train them together, and actually make the more advanced skill test-ready and, by default, the lower level skill becomes test-worthy with it. Part of the hack, and the part that purists will scoff at, is also that each element has a primary and perhaps secondary focus, which as a judge are the primary things we are told to look at it. The Move can pass without fully mastering the element, as long as the focii are properly addressed, the general requirements of the move are met, and there are no serious errors. For example, on the spirals, I just have to DO them on the proper edge, leg above hip height, and held for the proper length of time — they don’t need to grace of a ballet dancer to pass (and they won’t!!!).
So here we go. I’ll be posting a lot of this stuff on twitter, and I’ll add my twitter feed to the right side of the blog.
The training schedule of a high level athlete is just about impossible to maintain for somebody with a job. For athletes at an Olympic-caliber level, training is their job. My own efforts earlier this year to make the U.S. National Shooting team taught me a lot, the biggest lesson being that I simply could not support an Olympic dream with the insane work schedule that I often have. The time commitment of the 90 minute one-way drive to the Olympic Training Center shooting range in Colorado Springs and the financial commitment of putting 200+ precision rounds down range several times per week was something I couldn’t maintain. In fact, I never even bothered showing up for the spring or fall selection qualifiers this year.
Is my London Olympic dream dead? Not entirely so, as there is still the 2011 spring qualifier, and the fact that I am soon moving to a location with a world class indoor range where I’ll be able to train anytime I want at a reasonable cost, and it’ll be a 15 minute drive. Although I now haven’t pulled a trigger in months, the idea of taking advantage of that proximity is something I’m thinking about.
However, even more important to me than competitive marksmanship is the world of figure skating. My upcoming move to Utah has coincided with the selection of Salt Lake as the site of the 2011 Adult National Championships, which is the pinnacle of adult amateur figure skating in the United States. Despite the fact that, relatively speaking within the scope of each sport, I’m a significantly better shooter than skater, my passion is the skating.
Given my current skating ability, and my desire to compete in several events at Adult Nationals, the question has come to this: What do I need to do in order to even be able to test up and compete at Adult Nationals? The event is in early April 2011, and it’s currently October 2010. Most competitions have a test deadline in order to compete at a certain level, and I would imagine that deadline is sometime in February, although I don’t know for sure. So, let’s call it 5 months.
If you read this blog often enough, you already know that I’m a big believer in the hours-to-mastery concept. For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, here’s the basic idea of this theory: In order to attain a specified level of proficiency at any skill, you must invest a certain dedicated number of practice hours to that skill. It is commonly accepted that roughly 500 hours of practice and training is required to reach any level of significant proficiency in a skill. For figure skaters, this means having your backwards crossovers, decent edges, a couple of the most basic half-jumps, an upright spin, and a few other things. That’s pretty much where I’m at now, and I can attest it took about 600 hours for me to get there.
The next level of proficiency in an activity comes at about 1,000 hours; high level of mastery comes at 5,000 hours, and best-in-world mastery comes at about 10,000 hours. Based on my own conversations with her about her training schedule and how it varied throughout the years, I have calculated that reigning U.S. ladies champion Rachael Flatt hit that 10,000 hour mark approximately during the season in which she blew onto the big screen scene by taking second at Nationals, in 2008. She’s now pushing the 13,000 hour mark, and took 7th at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Did I mention those hours represent just her on-ice time? Oh yeah — that doesn’t include running, weight training, ballet, etc.
I’d also like to point out that I’ve seen athletes make monumental advances in their skills due to a significant change in their training. Many factors come into play here. It can be the addition of cross-training, a sudden increase in weekly training time, or even a change in coaching.
If I consider the fact that I have roughly 150 days in order to achieve a result, is it realistic to expect I can make a quantum leap in my current skating skills in that time? Given that my skating in 2010 has been sporadic at best, is it even possible for me to consider skating at Adult Nationals?
Surprising even to myself, the answer is actually yes. The Internet is strewn with success stories of people doing various 12 week body transformation contests — what the human body can achieve is actually quite incredible. Given that I’m somewhere around the 650 to 700 hour range with my skating over the past 2.5 years, it’s not unreasonable to expect that, given a very concerted effort, I could achieve the equivalent skills of the 1,000 hour level within the next 5 months.
So what does the training schedule of an Olympic athlete look like? It’s been a while since I last spoke with her about it, but as of last season here is my vague recollection of Rachael’s training schedule on a weekly basis (Rachael or Jody, please send me an update if you happen to read this):
- Actual on-ice time: 27 hours/week
- Weight training: 3x per week, 45 minutes to an hour each
- Ballet: Two hours per week
- Running: Two hours per week
I seem to recall there’s something else that should be on this list, but can’t remember what it is. Tennis, perhaps? Anyway, you see the point: This kid has nearly a full-time job just in being an athlete (she was also a senior honors student in high school with a hefty AP class load at the time).
A couple of the resident athletes at the Olympic Training Center I got to know a little also have similar schedules. Several hours per week in the weight room on top of the 4+ hours per day on the shooting range is the norm.
Is it even possible for me to train at this level? With my work schedule, no, I can’t. OK, so how close can I get?
It just so happens that I currently live and work within a couple blocks of the rink I train at — very convenient. All told there are 15 hours per week of freestyle ice time I can use, which will cost me a whopping $18 per week to utilize (most of my ice time is included in my monthly YMCA membership, which is nice). Once I get out to Utah, I’ll actually have about the same amount of ice time, and while the cost will skyrocket in comparison, it’s actually very inexpensive compared to most ice rinks.
Also, adding 3 hours of weights and 3 hours of cardio, alternating days, is not that big of a leap for my schedule (ice time does not count as cardio, although it should!). That puts me at 21 hours per week total.
Doable? Absolutely! Will it get me where I need to be? Absolutely! The vast majority of adult figure skaters are only able to train two or three sessions per week, and they achieve advancements from season to season through the testing ranks. Although I’m a bit of a klutz and therefore a much slower learner when it comes to physical tasks requiring coordination, my goals are very achievable.
I’ve already committed to skating EVERY day between now and when I move at the end of November. Once in Utah, I’ll be able to skate six days per week (the entire state of Utah pretty much shuts down on Sundays, including all the rinks I’ve checked). For now, I’m “getting back into the swing of things” by skating one session daily, but by the end of the year could be skating two or three sessions per day….and loving it!
So just because you’re not an Olympic-level athlete doesn’t mean that you can’t train at least half-way like one. There are tremendous things you can accomplish by doing so, if there is a particular athletic aspiration you are pushing for. On top of that, there are tremendous personal fitness benefits to earn as well. For me, if I stick to the plan I’ve outlined, I’ll without a drop finally shed the 30 to 40 lbs I keep bitching about. And in terms of my health, that alone is probably a far greater achievement than any medal up for grabs at Adult Nationals.
Just a few of the many things changing in the IJS…….
1. Spin position variations can no longer be repeated for level credit. Do a hair cutter in your layback, and you can’t repeat it in your combination spin.
2. Goodbye original dance in ice dancing.
3. ….and more, this is really a test post.
There are a ton of figure skating camps throughout the year for kids. For us adult skaters, we have a few fun options, too. Here is what I could find regarding adult summer camps. I fully intend to attend at least one of these this year.