24 Apr 2020
There are many options out there when it comes to off-ice training exercises. Nowadays people find exercises on YouTube, social media and various websites, with little to no organization. Skaters and coaches are eager to piece together a training program that will help the skaters succeed and prevent injury. The question is, how can a skater organize a program that will benefit what he or she specifically needs, while preventing injury, reducing delayed onset muscle soreness, and maximizing periodization? Below are some guidelines to follow when organizing an off-ice training program.
1. Create a balance of muscle groups that you work on a single day. Gone are the days of ‘Monday is biceps and triceps day’, and ‘Tuesday is legs day.’ Unless you are a body builder, this philosophy should not be followed by a figure skater and is quite antiquated. Skaters who train 4-6 days per week mix strength and conditioning into a schedule that includes several hours on the ice, and cannot afford to be dealing with delayed onset muscle soreness or overly fatigued muscles. Overworked muscles can lead to injury and poor technique while performing jumps. A balanced workout should address all muscle groups without overloading a specific muscle. Take a 10-exercise workout, for example. A good balance of exercise could include 3 core exercises (1 linear, 1 lateral, and 1 rotational), 3 lower body strengthening exercises (1 hamstring, 1 quadricep/glute, and 1 total leg stability), 3 upper body strengthening exercises (1 scapular stabilizers, 1 deltoids, and 1 rotator cuff), and 1 plyometric exercise. In this scenario, a skater will not experience fatigue in any muscle group, which will maximize performance in their training on that day. Plyometric exercises can also be separated into ‘linear day’ and ‘lateral day,’ to prevent a skater from doing back to back days of the same exercises. Do not piece together exercises from 5-6 different sources, as the organization of the exercises is likely less than ideal.
2. A skater’s off-ice training program should be ‘functional exercise’ based, including mainly body weight resisted exercise. A program should have minimal exercises that involve sitting on a weight machine isolating one muscle group. *The only exception to this rule is a male pair skater or ice dancer who is required to lift his partner, as he has a need to maximize upper body strength by lifting a certain amount of weight. Examples of basic lower body functional exercises are lunges, single leg bridges and dead lifts, and a reach-pull exercise. Functional exercises involve the co-contraction of several muscle groups during the exercise movement, and mimic motions that a skater does in every-day life and on the ice. When muscles co-contract, they act to stabilize a joint. Further stabilization occurs when the exercise is performed on one leg, which is especially pertinent to a skater’s training. An example of a single leg functional exercise is the single leg dead lift. During the exercise, a skater is working their hamstring, ankle and hip stabilizers at the same time. If a skater is doing basic upper body exercises such as bicep curls or overhead presses, the skater can stand on one foot on an unstable surface such as a dynadisc or half foam roll to challenge their balance. As fitness training has progressed over the past 20 years, equipment other than weight machines has been introduced to most workout routines. Good examples of beneficial equipment are: physioballs, medicine balls, battle ropes, sport cords, resistance bands, and trx straps, among others. Introduce this equipment into your training program to maximize the program’s effectiveness.
3. Core stabilization is much more than the traditional sit-up. The number of sit-ups a skater can do in a minute has little effect on improving skating ability. The most effective core exercises involve contracting the abdominals and trunk stabilizers to maintain the trunk in a stable position for a desired length of time. Basic examples are prone and side planks. Beyond these basic stabilization exercises, there are many creative ways to challenge the stability of the core muscles in various planes of motion. Using arm and leg movements, sport cord resistance, medicine balls, battle ropes, and physioballs as challenges to stability will have significant carryover to improving skating skills. These are exercises are much more fun, too!
4. A skater’s exercises should follow a set progression of repetitions, sets, and difficulty levels. Always begin an exercise at the basic level and work your way up to the highest difficulty level in the correct order. Attempting an exercise that is beyond a skater’s capability will lead to a muscle strain or a more severe injury very quickly. Here is an example of the correct way to progress a single leg bridge:
a) 2 sets of 10 repetitions, foot on the floor
b) 2 sets of 15 repetitions, foot on the floor
c) 2 sets of 10 repetitions, foot on an 8 inch step, then 2 sets of 15 repetitions
d) 2 sets of 10 repetitions, foot on a medicine ball, then 2 sets of 15 repetitions
5. Learn your exercises from a trained fitness professional. I have come across numerous Instagram and Youtube accounts demonstrating exercises that are done incorrectly! Always make sure you are utilizing information given by a physical therapist, exercise physiologist, strength and conditioning coach/specialist, kinesiologist, or athletic trainer.
6. Consider paying for an evaluation and personalized training program if your budget allows you to do so. Personalized strength and conditioning programs are likely 50% more effective than general training programs. A licensed health professional (see #4) should be able to properly evaluate a skater’s strength and weaknesses and target the appropriate muscle groups that a skater’s program should focus on. This results in a greater chance of injury prevention, quicker progression of skating skills, and better longevity on the ice.
7. Take days off! 4-5 days of strength and conditioning is plenty for a high-level skater, and 3-4 days is plenty for a mid-level skater. Know your body and how it reacts to over training, and plan your training program accordingly.
Sk8Strong programs follow all of the above guidelines, designed by a physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach. All program levels contain carefully designed, age and level based, balanced functional exercise progressions aimed at fulfilling a skater’s potential on the ice and preventing injury. Individualized evaluations are scheduled upon request
Lauren Downes, MSPT