Breakdown of the Axel Takeoff
Lauren Downes, MSPT
(*Assuming the skater is jumping counterclockwise)
The Lower Extremity: Takeoff leg: When a skater steps onto the left outside edge, the left knee, ankle, and hip both bend to a certain degree. The ankle needs to have sufficient dorsiflexion (toes lifting up) mobility to achieve the correct angle for force generation. If a skater has a tight gastroc muscle (calf), the ankle will not achieve the proper bending angle to create a rolling motion through the rocker of the blade. At the knee, a skater must have sufficient eccentric control of the quad and hamstring muscles. During takeoff, the left quad muscle must produce sufficient force to vault into the jump. The gluteus muscles also achieve this at the hip. Also in the left lower extremity, the hip abductors and small rotatory stabilizers co-contract to help keep the hip and knee in line over the ankle. If hip weakness is present, the valgus angle of the knee increases, meaning that the knee turns inward and the hip juts out laterally. This alteration of alignment will affect the takeoff more than in any other jump. The excessive valgus of the knee may block the freeleg as it passes through, not allowing it to ‘step up’ properly to achieve height and distance.
The Lower Extremity: Freeleg: When a skater first steps onto the left outside edge, the right freeleg requires extension of the hip. If the anterior hip muscle (the iliopsoas) is tight, the leg will not extend enough to produce momentum as it passes through. Also, the skater may be forced to lunge forward too much at the trunk to compensate for a tight iliopsoas, using a see-saw effect upon takeoff: As the freeleg goes back, the trunk leans forward; then as the freeleg passes through, the trunk swings back and causes the skater to takeoff from the heel instead of the front of the blade. In the axel takeoff, the freeleg generates power from the iliopsoas and the quadriceps muscle groups. The iliopsoas lifts the thigh to achieve a proper ‘step-up,’ and the quadriceps assists with hip flexion and control of the knee.
The Upper Extremities: Both shoulders need sufficient flexibility from the anterior shoulder muscles, yet this is rarely an issue for figure skaters. To generate proper force to bring the arms through, a skater requires strength from the deltoid and bicep muscles. The deltoid elevates the arm and the bicep bends the elbow. Also needing sufficient strength are the muscles which control the shoulder blade motion: the rhomboids and the lower and middle trapezius muscles. If these muscles are strong, a skater should have good shoulder posture, as these muscles retract the shoulder blade towards the spine. Weakness results in rounded shoulders and less efficient use of the deltoids. Good posture is important for both balance and alignment.
The Core: Always assume that a skater should have excellent core strength to maintain balance, alignment, and stability for every jump!