Enough with the hips already!
I am happy to say that my hip alignment is good enough these days to deserve much less attention. My side planks are things of beauty, even on my left side. And while I sometimes feel less confident or tighter on my left side, it’s nothing a good Ashiatsu massage can’t beat out of me. I know that now.
So does that mean I can just smile deeply and roll up my yoga mat (or use it for yoga?) Nah! It’s just time to turn my attention to some other joints and learn about their cool anatomical features and exactly what I can be doing to improve my quality of movement overall.
Take my ankles, for instance. I have been thinking and writing here quite a bit about the hip and some about my feet, but only in a really vague way about ankles. Why is that?
Maybe it’s because up until fairly recently I’ve taken my ankles for granted. The legs and hips take up more space and the feet, while relatively small, are pretty vocal when something’s wrong (lots of nerves in those size-6 babies!). I’ve sprained or rolled my ankles lots of times, but largely treated these incidents as minor setbacks. And when you stick your ankle into a skating boot, you don’t think about it too much. Who knows what’s inside that armor?
Now that I’m starting to figure out how ankle bend actually works in skating, I am sorry that I neglected these two incredibly important joints ‘o mine. As it turns out, I have quite a bit to gain from developing more strength and mobility in the ankles.
Let me say that this is not the fault of my coaches. Ari could say “Think of bending your ankles rather than just your knees” and “You should feel your shins press into those laces” until the cows came home. But there I was, the stiff-legged one.
The problem is that I have had limited ankle mobility, probably due to a history of those injuries. I didn’t really realize this until I started trying to do more squats off-ice. I found that I was having trouble getting down, not because of my leg strength but because of my stiff ankles, like in this picture (from this useful posting at the “Invictus Blog” (love that name) about ankle mobility):
But they were stiff not only because of scar tissue and inactivity, but also because trying to squat in this position was really really hard–which led me towards trying to lock my ankles even further in an attempt to get stability. So working on correcting this movement is definitely a good goal and not a lost cause.
This is how the ankles should bend. Nice and soft. And I can do it!
My lack of attention to ankle stiffness has haunted my skating as well. No wonder I’ve always had trouble with lunges, and gave up a long time ago on shoot-the-ducks. Even without aspiring to those special moves, ankle mobility is really important to basic skating. Look at the amount of ankle flexion on these edges, as illustrated in Swedish figure skating master Bror Meyer’s 1921 instructional manual, Skating with Bror Meyer.
A quick anatomical note: as the ankle flexes (dorsiflexion), the talus bone rolls forward and slides backward. The Achilles tendon engages and the calf muscles tighten to stabilize the joint. The tibia (leg bone) slides forward.
I wrote on an earlier post that I needed to add an additional knee bend (Swoop!) on many of my edges. Another way of thinking about this is that I needed to add ankle bend, which has the incredible benefit of stabilizing the ankle as well as deepening the edge. It also helps with posture, since the movement of the leg bones forward also allows the hips to move forward. Ha, another mystery solved!
So here I go on my skating ankle adventures. Those cows are coming home!