jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Really?

So it snowed again last weekend, and I had to shovel twice before it all melted on Monday.  Then yesterday I walked outside and there were flurries in the air. It’s supposed to warm up in the next few days, but then they’re predicting another couple of inches of snow this coming weekend.

Really?

Even those of us who say they don’t mind Minnesota winters have had it. We are shaking our fists skyward, bemoaning the futility of it all. Or we are eating chocolate.

Or we are skating, thinking that even if the weather were nicer, we’d be inside anyway.

Okay, so it’s still winter in mid-April here. But at least several good things are going on with my skating. One began with the head weight idea, which I’ve been trying to work into all aspects of my waking life, including as I sit here now at the computer. I have now seen way too many pictures of bad head posture that results in inevitable doom (just google “bad head posture” and you’ll see what I mean). Anyway, I have been working on moving the weight of my head slightly back using my entire upper back and neck (rather than just trying to roll my head back, which did not work). And this seems to be working well not only to align my upper body, but also to place me in a better position overall.

I have better control over my edges. I’m bending my ankles more. And I am even able to relax my often too-tight hip flexors on command, meaning that I can finally sorta get that “flat front of hip” position that both Ari and Laurie have been telling me about. I was beginning to think that was some kind of strange genetic predisposition only granted to those with true talent and ability. But no, I can do it too!

It is not quite the dawn of a new skating day, since yesterday I was working on back cross rolls and had one of those falls that made everyone sympathetic in that way that they only behave when you are over 50. My coach Laurie even texted me later to make sure I didn’t have a concussion.

So okay, ouch. But at least my hip flexors were relaxed! And I was back on today, a little bruised but not too bad.

So here’s a little inspiration: not quite skating, but also balanced on the perfect blend of movement and stillness, gravity/force/momentum

Lesson notes:

  • inside three, cross in front, step forward and repeat on other side. Left side is better, but the right needs more foot/ankle action and more actual curve/turn.
  • forward three, change edge, back three, forward three. Place free foot forward before the back three so you can use it to create more rotational energy.
  • back choctaw, forward choctaw. Work on not pushing forward into the new edge. Make sure you are really using your ankles on those edges–no pretend edges!
  • rockers. Work on getting stronger edges coming out of the rocker.
  • counters. These are confusing, since they are sort of like brackets.
  • progressives in a circle. These are better! But make sure there is not an abrupt jerk when you push from the inside edge.
  • back chassés in a circle. This is to get the rise on the back outside edge.
  • forward three, back outside edge. Think about your ear staying inside the circle to correct that slight lean out.
  • back cross rolls. We worked on getting that real push. Then I fell. Ouch.

 

 

 

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New foot exercises, with a twist!

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New year, new socks!

Most winters in the past I have tended not to think a lot about my feet, since most of the time they are encased in boots, thick fuzzy socks, or warm slippers. And when I’m skating, it’s been lace ’em up and forget about them.

That all changed a few years when I started developing a constant pain in my left foot and realized that I needed to do something about it. This was nearly four years ago and it  has initiated an ongoing process involving a lot of PT and research about better ways to move and skate. Some of what I’ve discovered involving the feet is very sobering: for instance, a 2008 article in N.Y. Magazine about how walking in poorly-designed shoes (meaning most of them) affects foot alignment. Ack!

I don’t even want to think about how this applies to skates.  Fingers in ears! Lalalalalala–I hear nothing!

Okay, I’ll just go to my happy skating place. As you know, I’ve been doing lots of off-ice exercises targeting different muscles; these include foot and ankle exercises and stretches that have increased both my strength and mobility.  In addition to calf raises, short feet, and “the wave”, I have just added several more exercises for my feet (plus a fourth video that explains some of the alignment issues that I think have affected my left foot in particular).

I just started doing these this week, but I feel like they are already making a difference.

 

 

 

Okay, time for the twist (literally). Early January also finds me spending a few minutes a day on a fairly inexpensive twist board. This seems to be helping me rotate my core much more readily, which really helps with skating.

twistboard

Plus, it’s super fun, especially with Chubby Checker playing in my head.

It’s supposed to warm up this weekend, thank goodness. Not warm enough to go barefoot in the park, but maybe by the time it is my feet will be super strong! And we can twist again, like we did last summer.

Lesson notes:

  • back crossovers. Use a comfortable rather than exaggerated core position (rotated into the circle, head over sternum). Knee bend will allow for the outside edge push.
  • inside loops. Practice arm positions and getting a real loop shape going (even if you have to use two feet).
  • outside loops. Use enough core twist (dog chasing its tail).
  • “creeper”: forward outside three, inside-outside change edge (draw foot in, then free foot forward), back outside three, toe push to repeat on other side.
  • same thing, only add a mohawk step forward after the back outside three.
  • inside mohawk, push back to back outside three, forward inside three, back cross stroke, back inside three, repeat. I’m not actually sure if this sequence is correct or if I conveniently forgot it, since I got stuck on just trying to do the cross stroke correctly without pitching forward.
  • forward chassé, forward swing. Accelerate on the swing, head up, and hips forward (rather than breaking forward at the waist).
  • forward swing, change edge, mohawk, step forward and repeat on other side. Don’t lift free hip too high!

 

 

 

 


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Straight from the hip

A while ago I wrote a post that identified the “back dimples” as where the different bones of the pelvis come together. In the mat Pilates class I’ve been taking from PT Sarah, she has been talking a lot about lengthening the back from those dimples to the kidneys (which are roughly in the bottom part of the ribcage).

Kidney-location

This is a another way of thinking about maintaining better alignment using the core muscles. I’ve had some success finally getting that sensation on the left side while doing off-ice exercises.

So this past week I’ve been trying this out on the ice as well. Another game-changer! It has really stabilized those problematic back edges (left back outside, right back inside) and it helps on other edges as well. Best of all, it’s way easier to tell where I am on the blade, and to keep the rest of my body from flying around furiously on turns.

I’ve been using this idea on a lot of things, and it was especially helpful on the inside edges and back crossovers that Laurie and I worked on in my lesson.  With the inside edges, I haven’t been keeping my body inside the circle, especially on the left side. Sounds crazy, but I think now that I wasn’t really quite sure where my body was.

It’s funny how things can be just a little off in the hip/back department, and whammo, everything is out of whack. Wish I had an auto-correct function on my body! Then all my edges would shoot straight from the hip!

No, I take that back.  I’m going to share my lesson notes without editing them. The first two items I just wrote but, but the second half are notes I took right after my lesson on my phone. Then you can witness yourself what havoc auto-correct wreaks.

  • back crossovers: think about really getting the weight properly into the circle over the outside edge. Foot rolls over the edge to push and hold.
  • Inside edges: again, get your weight into the circle. On back inside edges, practice counter-rotation and turning out from the standing side.
  • Chaser swing roll swing through straight knee.
  • Swing rioll change mohawk step around.
  • Swing through Goh change twizzle.
  • Eoropean wife step down.
  • Same pattern with triple three.
  • Back three pull change forward three other side.

Wasn’t that fun? Now for a classic from one of the “manly Canadians,” Bryan Adams.

 


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Get a grip!

So Laurie noticed two things on my lesson last week that I need to work on. One came up with counter-clockwise back chassés.  I don’t engage my foot when I push backwards off the inside edge, which means that I lose out on force and stability.  I was dutifully rising and bending on the inside edge, but that was a deceptive feeling, since I basically just used the rise to flatten out that edge.

Once she told me to “get a grip” with my pushing foot, it got much better. At least it did on my left side, where my foot and ankle are nice and strong now. (On my right side, I am still struggling to push correctly, which entails pointing my foot and stretching that oh-still-so-stiff ankle.)

The other problem was that I was still was having trouble keeping my hips in place while transferring from right to left. We worked for a while on just pushing onto a forward outside edge. First we dissected the inside edge push on the right side (which turned out to have a similar need to “get a grip,” and not allowing the edge to come around enough). And then we turned our attention to that left outside edge, in which my hip and the rest of my body was still strangely contorted.

It’s testimony to how contorted it was that I don’t even know how to explain what I was doing (though it’s sorta like having my left hip always ahead and above my right). Instead I will just think about what Laurie said, which is to imagine my left skating hip as being slightly below my right, both on the inside (pushing) edge and on the new edge. This allowed the lean to happen through the hips rather than through the upper body. Another way of thinking about it is that the hips pretty much just stay right next to one another, though because of the lean it feels like one hip is slightly below the other.

For all that I think am improving–feeling like everything is getting better in terms of holding an edge and keeping my hips in place–it’s a bit alarming how all these momentary lapses (a.k.a. “flats” or “hips out of whack”) keep coming back to haunt me.

It’s like the Ghost of Skating Errors Past! But like all ghosts, it means that something hasn’t been resolved.

Back to the drawing board! Luckily I can work on these two things ad nauseam. I’ve even been standing by my desk shifting my weight from one side to another, trying to figure out how the different muscles work. There is something so basic about this that I’m just starting to figure out. I have a whole different set of sore muscles (right glutes, now!)

I would love to end this entry with more than just a note about my sore muscles, but I’m afraid that’s the best I can do before the weekend comes to a close (sigh!)

Oh, I know. I’ll post food pictures from the past week!

 

And a link to “The Nightingale,” which is part of Otto Respighi’s “The Birds” (a set of pieces written from 1928, based on the works of composers from the 17th and 18th centuries, and imitating the sounds of different birds). Enjoy!

Here are some lesson notes, since it will be a while before I can do more than just get a grip.

  • inside edge, pull change to outside, cross stroke to repeat on other side.
  • three forward cross strokes, deep outside edge with free foot in, outside three turn with skating arm in front. Use foot action to turn, rather than twisting upper body.
  • inside edge, cross behind to outside edge, cross stroke to another outside.

 


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Ankle rocker

So after watching lots of videos from Worlds 2017, I feel a little maxed-out on skating commentary. So apart from the very brief lesson notes (double threes, navel towards the circle, open mohawks, more speed), I will just write about the very useful article that I found about improving my “ankle rocker” range of motion. Track coach Chris Korfist makes a really compelling case for why ankle function is crucial to speed for runners.

Mr. Korfist talks about how many athletes work on developing hip extension and strengthening glute muscles, but don’t think much about the way the ankle works. He describes what happens when the  “ankle rocker” (the way the ankle moves when one is in the middle of a step forward) is inhibited or locked. The body cheats by swinging the free leg around at the hip in order to compensate for this lack of motion, or the knee buckles inward, or the arch collapses.

It is this motion of the ankle that allows for efficient weight transfer and proper alignment. An athlete can be strong in other ways, but “it is proper ankle rocker that dictates an athlete’s ability. ” As I read this detailed account, I realized that my “ankle rocker,” particularly on my right side (the ghost of broken fibula and torn ligaments past) is really inhibited, and the inability of both my ankles to rock properly affects a lot of the movements I do both on and off the ice.

The article doesn’t specifically talk about skating, but I can think of many ways in which the same principles apply. Just think about the rocker of the blade as following the proper motion of the ankle!

Mr. Korfist gives a number of useful suggestions about how to make progression on developing the “ankle rocker.” He includes a video from Dr. Shawn Allen of “the Gait Guys” that has a couple of really good exercises that I’ve been doing for the past couple of days. Call me optimistic, but I think I can already feel a difference in the way in which my ankles and feet are moving. As Mr. Korfist says, this isn’t a magic bullet–but for me it’s hopefully (hahaha!) a step in the right direction.

Here’s our post-skating (post-mortem?) session!

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Jo, Marc, JoAnne, Sonia

 


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Brain matters

The New York Times came out with another article in support of adult skating: well, actually in support of country dancing for older people. The University of Illinois did a study comparing the effects of walking, gentle stretching/balance training, and dancing on a group of people in their 60s and 70s who, while all healthy, were fairly sedentary. After six months, the group that was participated in regular bouts of country-dance choreography (three times a week for hour-long sessions) was the only group to show improvement in the brain’s white matter. White matter is the “wiring” of the brain: specialized cells and their offshoots that pass messages from neuron to neuron and from part of the brain to another. This slows down as the brain ages (as I can attest to, unfortunately!)

This group of country-line dancers actually showed improvements in the density of the white matter in their fornixes (the part of the brain associated with processing speed and memory). While the other groups improved their general fitness, they did not show this increase. While six months of tests didn’t reveal changes in cognitive ability for any of the groups, the conclusions looked promising for the benefits of dance.

But what about skating? Well, between all those challenging sequences of moves and the fact that I am trying to move in ways that feel entirely new to me, I would expect that my brain is getting rewired every time I step out onto the ice. Even if I never pass another skating test, my white brain matter will just get denser and denser. And that’s a good thing. Now where did I leave my keys?

So after yet another lesson that proved I wasn’t really on a left forward outside edge when I thought I was, I have come to the conclusion that I need to set my new foot down waaaay outside the circle that I think I am making. It feels like I have to exaggerate and cross my left thigh in front of the right. When I do this (both on and off the ice), I can definitely feel a stretch in the muscles of my hip joint: those same familiar muscles that have been tight for years now.

So now I have another way of assessing my body mechanics: if I don’t feel that stretch, I’m definitely not far enough over. Practicing this the last couple of days has made me aware of (a) how much better this is than how I used to skate, and (b) how much strength and mobility I still need to develop in that left hip. My left glutes are pretty sore!

Laurie gave me another exercise that I am using to put some mobility back in my ankles as well as check my alignment. I strike out on an edge, bring my feet together (am trying to practice good foot positions with toes actually touching), do a little extra rise and bend with my ankle and knee, and then do that “bob” again just before pushing into the next edge. We started doing this on progressives, and I have been trying it with other sequences as well.

This reminds me of an exercise I got a long time ago when I was taking lessons with Bert Wright in LA. He would have me do an edge and then bob up and down on it to get the correct alignment. Laurie has added the push, which means that I have to use the motion to deepen the edge into the push. This has made me really aware of my ankle motion, which I will write about in another post.

Boy, my brain’s white matter must be getting denser, because I’m remembering all too well how much work skating is. And how tired those muscles can feel at the end of the day. Time to get out the foam roller!

butthurts


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A marked woman

It’s been a crazy busy body week. Friday I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a massage. My shoulders were so tight that my massage therapist suggested that I try cupping. So now I have these marks on my back that make me look like Michael Phelps going for yet another Olympic medal. Well, not really, but maybe it will make me better at a different kind of freestyle! Not that I have any plans to get back to jumping, but you never know. . . .

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Thursday I had a session with PT Sarah. We checked my hip joints and she said that I still have some frontal plane issues in which the left side doesn’t quite go fully back and the right doesn’t go front. Still working on that! But most of our time was spent on the issues with my right ankle and foot.

I have been trying to get more dorsiflexion on my right side, and things have improved to where I can actually do what Chad Walding calls “womb squats” without feeling like I’m going to fall over. But this past week I’ve had some pain in my right heel. Sarah said that as I am getting more range of motion (ROM), I need to strengthen some of the foot muscles that will help me with these movements. Sarah did some mobilization of my ankle, and the heel pain magically went away. How good is that!

We talked about the way my heel bone, the calcaneus, works with the other bones of the foot and ankle, such as the talus, which I have written about before.calcaneus

Now I am trying to be mindful of my calcaneus as well. Sarah had me doing foot circles while thinking about the calcaneus rotating around, rather than just swirling my foot at the ankle. This was really effective, and I have been doing these at home. I still have some trouble mobilizing the right side, but the heel pain has disappeared. Equally satisfying were her suggestions that I try calf raises with knees bent. This got rid of that horrible ratchet wrench noise that my right ankle makes when I point my foot and/or raise my heel.

I have been thinking about my left calcaneus as well, especially when I’m on the ice. On my left side, I have this tendency to put my weight forward toward the ball of the foot. Even as my positions are generally better, I still sometimes do this. But if I think about putting a little more pressure on the calcaneus, it really helps correct this tendency.

So a little more attention to my friend the calcaneus adds stability to both sides. I particularly like this because it’s not really about leaning back on my heels, which is a risky business with dance blades; it’s more about distributing pressure through the back part of my foot.

I’m skating through, nothing to lose
Spiral away, spiral away
Thinking hard, it fills my brain
Spiral away, spiral away
Put me down and I won’t fall
I am calcaneus!
Put me down and I won’t fall.
I am calcaneus!

PT exercises:

  • Foot circles. Mobilize the heel as you do the circles.
  • Calf raises with bent knees. Variations are (1) bend, raise, straighten knees with heels raised, lower; and (2) reverse: raise, knee bend, lower.
  • Stretch 1: on side (frontal plane mobility for right)
  • Stretch 2: feet hip distance apart or wider, shift weight to left side and bend left knee, press through “inside edge” of right foot to feel activation of left inner thighs and glute, and stretch of left hip.
  • Quad exercise. Lying on bed with one leg down, raise other leg to tabletop and straighten.

Skating lesson notes:

  • Forward outside, change edge, push (skating side lead, body opens  slightly outside circle, don’t pull shoulders back).
  • Outside three turns: keep the lean continuous into the three (don’t hook the edge).
  • Push onto back outside edge: make sure you are on an actual edge.
  • Loops: start with free arm in front, make tighter circles, work on change of body/arm position in second part of loop.
  • Back to front choctaws: step behind in that Ina Bauer position, really turn body and head into the circle on the inside edge, skating arm lead, get more speed.
  • Kilian choctaws (both directions): hold inside edge in (really turn body and head into circle on inside edge), bend into outside edge, new skating knee has to bend so that your body stays in back of the new edge. Hold the back outside edge (head looks back, skating arm in front of sternum, point fingers in correct direction, free leg turned out).
  • Alternating sequence of inside mohawk, push back, back outside three. Position these so you can do a long strong inside edge after the three: the mohawk and three head toward boards, and the three happens before the top of circle. On left side, the mohawk and push back need to happen quicker; remember that the inside edge is just a touch down.
  • Inside three, step forward, cross (get the underpush here), repeat other side (speed, lean).

Bright spot of the week: Ari said my left inside threes were so much better (“Awesome!”)