jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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What will it take for me to be truly bilateral?

These days I am trying to spend at least a third or more of each practice session holding myself accountable. Actually, it’s probably more than that–or at least it feels that way, given how tired I’ve been when I finally stagger off the ice.

By “accountable,” I mean that I have not really been fully pushing off my right blade. Nor have I really been “over” that side. And I don’t fully rotate into clockwise turns.

Do I sense a pattern here? I suspect that given my history of injuries to my right leg and ankle, I have been backing off and releasing pressure on that edge without even realizing it. That was fine in the past, given that I wasn’t particularly aggressively pursuing either edge. But now that I have become Jo the Edge Monster, it is really important to strengthen and build the right side now.

Though it’s definitely improving, it still feels like a daunting task. On certain moves (like pushing from the right back inside edge) I’m still encountering a particular combination of (a) muscle weakness, (b) lack of flexibility, (c) compensation (usually by doing some very strange things with my left side), and (d) terror.

This week I’ve been working a lot on forward and backward edge pulls to see if I can get that “bite” into the ice, especially on that right side. I’m trying to “bite” into the ice whenever I push too, just to make sure I’m really pushing and not just falling onto my edges. And I’m working on loops (outside and inside) to try to figure out how to keep the pressure going into the edge.

There’s a lot of ice-crunching going on at my rink these days. Hopefully by the time my favorite apples come into season, there will be progress!

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Mmmm. . . Fireside apples!

So before the month is over. . . . Earth, Wind, and Fire. Yeah!

Lesson notes:

  • push onto inside edge: the opening will be flat as you are keeping weight on the pushing foot.
  • forwards and backwards “ice theatre” warmup (stretch up, bend, push): I am not really pushing from my right inside edge when going backwards, or my left forward inside edge when going forwards (huh…that’s odd).
  • backwards push off right inside edge.
  • outside loops: maintain pressure through second half of the loop, practice the power pull exit with an extra power pull.
  • inside loops: figure out how to balance over inside edge in aligned way.
  • Variation A: back inside three, outside mohawk, cross in front, step down, repeat on other side. Learn to turn with blade rather than turn entire body, use knee and ankle action to get on correct part of blade.
  • Variation B: back inside three, forward outside bracket, cross in front, step down, repeat on other side.
  • Variation I: inside mohawk, step down, cross behind, step forward to repeat on other side. Continuous rotation after mohawk; if you have to pause, do it after the cross behind.
  • Variation II: inside mohawk, step down, cross behind, back outside three to immediate inside mohawk on other side, repeat rest of sequence on other side.
  • Variation III: inside mohawk (to start), step down, cross behind, back outside three, forward inside three, cross behind, double three on other side.
  • forward outside three, edge pull (bend, extend). This is like the three-step pattern, only with an additional sub curve.
  • inside mohawk, push back, back outside three: watch placement on circle, really accentuate strength of inside edges coming out of the three.

 

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No news, good news

So I have to go to the airport at midnight tonight to pick up my husband and son. It’s not even ten-thirty. Since I usually am asleep way earlier, I am left with some tough choices.

Should I lie down for a quick nap? (Bad idea, since then I’ll have trouble getting up.)

Should I do some more reading for work? (Nah, since I won’t remember any of it tomorrow.)

Should I go downstairs and have another coconut-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie?

Or should I finish this blog post?

I started writing this but then deleted what I wrote. It just felt whiny and repetitive. Just to give a sampling: “big puzzle,” “problem areas,” “moving target,” “a piecemeal patchwork of, uh, mess and chaos.”

Okay, it’s good to vent. But this earlier draft was not really representative of how I feel about skating these days. Skating is actually going pretty well. I’m getting regular practice sessions in, I’m enjoying seeing all kinds of friends that I haven’t seen much of this summer, and I feel like (sharp intake of breath, this is so exciting) I’m actually doing some good things out there. I just haven’t been as good about writing down the good news.

Like today, I actually felt like I could get through a pattern of the Starlight Waltz. Not at tempo, and not at speed. But nothing wobbled and nothing felt awkward.

And I was actually able to follow directions on my lessons, rather than just stare vapidly at my coaches. Laurie and I worked on forward inside loops, and she told me to use my skating hand to “draw” the inside loop. And voilà! (I love “voilà,” it’s almost like “viola” but easier to play around with.)

She also told me to think of my “free hip weight” as being directly underneath me. This is a much more difficult concept than “voilà,” but it really helps me keep my hips aligned.

Other good news: my off-ice ankle mobilization (stretching and massage) seems to be having a positive effect. And I think that there is less swelling (though that might just be wishful thinking on my part). My right ankle feels less stiff, and I am able to sense where my heel is on that side now. This is really helpful on the ice.

One positive side benefit was that during yesterday’s recent downpour, I was able to sprint through the parking lot to my car without limping. Okay, I did get soaked anyway, but no pain!

Are these achievements as gloriously accomplished as this performance of the beautiful Mendelssohn Plan Trio by these three worthy gentlemen?

Absolutely not. But are they worth sharing as good news? You got it!

Friends skate with friends!

Lesson notes:

  • feet parallel and next to one another: try to get your knees apart next.
  • swing rolls: stretch free leg, hip weight directly underneath you
  • back swing rolls: think about the direction your body is headed as you push
  • inside loops: draw loop with leading hand (strong leading side, don’t bend forward)
  • two-footed rockers: make sure you go to an immediate edge after the turn (then try on one foot)
  • inside mohawk, back outside three: push, more speed
  • back outside-forward outside mohawk, outside-inside choctaw (like Quickstep), push back to repeat on opposite side
  • “ice theatre” warmup with stretch upwards (legs out, towards boards), bend down, then side lunges
  • inside mohawk, edge pull/change edge, cross in front, step forward, swing roll, repeat on other side

 


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Posture progress

Well, in the past few weeks I have felt much better about skating. It’s not that I have added any new tricks to my repertoire, but I am finally feeling like my posture is better and my positions more secure.

I have been working really hard on keeping my core engaged and the front of my hips “flat.” This makes me do more of the work with my glutes. I am also trying to make sure my feet and ankles are fully engaged. And that my knees are bending enough so that they move in front of my skate, not just on top.

The trick is that I have to do this all the time.  It’s like that old song about “always”: not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

Of course, when I’ve done it enough times (snort!) I won’t have to think about it. I’ll just do it and it will look like magic. And everyone will think, wow, how does she do that? It must be the leopard skin! (Okay, it does move attention away from the perfect alignment and deep knee/ankle bend.)

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Most of the time I think I’m the luckiest person in the world to be able to devote time and energy to this.  And sometimes I think, oh no, not again! Today I felt really, really tired–one of those days when I had to pat myself on the back for making it through an entire session.

Still, progress is happening!

My son wanted me to share this song through this blog. It happens to be a perfect reminder that I need to (1) use my glutes, (2) bend my ankles, and (3) engage my feet–here, there, and everywhere. I got this!

Lesson notes:

  • Left outside three turn: less twist through hips, more through upper body
  • Inside forward three: think about where your “tail” is pointed after the three (don’t immediately go to open-hipped position)
  • Back outside three: allow hips to rotate into more natural position on inside edge (don’t allow arms to rotate instead)
  • Back power pulls: no tipping into circle, work on knee bend and not staying up too long, don’t force a dramatic “rip”
  • Outside-outside mohawks: “J” edge, don’t let free leg drift into circle (it will make you flatten)
  • Back power pulls: don’t use arms, keep free leg behind skating leg
  • Left back inside edge, counterclockwise toe-toe-toe turn to back outside right, cross in front, cross in front, repeat on other side  (don’t forget to turn your head in the direction of travel)
  • Chassé, swing, change edge, mohawk, repeat (really bend your knee)
  • Back outside-outside (like a choctaw, only to an outside edge)
  • Forward three, push back to back outside three, toe through to repeat on other side
  • Inside to inside mohawk (like a blues choctaw, only it’s a mohawk) don’t bring in free leg with hamstring-use glutes instead
  • Really bend your knee and ankle (engage foot)

 

 


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Standing tall

How many times does it take to get something right? In skating, this number can seem inordinately large.

But I figured out that it is, in fact, a finite number. In fact, it’s probably less than I would have guessed.

I decided to put this to the test after a lesson in which Ari told me that I wasn’t really straightening my knee on swing rolls. In fact, I had trouble balancing on a straight knee even while hanging onto the boards.

Whoa, imaginary sirens are going off in my head. A paradigm shift is about to occur!

Once I figured out how to stand up over my straightened knee and hold an edge at the same time, I realized that this is another one of those positions that has been entirely missing from my skating vocabulary. It’s sort #$ like trying to communicate !!!@%… using any prepositions.

Okay, so what do I to make this right? The solution is to make myself repeat it consciously until it’s absolutely part of my muscle memory. So today I set myself a target number: do 50 right outside swing rolls.

That target number didn’t include the ones I cheated (bent my knee), or bailed out in the middle. I did about 10 and then realized that 50 is quite a big number. So I went on to work on some other things (like trying this on the left side, which is much easier but still could use some refinement). Then I went back and did some more.

At around 15, my hip muscles started to get really, really tired.

At around 20, the moves started improving. Or least I wasn’t holding my breath anymore.

I maxed out at around 35–that was the point at which I felt pretty consistent but was losing focus.

My hip muscles are tired! So I feel like this is something that is going to be really helpful in making those edges stronger. So my goal to do 25 right outside swing roles each practice session (standing tall!) this week.

Incentive? After I actually stood up straight on my knee, Ari said, “You’re an inch taller!” Okay, I’m fine with being short, but I’ll take that inch!

For a musical number, I tried to find a “stand tall” song but settled on “Stand Back.” Stevie Nicks as inspired by Prince! And those are some awesomely standing tall and twizzling (okay, pirouetting) dancers.

Lesson notes:

  • double threes: engage glute muscles to get on edges immediately following the three turn, remember that the back inside edge shouldn’t feel tilted in. Don’t over-rotate upper body.
  • brackets: work on these two-footed on a small circle. Thinking about really rotating through the core (this is challenging when the navel is moving clockwise, so practice off ice). Free foot is engaged and turned in before the turn. Draw free hand back afterwards (as if you had a marker)
  • progressive, swing roll: stand tall. Free leg shouldn’t have to bend to come through.
  • alternating forward outside edge, cross in front, cross behind, push (like in silver tango): you should be working on keeping weight firmly over skating side (think about standing tall).
  • f. outside three, push back, b. outside three, toe through to repeat on other side: work on getting those pushes engaged.

 

 


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Elliptical adventures

Vacation never stops me from thinking about skating! Last week we stayed for a night at Ashcroft, a small town in British Columbia. This town was established in the 1860s by settlers who came in search of gold and wound up establishing a way station for prospective miners. It is one of the driest places in Canada south of the high arctic, and has been the set for filming desert locations in movies and television.

Even tiny towns in Canada have their own skating rink! And curling. What does this say about Canada?

Sigh.

Anyway, I’ve been using my time off the ice to work on more general aspects of fitness, which includes improving my aerobic fitness. I feel like I’m pretty good these days about working on alignment, flexibility, and strength (including core and upper body strength). The one piece that has dropped away in the past few years has been making sure that I get my heart rate up on a regular basis. While I feel like my cardio fitness level is basically still pretty good, I definitely should be building in some deep breathing (I did write “gasping for air” but that sounds a bit too dramatic) back into my life.

While visiting my in-laws in Portland, OR, I used the elliptical trainer, which has way more bells and whistles than my exercise bike at home. I had fun trying to keep up with the different fitness programs on the computerized screen. I didn’t realize that I could burn 100 calories in 6 minutes! (Okay, I know that’s not really true, but what other fantasies can we hold on to in life?)

I also enjoyed trying to rev up my heart rate using the elliptical (less impact than the treadmill). Since I have a fairly low pulse to begin with (usually around 60 bpm), it is a bit of a challenge to figure out how high I should make it go. I seem to have trouble getting past the low-80s, even when I’m–ahem!–gasping for air.

After I stop, both my heart rate and breathing go back to normal fairly quickly, so no worries here about over-exertion in the exercise room. Plus, I keep my slack-key Hawaiian guitar soundtrack on, which as we all know immediately translates to a certain amount of chill.

How will this new-found fitness goal translate into skating terms? In the past month, I’ve tried to organize my practice time on the ice into three different parts:

  1. warmup and basic edges, including progressives, swing rolls, power pulls, cross strokes
  2. turns, loops, twizzles
  3. compulsory patterns (Kilian and reverse Kilian, Starlight, Viennese, Quickstep)

Since I’m not doing a program, it’s important to figure out how to make an aerobic element part of the routine. I should probably start adding in 3-5 minutes of power stroking in there once in a while. I need a different soundtrack!


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Hips are A-okay!

I had a session with PT Sarah the other day, just to check in. My hips are doing pretty well! I still have some stiffness on the left side, but it’s way better. And so we spent more time on trying to get more mobility in both my right ankle as well as my mid-back (which continues to be stiff).

It’s been an interesting process trying to determine which parts of my body could work better in my favor. I started going to physical therapy mainly because of pain in my left hip and foot, but now I find that the right side could really use some work. The right ankle issue is because I have a lot of scar tissue there from an injury many years ago. I have trouble pointing my right foot and doing heel raises on that side. Sarah gave me some ways of stretching the ankle to try to loosen up the motion of the calcaneus.

Basically, we are working on getting some side-to-side motion for that joint, as if the heel bone was fish-tailing side to side. I sit back on my heels with my toes stretched out, try to pull the foot bones away from the ankle, and then work on that fish-tail motion. These were definitely uncomfortable, but they seemed to help.

As I am wont to do, I promptly tried this idea out on the ice too by trying to imagine that my heel bone was moving in the same path as the end of my blade (but away from the rest of the foot). This is a hard sensation to describe, but it makes a big difference in my stability. Basically, it felt like my skating foot is longer on the ice, that my weight is slightly farther back, and that I have more control over my blade.

This has been a much better week, thank goodness. I have been doing my off-ice exercises regularly, and this has helped too. I wouldn’t say I’m completely 100% confident, but at least I’m not feeling stalled out.

Here’s a picture of my forward outside loops, which are improving, I think.

Jo-loops

And a recording of Rostropovich playing Schubert’s Arpeggione with Britten (yes, that Britten), which probably can’t be improved on:

Lesson notes:

  • Two foot rockers: think about axis and where you are facing
  • Perimeter stroking: lobe direction (start progressive later); eliminate kick of right free leg
  • Inside mohawk step forward on inside, inside rocker (two foot okay), step forward, repeat
  • Open outside Mohawks: work on aligned hip position, circles (think about where you are facing)
  • Swing roll, flat, inside, inside mohawk, push back step forward, repeat: hip position over standing foot, rotate into free arm

 


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Satisfaction (as in, can’t get no)

Easy gratification?

Or long-term deferral of pleasure?

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It should be an easy choice, but it’s not.

On the one hand, I am getting quite frustrated with the way that I feel like I need to revamp my entire way of skating, like, every time I get on the ice.

The way I used to skate (balanced over my skates rather than really on an edge) was horribly, horribly wrong. I have gotten to the point that it actually feels wrong, which I suppose is a kind of progress.

Making things right, however, also is exhausting. I am working on several kinds of alignment corrections these days. One is making sure my weight into the circle, which means that my blade is striking down to the outside of where I perceive my midline to be.

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Two is making sure that I am activating my glutes and hamstrings whenever I initiate a new edge. I wish I could figure out a way to make this happen automatically, but it doesn’t seem to work that way for me, especially on the left side.  I wrote about this in a post several years ago when I was describing “skating from the butt“; what I’m finding now is that knowing about it and actually doing it more than 20% of the time are two different things.

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Three is feeling steady pressure through the blade down into the ice during the entire edge. I have this tendency to release the pressure in favor of hanging out on top of my skates.

These things are definitely outside of my comfort zone. Plus they are so basic that I can’t avoid working on them.

Perhaps I have come to a standstill? Or reached the point of no return?

Or perhaps it is a turning point?

I used to think the operative words were about not getting satisfaction. But maybe it’s also important to hear

’cause I try/ and I try/ and I try

Will I be around as long as these guys have been? We’ll see.