jo skates

Thoughts about skating and the practice of everyday life


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Sculpture garden

Unseasonably warm Thanksgiving holiday! This made a pre-dinner walk around our newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden seem like a must-do.

The most iconic of the works here is “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985-1988) by Claes Odenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. I didn’t get a picture of that one this time around, but I did take some of the other sculptures.

The Sculpture Garden is within an easy walk of my home rink, which was closed over the holiday. I had to drive a bit to get some skating time in over the weekend, which I gladly did. I was all fueled up on turkey, stuffing, and pecan pie!

I also had to practice! Had another great lesson earlier in the week, in which we worked on really getting my weight into the circle on back crossovers. Laurie had me pretending I had a hockey stick that I was pushing into the ice, which forced me to lean into the circle. Ack!

She also pointed out that I am not always maintaining a steady edge when I straighten my skating knee. Instead of holding that edge steady, I rise to a flat and then try frantically to get the edge back as I bend again. Double ack! I really have to think about using my ankles (and lean), since that’s seems to be key to maintaining that edge.

Here’s my version of that classic song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, sung here by the voice behind many of my memories: Dionne Warwick. Only it goes something like this:

What do you get when you lose your edge?
A gal with a flat who seems to hobble,
That’s what you get when your ankles wobble.
I’ll never lose my edge again!

 

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Getting even

My days of skating tears are hopefully lost past, though I admit that once in a while I would love to throw myself down on the ice and scream just like the toddler I saw earlier this week.

NOOOO! I don’t want to skate!

Not this week though. This one has been one awesome skating-mood day after another. It  all started in a lesson in which I worked on (a) progressives, and (b) swing rolls, and Laurie pointed out that I was not finishing off the latter properly. She suggested that I move my belly button further over (basically rotating my lower core in the direction of travel).

Sweet smell of success! (Or maybe that’s just the pizza place on the corner). I have a much more stable position on both the left and right side. In fact, these edges are starting to feel almost even, rather than having a strong and weak side.

Thinking about where my navel is headed is something both coaches have suggested before. But one of the reasons it seems to work particular well now is that I am trying to move my navel just by using my core muscles. I am figuring out how to isolate this movement in the core and hips, rather than swinging my torso and arms around willy-nilly.

I have been practicing this by warming up with swizzles, both backwards and forwards, trying to concentrate on just the action of my oblique muscles.

abdominal-muscles-diagram

These are the lower trunk muscles, and they have several functions. They work with the diaphragm to help with breathing. Contract both sides at once and you bend forwards; contract one side and you do a side bend. And if you work these in opposition, you rotate the torso bringing the left shoulder towards the right hip and vice versa.

So I’ve been running through all my skating moves trying emphasize the action of these muscles rather than the upper body. I focus on giving those obliques a little “scrunch.” All I can say is that it seems to be working.

So while I’m sure I’ll have another one of those “mad skater” moments before long, I’ll just revel in getting “even” for now.

Time for a happy photo!

IMG_7024

Happy skaters Jeff and Jo!

And a happy song from Jeremy Messersmith that my son told me to put on my blog. Everybody gets a kitten!

 

 


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Back pivot challenge

So the intended topic of this post has changed a number of times since the beginning of this week. First I was going to write about spending a few days at the beginning of the week without skating. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, but much of that time was spent sitting in meetings. When I did get back on the ice last mid-week, I felt wretched, totally off balance and tentative. Things were not fun off the ice either. At my Pilates class on Wednesday evening, my hamstrings kept cramping up.  PT Sarah said that that much time sitting is enough to turn off anyone’s hamstrings.

It took another couple of days before things started to feel better. The second topic was going to be the consistent progress I’ve been making on edges. I have been working hard not only to keep my lean consistently into the circle, but also to maintain that lean using core muscles (and correctly-aligned hip position) rather than using my upper body.

By Friday, I almost felt on top of things again. Then I had a lesson that included back pivots. For my readers who don’t skate (all two of you), a back pivot is what the male pairs skater basically does while his partner is spiraling towards death. Actually, lots of skaters do this move (usually much more upright). Except for me, that is.

I was fine doing a back pivot in a counter-clockwise direction (leading with a right back outside edge). But you guessed it, the clockwise direction, emphasizing the left back outside edge, was totally feeble. (I was ready to say disastrous, but I wanted to be positive.)  That’s because it involves turning out over the left hip as well as twisting my body towards the right.

But you know what? I got this. I am going to rise to this challenge, and actually learn to do this. I feel like getting even a little more mobility on this move will pay off big time. So here I go, adding the back pivot challenge to my other list of challenges to practice every time I’m on the ice.

Oleg’s “pivot pumps” exercises look even more impossible. That’s next!

Wish me luck!

The musical mood for the week is set by Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words,” as played by the great cellist Jacqueline du Pré. Starts out simple, but gets full of angst soon enough (seems appropriate for the back pivot challenge!)

Lesson notes:

  • reverse choctaw, step, inside mohawk, push back, repeat sequence. Step behind yourself for the choctaw, don’t give into the temptation to push forward; hips under on inside edge.
  • alternating forward three turns, keeping feet together. Remember to bend and rise for the turn, like the European. Try these with arms lifting and head following arms.
  • Back pivots in both directions. Bend skating arm, look in the direction of travel.
  • Inside mohawk, pull change edge, cross in front, step forward.
  • Back pivot, pull change from outside to inside, step forward, inside mohawk, push back, repeat sequence
  • mohawk, push back, toe-toe (change lobes), step, repeat sequence.


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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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Power poses

Some time ago, power poses were all the rage, and now they’re being questioned. But I have my own skating version of the power pose, only it’s not really a pose at all.

Rather, it’s the way my body feels when everything is lined up and I am solidly over my edge. This feels really grounded, especially through the hips. I feel like my femur is set deep into the hip socket, but still moves easily. I feel like my hip muscles are really supporting me, which makes it much easier to put everything else in the right place.

Just for fun (yeah, this is my idea of fun), I was trying to identify which muscles are particularly helpful here. I would guess the adductors!

anteriorhipmuscles2.png

When you look at ice dancers, you don’t normally think about which muscles they’re using, but it’s pretty evident from these pictures that you don’t get very far without having awesome adductors.

I’ve been working on this set of muscles for some time now, and I know it’s paying off. My left side now feels stronger than my right much of the time (though I still freak out occasionally on that left inside edge–Ari tells me that’s all in my head). I have been working on trying to get those powerful positions consistent on just about everything I do. I would say I’m around 80% on a good day.

My right side still has trouble because of the lack of ankle and foot mobility and strength. But I am working on that as well and once I get it, I will be a tank on the ice, metaphorically speaking. Unstoppable!

Okay, enough posturing. Here are some other highlights of the week:

  1. Laurie pointed out that I wasn’t doing real back inside edges on my right side. Whoa!
  2. She also pointed out that I wasn’t allowing my body to rotate naturally on the left back outside edge. Yikes!
  3. Ari told me to check my posture sideways in the boards, and sure enough, my back was tipped forward. Ack!
  4.  I figured out on my right side power pulls (which I’ve been having trouble with) that it helps if I think about my blade making an action like threading a needle. Well, it works for me!

Music for the week. I’ve always loved the Beethoven trio in B flat major for clarinet, cello, and piano (opus 11). Youthful happy Beethoven! Here it is, starting with the tender adagio movement.

Lesson notes:

  • back inside edges: work on position of free leg on right edge (don’t pull back).
  • back outside swing rolls: good push; allow free leg and hip action to initiate roll, not upper body; on left side, don’t block action with left shoulder; keep free shoulder and arm back to continue into the next edge.
  • inside forward rocker, 2 edge pulls, outside back rocker (learn to use ankles and speed).
  • inside three, continue to rotate, step forward, cross stroke, push to inside edge (with skating arm over inside edge).
  • forward inside three (keep skating arm in front), cross in front.
  • outside closed mohawks: allow free hip to come forward after turn, really think about hip positions.
  • push back, back edge pull.

 


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Let the others run

I wrote this post three weeks ago, and I guess I forgot to hit “publish!” Just found it in “drafts.” Better late than never!

It’s time for the Twin Cities marathon, and as I sit here in St. Paul near Summit Avenue, waiting for my son to finish his music lesson with his legendary cello teacher, I can hear the cheers of the crowd greeting the fastest runners as they race to the finish at the Capitol.

There was a time when I thought it might be fun to run a marathon. I still think it would be fun–if you were a runner (which I am not any more) and if you were well-trained and motivated to run that far (which I never quite got to be) and if you were not content to sit in a comfy chair and blog on the Sunday morning of marathon day (which I am).

I can now claim legitimate reasons why I am no longer a hard-core runner. My misaligned hips! The scarring on my right ankle! My weakened feet! My dead butt (what runners sometimes call it, a.k.a the glute formerly known as dead!) My sore knees! The fact that I love comfy chairs such as this one more than I love running!

But the real reason is probably that I don’t think I can fit in both running and skating, and that skating wins, hands down. I do miss being outside, especially on beautiful fall days such as we’ve had. But I’ve turned into a one-sport gal, though I do some other things (Pilates, biking, occasional swimming or hiking) on the side.

The one hard thing about that is that I have to obey the ice times. That means when there are no sessions available, I don’t get that dose of skating goodness in my life and have to resort to chocolate, YouTube videos, and pictures of cute baby animals. And if I’m not online and don’t have chocolate handy, I just sit there and twirl my ankles around and around, seeing if I can get them to make that noise.

Can you tell that I didn’t skate yesterday, won’t skate today, and probably not tomorrow either? Arghhh!

I know it’s probably good for me to take a few days off, since last week I tweaked my right knee and it’s been achy for a few days. But it’s still hard!

So to remind myself to just chill, here’s a fun recording of “La Vie en Rose” played by twelve cellists from the Berlin Philharmonic. Not able to embed the video, but you can click on the link to play it on YouTube. Here they are, leaning in, looking regimented, geometrically dapper, relaxed, and even quasi-religious.

 

Gotta love it! If I ever do a compulsory foxtrot again, here’s what I gotta use!

Lesson notes:

  • forward progressives: engage skating hip (let it move back) with each stroke.
  • three turns: don’t tip body into circle (body should feel neutral relative to skate); use leg action to propel three turn. On right foot, remember to keep ankle engaged; body is forward (Eddie the Eagle).
  • back chasses: flex ankle to get more grip. Practice rise and fall. General note on skating backwards–watch your posture; don’t contract upper body backwards.
  • two-footed counters: change edge in between; don’t rush.
  • sequence 1: inside three, step rise, BEND, cross to inside.
  • sequence 2: five step mohawk (push!)
  • sequence 3: forward inside three, back outside three, edge pull.
  • sequence 4: forward outside three, back inside three, edge pull.
  • do 3 and 4 with free foot to heel, work on eliminating unnecessary wriggling.
  • do 3 and 4 with continuous rotation.


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Finesse, not force

So this week Laurie brought up an exercise that she gave me a while ago but that I’d conveniently forgotten to do. It’s for back crossovers, and as soon as she brought it up again, I remembered why it so easily slipped my mind. It’s hard!

The purpose is to increase power on the push you get out of the back outside edge. You stand still on two feet (trying not to panic), transfer your weight to the outside edge (inside foot), and then use all the power of that back outside edge bending and using the action of bringing the legs together to get the crossover going. If you’re really good at it, you can push all the way under to that nice inside edge with the leg fully extended.

Laurie got this exercise from Ben Agosto. I was going to entitle this blog entry “Curses, that Ben Agosto exercise!” but then after working on it for a few days, I decided it was actually not as bad as it seemed–or, at least, perhaps not as bad as some of the other exercises that I’m conveniently forgetting.

I’ve been getting a lot of exercises that I feel like I can’t really do at first. But I’m beginning to understand that the real trick to learning for me is to think not about whether or not I can do something, but rather in terms of what physical movements need to happen while I’m doing it. These exercises are getting at the heart of what I need to improve.

I am getting much better about recognizing how to line myself up properly and how to keep my body moving through an edge using mainly my hips, knees, ankles, and feet. I am still working really hard at getting these proper alignment and movement habits ingrained. It has taken me what feels like forever to get even a neutral hip position, especially on the left side, and I still have to think about it constantly. If I don’t have my hips in the proper position, I pitch my upper body forwards and then it’s game over.

Fortunately, this is much better than it used to be. Off-ice, my power body balance and strength has improved on both sides, and I am getting more flexibility in that right ankle. This week on the ice I have been working a lot on making sure my ankles press forward (skating shin at an angle) and keeping my feet engaged, which helps too.

It’s amazing how much of my hard skating work is mental work. It is not just about pushing hard–it is as much a matter of releasing those muscles that have been pulling me off my edges or stopping me completely. One of the things that I’ve been told recently is that I keep stopping myself from using the natural rotation that occurs in skating. This often happens on turns. But if I respond by going at warp factor seven (or thereabouts), I just kind of knock myself over.

Instead, what works better is if I think about how different joints are moving using gravity and the fact that figure skating blades are designed so that they curve naturally. The motion should just happen if you do it properly. No grunting needed.

My younger son recently got his driver’s license. He and I were having a nice relaxed chat, and he told me that sometimes when he driving our manual-transmission car and takes his foot off the brake, it starts to roll forward while in neutral. He claims it does this even when he is going uphill. I told him to be careful (trying not to hyperventilate visibly).

After I checking on him several times to make sure he had gotten safely to his destinations, I started to think about how this might work in skating. I should just be able to get myself rolling if I don’t put on the brakes!

Mainly, I have been concentrating on my femur head and its motion in the hip joint. I sometimes literally picture this joint in motion as I move through turns (one of the dangers of having watched a number of animated tutorials on how the hip join works).

A much more fun way to think about it is if I think about my skating leg a kind of a butter knife, with the top of the femur as the blade part. Then as I move around an edge, the action is like I’m spreading butter through the joint. I try for a nice, even, smooth motion, with just a slight rotation so that the femur/knife moves the joint to an open position. No sudden moves, or butter gets everywhere!

 

I have more to share, including a poem, but will put that in another post. Here’s a lovely tango by Isaac Albéniz (full name: Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz y Pascual). Albéniz was a pianist and child prodigy, so it seems fitting to have this played by another musician who started his career at a very tender age, Benjamin Grosvenor.

Lesson notes:

  • back crossovers: (1) bend knees and ankles to get effective cross; (2) “Ben Agosto exercise”; (3) fully extend on underpass; (4) shoulders relaxed
  • check outside back left hip position: make sure hips are not rotated too far to outside of circle (this will make your right ankle flex)
  • three power pulls starting with outside, inside mohawk, rotate and repeat on other side: keep free leg extended on power pulls, use shoulders to properly check power pulls, not to create curve. This should develop ankle, knee, hip connection as well as how to maintain the curve and use rotation.
  • same exercise with inside three turns. Ack!
  • cross stroke, tuck behind (outside arm in front), inside choctaw, back cross stroke, repeat on other side: make sure you are rotated through the core before the choctaw.