Last year, the N.Y. Times came up with some interactive video about tennis star Rafael Nadal’s left knee. The video discusses in excruciating detail the forces he puts on those ligaments, muscles, and bones (sometimes the equivalent of more than 1000 pounds!)
The thing is, when you watch Nadal play without the special effects (the x-ray illustrations and the various diagrams), you don’t think about all the special forces on that patellar tendon and anterior cruciate ligament (sounds like a spell in Harry Potter, no?) and medial meniscus. With an experienced eye, you might notice the hyper-extension and the impressive knee bend. You of course notice his incredible speed and agility. But all in all, it can look to the inexperienced eye (that’s mine) like he’s just hitting a tennis ball really, really hard.
So tennis superstars and I have something in common: the constant refining of basic skills in ways that only experts can see. Improving edge quality, like hitting the ball harder and faster with more spin and accuracy, means a constant fine-tuning of movement. I’ve been thinking about that video feature, with its super slow-mo visuals and dissection of Nadal’s formidable two-handed backhand, as I work on (you guessed it!) forward swing rolls.
I think I’m actually getting somewhere on the swing roll front, and what I’m learning translates to other moves. This week I had some insights from Laurie about those outside-outside two-beat edges in the Kilian. On the left edge, she noticed that I was stepping out onto a flat and only curving the edge at the end. Then she noticed the same problem on my swing rolls, and figured out that the problem was the way I was pushing onto to them from the right inside edge.
So what happens is that I wasn’t running the forward inside edge on the right foot in order to create the new left-side circle and pushing from there. Instead I was turning out my right side, almost as if I were flicking the foot (which gave me a truly feeble push) and then falling onto the left side.
How I developed this habit, I’ll never know. Though I’m attributing everything to my misaligned left hip, it could be that the hip became misaligned because I kept doing this! Chicken-egg? Chicken-egg?
Anyway, this has been an immediate fix for those forward outside edges. It makes the left forward outside edge way more stable and allows for the hip to stay nicely underneath me as I push. Ooh, ooh, ooh, and it helps with outside three-turns, too.
I have a whole array of three-turn exercises now. On all of those, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ari’s comment this week that I needed to skate faster in order to learn how to use my speed and lean. He has said a number of times that I simply step and balance, rather than push assertively onto an edge. I’m only now realizing what that feels like. It’s actually not about just pushing harder, but about being willing to commit (stay committed) to the edge and to the lean of the body into the circle.
Funny, but when I watch Nadal run and turn and hit, all I can think of is how well he leans into circles. Wonder if he’s ever thought of switching to ice dance?