jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Rewiring the ol’ neural pathways


So this morning I “kneecapped” myself while loading the dishwasher (ouch!) and so I asked Laurie to go nice and easy on me at my lesson. Nice and easy meant intense scrutiny of exactly what my left side has been doing, or hasn’t been doing.

Let’s start with the bad news. What it hasn’t been doing is staying put like it’s supposed to do. Instead of moving forward nicely, as in Irina Moiseeva does with her right hip in the first picture, it juts out and my left leg twists inward, and then my right hip drops down, as in the second picture.

Wait a minute, you say, didn’t we go over this already? Aren’t your hips level? Didn’t you fix that?

I have been doing regular strengthening exercises for the left side since last summer. And it is working. Two days ago I did my first left side plank with a lifted leg (yay!) and considered this a victory of sorts. Even though it is wobbly and breathless and less than confident (and only in my house, not on a beach), it is a good sign.

But strength isn’t everything. I’ve referred before to a really useful blog posting by Bret Contreras (“the glute guy”) on how to fix glute imbalances, and re-reading it confirmed my continued need to rethink how I skate. Contreras says that “strengthening the glute alone will not solve your issue.”

Your neural circuitry has been wired for asymmetrical movement patterns and muscle recruitment. It has built a “motor engram,” or a memorized movement pattern, and you’re trying to rewire the circuitry. You need to learn to activate the weaker glute, you need it to be stronger, and you need to build up its hypertrophy, and you’ll do this by hammering the weaker side. But this alone will not provide a complete fix.

You still need to learn to perform bilateral movements properly. Every repetition of squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and back extensions you perform with perfect symmetry while feeling the weaker glute activate properly is a PLUS. Every repetition of squats and deadlifts you perform that is not symmetrical in movement and activation is a MINUS.

He recommends lots of isometric exercises as well as other exercises to activate the weaker glute. So I am lying here on my stomach trying do my left-side isometric glute contractions at the same time while I write this blog entry. Not optimal, by the way, but it’s kinda fun to try.

So what about the good news today? With some concentration, I was able to feel how to get my left hip underneath me and really keep my left skating side strong on inside edges, stroking, and forward progressives. If I can get that left hip in the correct position, it is an instant fix, a plus in every way.

To do that, I have to focus on not letting my right side take over. Laurie said that my right side was bullying my left, overpowering it and not allowing it to move in a natural way. Another way of thinking about it is that my right side has become over-protective of my weaker left side, which has had a number of injuries over the years. At any rate, just reminding myself to activate the correct left side muscles is now possible, even if it is not automatic.

We worked on mohawks as well, and I am constantly amazed as how many ineffective motor habits I have picked up. Instead of bringing the new foot in at 90 degrees, rotating half way on the old one, and then stepping in for the rest of the rotation (creating those “bunny ears” like the ice dance patterns show), I basically turn prematurely by jumping to the new edge. This is so much harder to do! And no bunny ears! Awww!

I’ve been doing a little web surfing on “rewiring neural pathways” and it seems like there is hope in getting people to think positively, stop two-footed driving, and kick heroin addictions. Hmmm. I do think positively, drive with only one foot at a time, and am only addicted to chocolate (and skating. . . and pop music and the occasional coconut macaroon. . . and maybe some kettle corn once in a while). So I should have plenty of energy to continue to work on this left-side hip thing (and some left over for mohawks).

And if everything I’m reading about exercise and neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons and new thinking pathways in the brain) is true, I’ll even improve my memory, to boot.

Author: Joskates

Don't see me on the ice? I may be in the classroom or at the theater, or hanging out with my family and friends.

2 thoughts on “Rewiring the ol’ neural pathways

  1. It’s so important to do strengthening exercises on both sides. Like you said, that way the weaker side doesn’t get overtaken by the stronger side. My PT guy had me do exercises on both knees, even though only one of them was injured. And my skating coach always wants me to work on basic skills going in both directions. It’s working – my back double threes and twizzles almost look equal now. I hope your exercises continue to help you heal!


  2. Thanks, Eva. Yes, this is so important, especially for this of us skating at public sessions where everything is one way. And ice dance compulsories unfortunately seem one-sided (as does jumping and spinning). Good for you, building equal sets of skills!


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