jo skates

Skating in the key of life

Unsickling my foot and getting a better push


Déjà vu is of course not French for “inside edge,” but most of yesterday’s lesson was spent revisiting those beloved edges, forward and backwards. They are improving (it is, after all, the year of the inside edge) but I still have a lot to work on. I was really grateful for a chance to go over these edges in detail again, even though I’m sure Laurie felt like she was repeating herself. These basic lessons are so valuable and apply to, well, just about everything.

First we did forward inside swing rolls. Laurie noticed that my right inside swing roll looked somewhat odd. I had my left foot (free side) turned in even though my left hip was turned out.

This is what we call a “sickled” foot, a familiar problem for dancers. Here’s a couple of pictures of what this looks like (as opposed to a more desirable “winged” foot).

The discovery that I was sickling my left foot was really important. Sickled feet are a common problem for skaters too; according to Annette Thomas (a choreographer and dancer who has worked intensively with skaters), many skaters either sickle or crunch their toes in their boots. This puts you at risk for injury, as well as messes with your technique. Here’s a picture of what this looks like in a skating boot:

Knowing that I was sickling my left foot (and not my right) is particularly significant for me, since it indicated yet another thing related to my hip misalignment. There doesn’t seem to be an automatic connection between the mechanics of a hip misalignment and a sickled foot, but I do suspect that the latter is part of my overcompensation for the former.

In this drawing of a hip misalignment, you’ll notice that on the imbalanced side the left side of the pelvis is tipped forward, the left knee rotates inwards, and the left arch drops.

I’ve been skating so long with this imbalance that I’ve learned to turn my left legbone out (imagine the “Imbalanced” figure turning out the left leg at the hip socket) in order to keep my knee pointed ahead. But because my leg was turned out against my hip, I also started to sickle my foot in order to get my edges to go where I wanted them to go.

Sigh. Time for some new off-ice foot exercises. But first, the rest of the lesson.

Once I had corrected my sickled left foot, we worked on getting a better push from right to left. This means getting a more “explosive” push. It starts with thinking about the push as a kind of continuation of the first inside edge (the pushing edge deepens and moves forward), rather than a stop-push-and-go move. I’m supposed to load up my pushing foot and then send the energy back (rather than just thinking about pushing my body forward); this gives me way more power.

Now for the back inside edges. I have been doing these by trying to stack everything over my skating side and using my free side as a kind of balancing pole. The result is exactly what you might imagine if you saw me trying to walk on a tightrope. Je ne suis pas Philippe Petit! (Philippe Petit I am not! )

I’ve been spending a lot of energy trying to do these edges in the wrong way. So scary! But rather than go into the gory details of what I was doing wrong (don’t make me relive those faulty inside edges, please), I’ll just go over what I’m supposed to do.

Backward inside edges should be like the forward inside edges, with well-defined positions of the free leg and a very controlled rise and bend of the skating leg. Some turnout is necessary (imagine skating with something between your knees) rather than resorting to a knock-kneed position (my default). Arms and shoulders are open to the circle and hold steady; I tend to allow my free shoulder to swing forward and lose the check. The ball of the free foot comes in, quietly passes by the instep, and then moves to the back. I’m keeping those extensions to a minimum until I get my free leg under better control.

My favorite part of the lesson, though, was at the end when we worked on forward swing roll, change edge. I’m supposed to load up the first part of the swing roll (the explosive push). Then I should rise on the skating knee (think of pushing the body up from the ice) before the swing happens (I’ve been doing the swing prematurely). This produces a natural flow on one edge to another: the way the leg moves up for the swing and then down actually initiates the change of edge. Then it’s a matter of just going with the flow, bending more, and turning out the free leg to further deepen the inside edge.

Today I tried doing those loaded, explosive pushes (run the edge forward! send the energy back!) on everything, including the man’s Euro-pattern and the Kilian. It’s remarkable how much this improves my edge quality. And it’s incredibly satisfying to do.

I like to think that this will someday give me a new distinction: “Jo of the explosive push.” In French, it’s “Jo de la poussée explosive.” Even better!


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 “Unsickling my foot and getting a better push

  1. So fascinating! I wonder if the sickling is from air positions. As freestyle skaters, we are taught to get into the “h” position before snapping into our rotation position. The proper “h” position has our feet turned in so maybe that causes the sickling? I had never thought about this prior to your post, Jo!


  2. That is an interesting thought, Eva. When I was still doing freestyle, the left foot was my free foot, so that would make sense. But I haven’t jumped in years, so I can’t say it still comes from that. Maybe we need to ask Ben Agosto!


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