jo skates

Skating in the key of life

My free leg is my friend


It is has been a rocky road on the way to my total skating makeover, but I’ve decided that constant criticism and self-deprecation are not the way to go. I haven’t really been yelling at myself, but that snarky little inner voice (“what the heck are you doing?”) has been pretty vocal lately, to the point that I can detect it even in my highly censored little Mary Sunshine blog.

Sarcasm? Me?

I have made some pretty important discoveries this year, like realizing that I need to work on my right ankle strength and mobility, or not popping my ribcage, or shifting that right side slightly more to the right (wow!). Every time I figure something new out, it’s like I have an entirely new body part to keep in mind–and to keep track of.

This has been both psychologically and physically exhausting.  I feel like every week I discover a new set of muscles that I haven’t been using. I am constantly sore in different places, and sometimes I’m so tired at the end of the day that I don’t know what to do.  I sit down to do some stretching and I think, just shoot me now and have done with it.

And then I start laughing, because this is really all my doing. I’m the one who wanted to learn how to skate correctly–not just barrel through different motions, but really learn how to do them. And this is exactly what it takes.

I can either accept this and embrace it for what it is, or I can turn and run full tilt towards another activity. Like. . . hmmmm. . . .

Okay, let me tell you about my great discovery this week, which happened while I was having a lesson on (surprise!) forward progressives in a circle. Laurie told me that I wasn’t engaging my quads as part of my extension, which meant that I wasn’t fully straightening my free leg and I wasn’t completing the push and I didn’t have the force of the extension to counter-balance the skating knee bend.  Which is quite a mouthful, but then again, this was quite the revelation.

I haven’t been thinking much about my free leg extension at all. In fact, if I had to sketch out who I thought the main character of my skating body drama was, it would definitely have been the skating leg.  Yes, the skating leg would dominate, and the free leg would just be the sidekick, just sort of hanging out at best or at worst just dangling there while the skating leg charmed or used its spidey-sense or kick-boxed its way out of any sticky situation.

But no more. Once I actively engaged the quad of the free leg, it became its own raison d’être. I realized that this was not just about getting an attractive extension, but about a fundamental principle of balance. Without the necessary muscle tension on the free side, there is nothing to counter the awesome force of the skating side.

So instead of sitting there inadequately stretching (I’ll do the stretching later) I look at pictures of ice dancers and think about how they are engaging the quads on their free legs. After all, as Laurie said, this not only looks better, but “it’s correct.”

Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)

Awesome use of quads on free legs!

A few pictures later and the snarky voice is silenced by the joy of contemplating fabulous free legs! My free leg is my friend!

Lesson notes:

  • head and back position, “unflare” ribs rather than drawing them down
  • forward inside edges, draw free leg through without disrupting edge by tracing half circle; arms more neutral–don’t pull yourself forward by the arms and shoulders
  • back inside edges: squirrel tail towards boards, practice doing this with two feet evenly weighted in order to learn to do it without sticking your hip out
  • progressives: tighten quad on free leg to avoid leg kicking up
  • do same thing on push into three turn; arms more neutral; try to do a tighter circle and deeper edge (learn to use rotation rather than “steering” into it)
  • practice rising while maintaining ankle bend and weight forward on blade
  • practice keeping free leg straight (tighten quad and bend ankle)
  • exercise: straight down the rink, extend back (stretch knee forward), then rise up with feet together–hold tightly for several beats


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.

6 thoughts on “My free leg is my friend

  1. I recently had this free-leg revelation as well. During one of my lessons, my coach kept repeating, “Squeeze your glutes! Squeeze your glutes!” I’m squeezing my skating leg glutes as tight as those bad girls can get and still…”Squeeze your glutes!” Finally, she taps my free leg side and says, “Squeeze THESE glutes.” It was a GAME CHANGER! Bringing more energy into my free leg has improved absolutely everything – power, balance, edge control. I can only assume everything looks better as well. Free legs for the win!


    • Thanks so much for this comment, Michelle. I am so glad I’m not the only one who has just realized the awesome power of the free leg. Time to unleash THESE GLUTES! And QUADS! Happy skating!


  2. My coach came back from the PSA conference and shared a fabulous new acronym that is very fitting for this… K-MART. It stands for: Keep My A$$ Really Tight. Ha ha! She’ll just yell “K-MART!” at me down the rink and I know what to do. Jo, I hope you turn off that snarky voice of yours – as fun as it can be, it will just get in the way and impede your fantastic progress. Keep your head up. What you do on the ice is really hard, and you’re doing a great job so don’t let that voice overtake your brain. Think of all the people (ME!!!) who wish we could have beautiful edges and extension like you! 🙂


    • Eva, your comment made me laugh out loud! K-MART! And thanks for your encouragement–it’s just part of the game, turning that snarky voice into one that helps me along. Maybe I’ll just borrow your voice for a while!


  3. For that free leg extension Ty tells me that there needs to be a visible dent in the muscle just above my knee. It’s true, that dent doesn’t appear until the quad is fully engaged!


    • Ooh, yes, that’s a really good point. I actually got that same comment, and it’s really apparent that I sometimes don’t really engage the quad even when I think I’m doing it. Must be a coaching conspiracy to make us better!


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