jo skates

Skating in the key of life

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.

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.

4 thoughts on “Finesse, not force

  1. So now I’m getting a Ben Agosto exercise from you, very cool! I wish Ben would move back to my area, we need an ice dance man around here! I wondered what he is up to now and heard he was one of the choreographers for the new Circque de Soleil show ‘Crystal.’ I want to see it!


    • Ooh, I’ve heard about that show. If he is choreographing, I’m sure it will have some killer moves (or at least spectacular back crossovers!) Hope your skating is going well, Mary!


  2. Feel free to grunt away! Coach has an exercise similar to Ben Agosto’s that you could try. Do a regular crossover but keep the crossed leg where it is and keep it on the ice. By using the “underneath” leg only (using fully extended legs) do crossovers only by doing the underpush. It is hard! You cannot lift the crossed over leg since it has to stay on the ice. 🙂


  3. Sounds like torture, Eva! Will have to try it once the Ben Agosto-induced pain has dissipated!


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