jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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Strong. . . but wrong!

When I told Laurie about my intention to keep activating my glutes whenever possible, she scoffed at me.

As it turns out, no amount of gluteal strength was going to help, given that I was allowing my upper body to lunge forward with each stroke. This in turn made it difficult to get any real energy out of the push.

“You’re plenty strong,” she told me. “You’re just doing it wrong.”

Luckily, a few corrections later I realized what “right” felt like. Laurie reminded me that I should be directing the energy of each push into my shins, which should be working like levers pressing forward. Love this idea! And I need to stay over a good inside edge on the right side push, rather than just allowing my body to fall into the new stroke.

Knowing that I am strong enough–plenty strong for skating–makes me happy.  While skating remains a challenge, it is starting to feel like the work that has to be done is more mental than physical.

I am going to keep on doing my off-ice exercises anyway, since they are good for me in all kinds of ways–and I still need more right ankle flexibility and strength (still can’t really do heel lifts without that dreadful sound). But the last thing I need to do on the ice is to have another reason to exercise the “brute force” method, using my muscular strength to haul myself around.

“Finesse, not force,” is now my motto. This is working well on swing rolls (much more controlled and even circles, rather than that “pulling around” sensation), progressives (much more even transition between edges), and other basic exercises. Hopefully this will carry over into turns as well.

Anyway, I have started my late-night binging of ice dance videos from various competitions in this new season. I am impressed that I recognized the Finn-step sequence right away in the Rhythm Dance–given the wide range of musical choices, it was hard to know what they all had in common. Guess I still have some of those compulsories on the brain.

Between that, and marveling that Schubert wrote “The Trout” when he was only 22 years old, I am one busy lady. It’s time to start in on those indoor activities, since the ice age is upon us! Okay, I did ride my bike to the rink last Friday, but as you can see, the snow is sneaking up on me.

Lesson notes:

  • outside-outside stroking: push into shins, not glutes! And watch that inside edge push from the right side.
  • outside three turns: don’t turn out your hip or you’ll be sorry.
  • inside mohawks: don’t turn out hips; instead, think about the inside edge hip being straight forward, then bring in heel to instep without changing hip position.
  • inside three, back cross stroke, back outside three, inside mohawk, step forward onto outside edge, cross behind to inside edge, repeat on other side.
  • alternative back crossover, double threes (back outside-forward inside three, then back inside-forward outside three): take the time to do actual pushes and edges rather than rushing into the turn (back right inside push needs work). On the back inside three–allow your body to turn naturally on the back inside edge rather than falling into the circle, and look in the direction of travel.
  • inside mohawk, back inside three, cross stroke, repeat on other side: work on that back inside edge rotation. Don’t touch down.
  • outside-outside mohawk, step forward, cross stroke into outside-outside on other side: don’t touch down! On the right forward to left back outside mohawk, work your hamstring on the left side to bring your new skate into the proper place (behind the right). Don’t let your upper body move out of the circle.


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Hot and cold

Off the ice, it has been the kind of weather that keeps us all confused. One day I was tempted to put on long underwear, the next it felt like the tropics. Today I went for a bike ride in shorts and a T-shirt, but I’ve been wearing my flannel pajamas to bed.

At the rink, though, it’s been consistently cold. I’ve been bringing two jackets to warm up with and have only been tempted on one occasion to take off both of them. The first one, though, always comes off within minutes, but hey, those are some long minutes.

Practice, too, has been inconsistent. Sometimes I can’t seem to find my edges at all, and sometimes I feel really on target. Yesterday I made myself practice swing roles for fifteen minutes (which in my practice world is a long time).  I have been trying adjusting my body position so that I am able to stroke out on a good edge with my hips forward over my skate, like this (Charlie):

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rather than like this (leaning forward, hips behind skate):

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I am also practicing how to extend my skating leg fully on the second part of the swing so that the edge just runs naturally (this involves keeping my weight over my arch, which is farther back than it has been)–like this:

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rather than like this, with the skating leg bent.

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Now I know that Hubbell and Donohue are just doing this for style, whereas I am bending my skating knee as a form of survival. Or at least it feels that way, since I am desperately trying to hang on to that edge. And that’s because (um, er) I am leaning forward too far (doh!) rather than keeping my hips over my skate.

There’s a certain logic here, and at least I recognize this.

But don’t worry, I’m not spending my entire time on swing rolls (though I would if I thought it would help). I have an entire repertoire of stuff to work on, accompanied by an entire litany of complaints to go along with each move.

With each of these moves, there are consistent things I need to correct. Laurie has been trying to get me to use my arms (which I think is another way of getting me to keep my head up, shoulders down, and hips more aligned). Ari spent quite a bit time at my last lesson trying to get me to stop pitching forwards before he finally gave up and then gave me an exercise that  can only be done if I don’t pitch forwards (the one with the Quickstep choctaws, described below).

It’s going to be an exciting season.

But the one consistent thing is that I am oh so glad to be back on the ice, and I intend to make the most of every minute out there. The sessions have been quiet but I do see lots of familiar faces.

We are all happy to be there! Love skating!

Here’s some lesson notes:

  • Different arm positions on forward progressives.
  • Forward inside rolls, work on extension and position of free leg as well as arms.
  • Outside three turns, outside edge free hip slightly open, then close for the turn. Make sure you don’t delay turning.
  • Swing roll: practice pushing onto a fully flexed ankle; practice coming up all the way on your knee and being on the correct part of the blade (arch); check image in boards.
  • Back outside three (turn out free foot in order to move free hip back, look in direction of travel, up and down action of turn) hold inside edge,  inside three, back cross over, repeat on other side.
  • Forward inside three (make sure inside edge foot turns in all the way) , cross in front , step forward repeat on other side.
  • Back outside edge to forward outside edge mohawk (not choctaw).
  • Forward outside to back inside (Quickstep) choctaw, push to outside edge, back mohawk, repeat on other side.
  • Inside mohawk, back inside three (check body position on inside edge, feet together, make sure you are not falling into or leaning out of the circle) cross stroke, repeat on other side.


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Getting back in shape

So I am finally back from my last road trip of the summer and have gotten in a couple of sessions on the ice. And the weather has been just beautiful, so I have been working on trying to get my yard looking a little more presentable. Between those two activities, I am pretty much wiped out at the end of the day.

I haven’t done any skating lessons for a while, but have been focusing on getting back in shape. It’s surprising how many of these muscles I don’t use on a regular basis, and how quickly my hard-won alignment has gone wonky.

My right ankle is especially stiff, even though I was pretty good about stretching it out while I was away. I’ve been trying to get more mobility using my handy red rubber ball. It’s pretty excruciating, especially right in front of the heel.

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In much the same way, it will take a while to get the bushes and weeds under control. While I was away, we apparently had a lot of rain. That and the long days of light here up north means lots of plants do very well. Sadly, the only plants that have not done well are the four varieties of heritage cherry tomato plants that I put in. I’m not sure if it’s something I did, but only one grew to any respectable height, and the rest are pretty much done for after producing just a few little tomatoes.

On the other hand, this wild vine that was trying to strangle one of my trees became enormous. I cut it down, but I’m sure it will be back next year unless I am super-vigilant and get to it earlier in the season.

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So while I am super happy to be back home and on the ice again, part of me is thinking about how rusty I feel and how overgrown everything is. I definitely have my work cut out for me over the next few weeks!

However, here’s some encouragement.

The first day I was back on the ice I spent quite a bit of time at the beginning and end of the session on forward progressives and back crossovers, just trying to feel like I was aligned and connected, pushing through the right part of my blade, and using my gluten-free muscles. It was excruciating, particularly at the end of the session.

But as I was retrieving my jacket from the boards, a little girl came up to me in her beginning skater way and said “You are so good!” This made me just about fall down with surprise and gratitude!

Likewise, yesterday as I was loading up a big bag of branches (after an hour trying to pretend I was Edward Scissorhands going at the shrubbery), a woman stopped by and remarked, “Your house is so beautiful.”

Maybe something is making people unusually cheery and empathetic in Minneapolis? At any rate, I’ll take it! Sometimes just a simple message is about all you need to keep in mind. Here’s Bruno Mars with muppets!


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It’s the pits

So I was off the ice for a while in June, and couldn’t believe how ungainly I felt when I got back on. I’m thrilled that things are feeling better: getting back that hip alignment and some muscle tone (though I am one tired puppy when I get off the ice, even though I am not going great guns out there).

So this week I had a lesson that included double threes, and Ari suggested that I “slice” my arms (bring them through close to my body rather than move them around). This keeps me from pitching forward or “reaching” for turns, and helps me stay over the middle of my blade.

Today I was on a nice quiet practice session (it’s so hot out that all the kids are at the pool!) and decided to try this on other moves as well. I’m sure this looked a little goofy, moving my arms up and down as if my shoulder sockets worked like a Barbie doll’s. But it worked like a charm in terms of stabilizing my edges, which is about all I care about these days.

Plus in my new “slicing” technique, I discovered a new body part to use for skating: the armpit!

If I think about where my armpit is on my skating side, I am much more aware of my alignment. This makes it easier to control my edges and to keep my shoulders from lifting (which I know will make Laurie happy).

So everything’s coming up roses! And peonies! And irises! And that topiary that looks like a tired puppy!

Lesson notes:

  • back inside (right): engage glute muscles (easy fix)
  • forward outside-outside mohawk: work on proper edge and turning out skating hip against the other
  • outside forward three: bring feet more parallel, then turn skating leg in socket so that you wind up in T-position after turn
  • back outside cross rolls: push is in opposition to upper body position
  • back power pulls: rise and bend
  • inside mohawk, back outside three, inside pull to outside, cross, repeat on other side: don’t touch down! hips forward after back three and really concentrate on establishing your edges
  • double threes: don’t rush into the turn, establish strong edge first


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Skate loose, skate happy

What a difference a couple of weeks make!

Laurie has regularly pointed out that my shoulders go up whenever I’m doing something I don’t feel good about (like back crossovers clockwise). And when this happens, I can’t really feel my edges. It’s like I’m carrying a tray of teacups way high over my head. As soon as I get my shoulders down, my weight goes back down into my blades.

These past two weeks I realized that I’ve been carrying all kinds of tension in other parts of my body. In particular, I have been hiking up my right hip most of the time, in a sometimes unconscious and usually unsuccessful effort to get my weight over my left side. 

I’ve been working hard to let my right hip sink down to where it feels below my left. The first time I tried this, I could feel all kinds of muscles (hip flexors, for instance) stretching out in unfamiliar ways. It became way easier to stand on my left leg and lift my right leg. While this actually helped just walking around, it also made a big difference in skating. I could feel how my basic balance and edges changed for the better.

Best of all, this didn’t take any additional physical effort. The only effort it took was mental, since I had to think about relaxing the right side down (or just not holding it up).

A lot of yoga websites talk about how emotional tension is stored up in the hips and that stretching those joints helps you let go of fear, anxiety, and anger. I can certainly see how this might be true of me in this case, since it’s clear all kinds of balance issues have been created by this hip tension. Letting go of it means that my legs aren’t working at cross purposes.

This frees me up to concentrate on other basic aspects of my skating. Like making sure my upper body and head are lifted. Or that my pushes run outside the circle (more on this later). Or that I am properly lined up rising up on my back outside edges. Or that my back inside edges are not just a figment of my imagination.

It also makes me think that I’ve been spending a lot of energy (physical and emotional) trying to force my body into impossible positions on the ice. Sometimes it’s better to just trust that my body will just hold itself together if I don’t try too hard.

So last week my son’s string quartet did the junior division of a chamber music competition. There were lots of wonderfully talented players playing all kinds of complicated and impressively technical pieces. In the midst of the angst-filled music, one senior group played this slow movement of a Haydn quartet. It was like a long, cool drink of water after an exhausting marathon.

While this is not the video of that particular competition, and the sound quality is not the best, I wanted to remember this as the group that moved me to tears. Next to the terrific performances of my son’s wonderful Odyssey Quartet, this was my favorite piece of the entire competition.

Back on the ice again!


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Bigfoot

So one of the changes that I’ve noticed with my new skates is that my feet feel longer. Some of this has to do with the fact that the skates themselves are a half size longer (and a good deal narrower). I got this different size because my old skates kept pushing against one of my toes. I realized that I needed a tighter-fitting heel as well.

Also, as my feet have gotten stronger, they seem to be lengthening. Some of this probably has to do with having a better arch, but it is also that the alignment of my foot-bones has changed. While I still have some issues with the left foot, I think that overall my feet both feel much better than they have in a long time. Thank you, foot exercises! Hurray for happy feet!

While I know that they haven’t actually gotten that much longer, if at all, it reminds me of the feeling of longer skis. I didn’t learn to ski as a child, but went a number of times in my twenties, so I remember well the feeling of switching to a longer, faster pair. Gangway! Aaaahhhh!

I think that since I am trying to get more speed in my skating, having the feeling of “longer” skates can make a difference. In particular, I am trying to keep my weight moving constantly forward as I rise and press down on edges, rather than the down/up/hiccup/try to balance feeling that I have been been struggling with.

In other words, my big feet can help me make sure my body keeps moving forward as they create “bigger” and faster edges.  And the rise and fall of the knee/ankle bend should be smooth, no sudden drops or popping up.

Which of these waves best describes my skating knee action this week? Stay tuned!

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Okay, I need an aspirational song here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Whgn_iE5uc

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Asal and I make it through another crazy public session!

Lesson notes:

  • two foot slalom, work on immediate edges and knee action after turn
  • double threes: set up on axis, BIG circles
  • perimeter stroking: work on backwards especially

 

 


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Put up more speed!

So when I was little, we lived at the top of a really steep hill. It’s hard to imagine now that I live in the flatlands, but this must have been at least 2-3 blocks of a really steep grade.

I’m not making this up. Wikipedia says that North Bergen, NJ, is the US city with the second-most hills per square mile–and second only to San Francisco.

Anyway, my sister and I would be in the backseat of our family car, our ’66 (?) Plymouth Valiant. As the car would make its way laboriously up the hill towards home, we would pretend to step on our imaginary gas pedals and yell “Put up more speed!” We thought this was hilarious.

Anyway, you’d think that growing up on those hills I’d have the strongest legs in the world. Wrong! Skating demonstrates that I indeed have retained my imaginary sense of putting on the gas. I am doing much better in terms of lining myself up over my blades, but I am going putt-putt-putt-gasp rather than cruising along at warp factor one.

Ari told me that I had to try to go at least 5 mph. I’m not quite sure what that means, so I’ve been looking at the speedometer when I’m driving through town. That doesn’t seem to help.

No magic needed here. I think what I need to do is just, well, go faster. Bend my ankles and try to push into the ice whenever possible. Resist the temptation to just hang out over my skates.

Luckily, rinks are not built on hills! So here I go–5 mph or bust! Good thing I have plenty of fuel (a.k.a. pies) and friends to share the hilarity with.

Okay, and music! I seem to be on a “Broadway productions I’ll never see” kick. Here’s Kelli O’Hara in a revival of a Cole Porter classic. I love her voice, but it seems a touch slow. Dare I say it? Put up more speed!

Lesson notes:

  • ankle bend and shin action. Progressives are good!
  • back crossovers–emphasize push on outside edge
  • three turns–free leg pushes out to side.
  • inside mohawks–turn out on forward inside hip so that new edge can be set onto same circle
  • outside mohawks–remember “J” curve and be careful about the placement of the new foot (not outside circle)
  • alternating forward inside change to outside, cross stroke–remember to bend and rise (push into ice to get more power)
  • back inside change to outside, cross in front, step forward, inside mohawk, repeat on other side–turn free leg in on inside edge (to really get over that edge), bend and rise (more power!)
  • forward mohawk, back outside three, toe through to repeat on other side–SPEED, PUSH!
  • forward inside bracket, back inside, step forward outside, repeat on other side–think about the axis of the bracket turn, use core twist and heel to turn (not flinging), watch posture.


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Well, blow me down!

Skating has been really awesome on the days that I’ve been able to get there. For those of you outside of the state, Minnesota has had its snowiest February ever, with 31.7 inches so far. And the month’s not over yet.

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My husband took this picture in a school parking lot.

Oh well, at least it’s February and not like April 14 of last year. So far the snow this year has yielded several kinds of cookies, gluten-free apple muffins, banana bread, chocolate pound cake, and the latest, a Japanese-style cheesecake (my second try at making one, here’s the recipe I used).

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Fluffy Japanese cheesecake

When not whipping egg whites into soft snowy (argh, not more snow!) peaks, and covering my kitchen counter with powdered sugar, I have been trying to keep up with skating.

I am happy with my new skates, which are now fully functional. So functional, in fact, that I can’t use them as an excuse when Ari says “bend your ankle.” But I confess that much of what I’ve been working on these past couple of weeks feels like physical therapy on ice. Here’s the list (everything is about posture):

  • weight on correct part of blade (especially when skating backwards, when I tend to be too far forward on the blade)
  • bend ankles, not knees (this will help keep the weight there)
  • “skating hip flat and forward”
  • use hip muscles (gluteus medias) on skating side to keep from dropping free side
  • use feet on inside edges

The other day at my lesson I was lamenting the fact that I tend to try to barrel through things rather than to figure out what is really going on. Laurie came up with a really great quote, something about “there’s more in the toolkit than just a hammer.” I laughed and told her I wanted to quote her on that, only by the time I went to write the quote down, it was gone–except for the hammer part. Darn!

So I went online looking for similar quotes, and only found “If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Good quote, but not quite the same.

Anyway, I am trying to expand my range of skating skills, not my list of pithy quotations. (Though Laurie also had a good one about digging around in the weeds, ’cause that’s where all the tasty stuff is. . .okay, it’s a metaphor!)

Okay, time for an inspiring and totally kid-friendly video: from the thoroughly enjoyable Zootopia. My favorite parts (aside from the lyrics about falling and getting back up again) are the sloths and the back-up singers. I hope that on the ice I move like the latter, not the former!

 


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Life is good!

Nothing like a polar vortex (minus 28 degrees F was the worst for us here in the metro area) to make me grateful for temperatures above zero.

Nothing like several bouts of white-knuckle driving through fog and snow and ice to make one appreciate being at home.

Nothing like several days of shoveling to make me appreciate some clear and sunny days.

And skating again, ah . . .

Several other things that are making me happy. First is that my new skates and I are getting along great. They are still stiff (what a great feeling to take them off after each practice!) But I have now switched over 100%. I find that they (a) provide much more support, and (b) make it much easier to turn, which shouldn’t surprise me, given how worn out my old skates were.

Another plus is that the new skates are slightly longer, which means that my right middle toe no longer gets cramped up. Given that I am trying to use my feet more, I need all the toe-help I can get!

Second is that I have started do more regular bouts of off-ice exercises and stretching, and even added some weights to this mini-workout. I think this will help my skating, too.

Third is my son’s college auditions are over (fingers crossed!) and I think (hope) that I have finally finished some of the busywork that has been taking up room in my email in-box. ‘Tis the season!

I tend to worry when things are going well (you never know when the next snowstorm is going to hit) and I know that my email in-box will fill up again, probably by tomorrow. But I’m trying to just enjoy these moments. Life is good!

 

 

 

 


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Happy new skating year: 2019!

So happy to be back on the ice after yet another break for a family vacation. This week-on, week-off thing really is not very effective for getting in any kind of skating condition–or in breaking in new skates.

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Yes, here they are! All mounted with new blades and ready to roll. Don’t they look stiff?

It has been a while since I did the new boot thing, though I replaced my blades a few years ago. I’m hoping that this will not be too bad. I have been been in them on four different days. Day 1 was 10 minutes, day 2 was 15 minutes, day three 3, 20 minutes. But today I only lasted 15 minutes, so I seem to be retrogressing.

I’m still skating in my old faithfuls for most of the session so I can get through at least some of my moves. I’m sure the new ones will break in much faster once I take the plunge into wearing them for longer, but for now, I’m trying to ease into the transition. It’s like the sloooow walk into the cold water; at some point you just wind up diving in.

Okay, time for 2019 skating resolutions!

  1. Break in new skates without whining.
  2. Skate as much as possible.
  3. Master the art of the “flat hip” (meaning not breaking at the waist) and other useful positions.
  4. Assertiveness training: no more “nice” wimpy edges.
  5. Build some endurance/aerobic training back into skating.
  6. Rock those inside edges!
  7. Cover more ice (as Ari says, “You’re not that short!”)
  8. Oooh, lots of turns. Fun, fun, fun!
  9. Get back into patterns: dances, moves.
  10. Enjoy good skating company. Here’s a sample!
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Jeff, Brenda, Jo

Happy New Year, everybody!