jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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Quick to judge

I used to be quite opinionated about skating. Just ask me who my favorites were, and I could rattle off a list of names and programs and elements–and even costumes.

But I must be mellowing out, because the other day someone asked me who my favorite skaters were this year, and I had trouble answering. Okay, it’s partly because I’ve been watching for so many years that the list is getting awfully long.

But I think it’s also because everything is on YouTube these days, and I get the chance to watch programs throughout an entire season. I get to avoid watching an entire competition; I can even stop mid-program if it’s clear that it’s not a particularly good day for them. Or, I confess, if I need a snack (watching that many revolutions sometimes requires kettle corn.)

I must say that I do like Nathan Chen’s “Rocket Man” program, and I thought Alena Kostornaia’s long program at the Finlandia Trophy was quite breathtaking. And there are a number of dance programs that I like quite a bit (like Jean-Luc Baker and Kaitlin Hawayek doing the Bee Gees).

Beyond that, no need to play favorites, at least at this stage. Or maybe I’ll just say that my favorite skaters are some of the folks I see at the rink during the week!

I got my skates sharpened last week after months of waiting. The first couple of sessions afterwards felt a little–sharp (duh!) But yesterday was OMG! Amazing to have instant edges again.

No lesson notes today (had to miss last week). Am still working on the following:

  • turning in at the hips,
  • pressing shins forward,
  • being farther back on my skates,
  • engaging my ankles and using my feet,
  • using my ribcage,
  • keeping my head up, and
  • skating happy to my favorite Bee Gees song. Thanks, Kaitlin and Jean-Luc!

 


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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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Pain in the …

They say your glutes can be the seat of power, but mine are the seat of pain.

Usually when my backside hurts, it’s because I fell down. But this time it’s because I finally have decided that it’s time to get my glutes in gear.

You would think that after all this time obsessing about my form on the ice, I’d have figured this out. But after the first few lessons of the season, it was apparent that certain edges still weren’t clicking into place, and I just wasn’t comfortable on others.

So I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in practice trying to figure out what’s wrong. It keeps coming back to (1) making sure my weight is on the correct part of my blade (it feels like I start my edges by “climbing” the rocker rather than balancing on top of the highest part of the blade or in the middle of the blade), and (2) making sure that my glutes are engaged (meaning that I can feel where my thighbone inserts into the hip joint).

Writing it out makes it seem complicated, but it’s actually much easier to skate this way. It’s not ingrained yet by any means, but I feel like it’s getting there. The only drawback is that man, is it tiring! It’s clear that my right side in particular really needs work.

Off the ice, I’ve been adding some weights to my lunges and other exercises, as well as consciously trying to activate my glutes while biking and walking. I would say that overall, it’s working.  I feel like the additional strength will really help with a lot of the balance and confidence issues I’ve been having.

It’s all just a work in progress, but I am excited to watch it take shape. Or–ouch!–feel it take shape!

 

No lessons till Wednesday.

No pain, no gain.


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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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More about leaning in

So I have been trying to get myself to lean more into my skating circles.

Throughout my years of imperfect alignment, I have been trying to deepen my edges by pressing down on the blade through my foot, scrunching down on my skating side, or counter-leaning. In case you’re wondering, none of these work!!!

I was trying to find some images that could convey the degree to which I’ve been fooling myself, but I couldn’t find any, even of myself in past skating sessions. That might be because I’ve learned to compensate so well that it actually looking like I’m doing something right.

Nor could I find pictures of other skaters who look like they have the same problems. Perhaps that’s because those compensations are so anti-intuitive that nobody else has this problem; or because no one wants to leave hard evidence of having done this.

I did find some nifty diagrams from this page on the physics of circular motion:

What I’ve been missing is that “inward component of force.” I am so fixated on the up and down that I totally forget about the inward feeling. You can’t achieve the needed degree of “tilt” without allowing your body to move inwards toward the center of the circle.  It just doesn’t work.

While leaning into the circle is definitely the way to go, I’ve had a hard time allowing my body to go there. But I’ve found that one way for me to get myself to do this is imagine that someone is pulling me towards the center of the circle.

Yup, you got it!

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Of course, if anyone actually suggested that I learn to do a death spiral, I would probably laugh in their face (or run screaming off the rink, ’cause they’re crazy!)

So don’t expect any actual pictures of me doing that anytime soon. For now, I’ll only post pictures of (a) my happy skating friends, and (b) skaters who are leaning happily into the circle on their own (maybe someday that will be me!)

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(a) Marianne and Sonja, a.k.a. Happy Skating Friends

 

Speaking of “how do they do that?” here’s a favorite piece of mine: Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Be sure to listen for the cello solo at 8:30. So good!

Lesson notes:

  • back eights: outside and inside (these have improved!) Really hold yourself accountable to be on a real edge.
  • threes on half circle. Think about how to get the turn in the right place (where is that foot pointing before it turns?)
  • inside mohawk. Think about where your new foot goes.
  • back inside edges. Hips forward. What does that actually mean?
  • Outside threes in circle. Legs straight and together before the turn. Don’t open up on the back outside edge before stepping forward.

 


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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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From this moment on

So at the end of my lesson this week Ari and I were talking about my left inside edge. Well, actually, it started out being about my left inside edge and then progressed to some words of wisdom about other things in skating, and then became a conversation about life in general.

Usually on my lessons there’s not much time for philosophy. But this week I had a lesson later on the session, which meant that I had already been skating hard for close to an hour beforehand. By the time my lesson got going, I was already feeling a bit tired, and by the last ten minutes of the lesson I was ready to get into conversation mode.

Okay, I admit that talking while doing some leisurely laps is not a good use of my limited time on the ice. But it actually was a very helpful conversation.

I am still working really hard these days is (no surprise to you regular readers!) on consistently maintaining strong edges on my left side. I’ve gotten to the point where I can actually figure out how to make this happen much of the time on outside edges (especially if I shift my ribcage towards the left rather than scrunch my left side and don’t over-rotate the edge). And I am beginning to feel it on inside edges as well, especially if I think about engaging those inner thigh and glute muscles so that I hit the edge immediately.

But perhaps an even greater challenge is letting go of old habits that feel right just because I’ve done them so many times. These include trying to balance over my skates rather than actually doing an edge, and letting my hips go out. Oh, and not actually pushing onto an edge, just because in the past there hasn’t really been an edge to push onto. (Chicken or egg? Chicken or egg?)

So here are some words of wisdom, paraphrased from Ari.

In skating, you have to let yourself try to do things you haven’t done before (like skating faster, or really leaning, or really using edges). You can’t let the fear of doing it wrong stop you from doing it at all. Don’t get stuck on getting the perfect position. You just have to keep moving. Don’t worry about “hitting the right edge”–just push and make it happen.

There are no records of what you did before; no one is watching and judging and video recording each moment. So don’t worry about what you did in the past; just think about what’s happening now.

Okay, too much talking! From this moment on, only hoop-de-doo songs and classic Bob Fosse choreography.

 

 

Lesson notes:

  • outside edges using the ribcage shift to help create lean (rather than “scrunching”).
  • outside-outside mohawk exercises: practice just placing new foot down (like a T-stop) in the correct position.
  • three turns: maintain curve on entry and really refine the twist.
  • inside mohawk: think about the curve in and out being equal, and move core underneath your body; don’t turn your entire body into the turn.
  • back inside edges: think about keeping your push in front of your new foot (pushing directly back rather than sideways).
  • changes of edge: learn how to move your skate underneath your body with those edge pulls.
  • Alternating directions: inside mohawk, push back, back outside three, inside edge change to outside, tuck behind, repeat on other side. Work on getting that edge pull
  • Alternating directions: inside mohawk, step forward, outside three, step forward, outside three in the other direction, step forward, repeat. Make sure your feet are together after the mohawk.
  • Inside mohawk, change of edge (want to hear it!), cross front, change of edge the other way, cross front, step forward and repeat.