jo skates

Skating in the key of life


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Happy 2020!

Happy New Year to all! May this year bring peace and joy and positive changes both on and off the ice.

I’ve been feeling really happy lately, especially about skating. During the holidays, I was mostly off for a week, except for a (gasp!) public session complete with loud music, wild children, disco lights, and (ack!) rental skates. But get this: even that was fun. My niece and younger son went with me, and afterwards we rewarded ourselves with homemade hot chocolate. And I congratulated myself on not getting blisters and not getting taken down by a stray child. 

Once I got back home, my regular public session was there to welcome me back. Though there were still plenty of people, it felt empty in comparison. And my regular skates feel like luxury vehicles with cruise control and heated seats and state-of-the-art sound systems, and . . . you get the picture.

I am also happy that the corrections I was working on before leaving on vacation are still   making a difference. I am working on making some basic changes consistent (these are all related to one another):

  • making sure I actually am on an edge rather than just balancing on top of my skate.
  • getting on the correct part of my blade. This means keeping my ankles flexed and shifting slightly forward through the ankle so that I can actually feel my arches engage.
  • pressing my shins forward.
  • getting my tailbone to rotate more downwards, and elongating the front of my hips. This means that my lower abdominals engage.
  • making sure my leg bones are firmly in my hip sockets, and not twisting in or out unconsciously.
  • keeping my upper body from tightening up unnecessarily.

This sounds like a lot to keep in my head. But because everything is connected, just fixing one thing (like where I am on my blade) makes everything better. I’m starting to feel like I’m actually skating rather than just shuffling my feet around on the ice.

My son just sent me a video of Cory Henry, who can keep an amazing number of strings going at the same time. Hats off!

Here’s to making something so complicated sound so easy. Can I finally make all these body parts work in harmony? Perhaps getting this holiday mug was a good sign.

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Here’s hoping for lots of skating in 2020!

 

 

 

 


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Feeling good, moving well, repeating myself

Scientists have been studying the way people learn new skills, and some believe that practicing different variations on a task, rather than just repeating the same task over and over, helps you learn better. This is due, they think, to the ways in which the brain recalls and processes its memories.

If any scientists out there has funding to study this with adult skaters and needs a test subject–I hereby volunteer!

So at my lesson last week, Laurie told me that my upper body is still moving around in rather random ways. She told me that I should avoid being one of those inflatable figures they use to advertise car dealerships and mobile phone stores. You know, the kind of thing that attracts your attention through flopping around in unpredictable ways.

 

Inflatable

Inflatable man?

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Or pillar of the community?

Some of this unwanted motion was definitely in response to being uncertain about my edges as well as alignment. I’ve been working on getting a much more solid connection between what’s going on in my blades and what I’m doing with the rest of my body.

Yesterday I went to a rather crazy public session and spent most of my time trying to figure out the optimal spot on my blade for edges.

Today I was inspired by Mary’s post at FitandFed reminding me of Ben Agosto‘s term, “glankles,” in which bending your ankles also fires the gluteal muscles.

This “theme and variations” strategy seems to be working. I’m feeling way more stable this week. Hopefully this will last through the upcoming holiday season.

Some Bach–even with all the times this has been repeated, it’s still beautiful.

Lesson notes:

  • Outer edges from push back: don’t scrunch left side of torso.
  • Lunges: practice basic positions. Also practice just deep knee bend on two feet with feet parallel and not allowing knees to fall inwards.
  • Outside edges: think about where your ribcage is. Turn in new skating foot slightly to grab edge from the beginning.
  • Back inside edge: make sure you are on the correct part of the blade.
  • Progressives: think about what is going on in the skating hip (slight turning in, turn out as the free leg elongates, then the action of the free leg coming in makes it turn in again)
  • Edge pulls, generating speed as you go.
  • Inside and outside mohawk: allow hips to “soften” when the free leg comes in. Work on exit edge
  • Swing roll with edge pull, change edge mohawk: continuous action. Don’t touch down! Do swing roll into skating arm; then arm stays in same place to allow mohawk to turn.
  • Extra work on right swing roll: allow free leg to come around (not directly in or kicking through). Use the straightening of the skating leg to put pressure into edge. Keep hips under.
  • Inside mohawk, push back, toe to heel, back outside three; alternating: foot immediately in front on back edge, mini-edge pull.
  • Inside Mohawk, triple three
  • Three turn, change edge, cross in front, change edge, step forward and repeat on other side: use that back inside edge power pull!
  • Inside counter, back choctaw: work on just allowing the back edge to come around on the back choctaw and just “sliding” off it.
  • Rocker, immediate back three (flat).


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Gratitude

A few weeks ago I went on vacation (the beautiful island of Kauai), and the day I got back to skating was pretty rough. I had been off the ice for nearly two weeks and went to the rink only a few hours after  a long flight back. When I started my feet were all swollen, and I could barely get my skates on, let alone feel my edges.

But as the week went on and I gradually got over jet lag and back into the skating groove, I’ve been realizing how much my skating has improved in the past few years.

To begin with, I am much more in control of my edges. Instead of a brief delay every time I got on a new edge (this was often very brief, but I still could feel it), I feel like I know how to get right on the edge. What’s more, I can actually deepen and accelerate edges at will. While I’m not able to use every edge to generate power (you’ll see from my lesson notes how much this is a priority!) I’m getting better at this.

Aside from post-vacation euphoria, what is going on? Well, several things that seem to be working in my favor.

One is a postural correction. In my Pilates class, PT Sarah has been telling me to “bend your knees without really bending your knees”: imagining that my thighs are moving forward as if my knees were starting to bend, but not actually bending at the knees. This makes my lower abdominals and glutes engage as if I were tucking my hips under (posterior pelvic tilt). But the important thing is that I’m not actually changing my hip position that radically.

Instead, I’m trying to learn how to turn those stabilizing muscles on without allowing the hips to go out from under me, whether forwards or backward.

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Another is that this improved posture actually allows me some more mobility in the hip joints. I am actually figuring out how to use the hip joint not only for stability, but also to do turns and deepen existing edges.

Laurie suggested that on cross strokes and progressives, I think about my free leg as folding in and helping to deepen the edge. This seems like a small change, but it makes a world of difference.

So just (a) the right amount of sunshine and snorkeling, plus (b) better posture through the hips, plus (c) hip movement and mobility, plus (d) free leg helpfulness equals one happy skater! Add some friendly skating buddies and there you go! You don’t need to ask me what I’m grateful for this year.

I’m usually a “glass half empty” kinda gal, but I can’t resist.

Lesson notes:

  • Progressives. Be aware of movement in the hip joint.
  • Powerpulls. Watch position of free leg on inside edge (not too far over in front of skating leg).
  • Back chassès. Work on the direction and stability of the inside edge push. Connect this to the action in the hip joint (leg turns in but then moves back to neutral or even turns out).
  • 3-step pattern with inside mohawks. Work on establishing third position before the back inside to forward inside. Stronger forward inside edge.
  • Forward cross strokes. Bend free knee to allow weight to deepen into the skating foot. This is also important on forward progressives; make sure you do this on both the outside and inside edges.
  • Forward inside three, cross over front, back inside threes (in circle).  Work on establishing a stronger inside edge into the three, rotate in hip joint, try to get rid of the skid, hold back outside edge longer before crossing.
  • Creepers.
  • Swing roll (try to get a power pull), change edge, inside mohawk, quick step to change feet, push forward to repeat on other side.
  • Inside three, back cross, outside three-mohawk (continuous action), repeat on other side.
  • Different entry edges twizzles. Keep skating hip slightly open, skating side leads on entry (rather than letting body swinging around), ankles together.
  • Inside counters. Use inside edge pressure to “jump” the turn.
  • Forward power pulls (inside, outside, inside), inside mohawk, back power pulls (inside, outside, inside), step forward, repeat on other side.
  • Swing roll, (try to get a power pull), change edge, inside mohawk, power pull, step forward on outside edge on other side, repeat.
  • Outside rocker, cross in front to back outside (change arms at the same time), back cross stroke.
  • Forward choctaw, power pull, step forward, tuck behind, repeat on other side.
  • Three step outside-outside mohawk. Do this on pattern. Make sure your free side stays elongated.
  • Inside mohawk, power pull, back outside to forward inside (choctaw).


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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!