by WINA STURGEON
The motion of skating, whether on ice skates or wheeled inlines, has never received the recognition it deserves as a skill builder for almost every sport. It’s also a a way to build terrific overall fitness and to lose fat by burning a lot of calories.
The proof has been published in many studies on fitness, says Jon Cavar, head coach for the U. S. speedskating short track team (Think Apolo Ohno).
Cavar, originally from Canada, began skating when he was five years old. He spent ten years as an athlete on the Canadian team and earned a degree in exercise science before returning to Speed Skating Canada to become their Olympic coach. We asked him to explain why the movements of skating are so beneficial.
A: “It’s a body-weight supported activity, so you’re on your feet the whole time. Because you’re balancing at the same time, you’re always in active motion, even when you’re just gliding along in a straight line. At the same time, you’re moving your weight from one side to the other while propelling yourself forward. You have to transfer your weight and have good control over that and if you’re on ice, you also have to have control over all the skate blade edges as well.”
Q: Don’t running and biking offer the same benefits?
A: “Not quite as much. In skating, when you push to the side, you use your abductors and aductors more, you use your glutes laterally as well. That means there’s a lot more balance and stabilization involved in your lower body. You’re pushing to the side instead of just backwards. When you’re running, you always just push backwards. On a bike, you’re sitting and your legs are not supporting your full body weight.”
Q: Which muscles are used the most in the skating motion?
A: It uses the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, with quads and glutes being the biggest ones. The core muscles are also used because skating requires balance. Everything’s involved.
Q: Is skating a good aerobic activity?
A: “Absolutely. Because you’re constantly on your feet, there’s an increased challenge to your cardiovascular system to maintain a certain speed and keep yourself moving constantly. It’s a great challenge to maintain that over a long period of time. You have to maintain your momentum through each step. Skating faster pushes your aerobic intensity and raises your heart rate. The longer you can go, the more quickly you can build that aerobic base.”
Q: How does skating create a better athlete, especially where young athletes are concerned?
A: Skates challenge you in a way you can’t get in running shoes. It helps develop a range of coordination and spatial awareness when you’re skating around other people. It develops the senses that an athlete needs.
It also develops fundamental skills for kids, yet it can be used by anybody. But ideally, if you get involved in ice sports when you’re younger, you develop a balance and coordination that’s tough to find elsewhere. That can translate into the skills used for balance while surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding or skiing, or even team sports like soccer, where you have to change direction quickly.
Q: Aside from building fitness and athletic skills, are there other, lesser known benefits to skating?