What’s a beginning skater’s best asset? Innate athletic confidence. Unfortunately, only a lucky few are born with the coordination and balance of the “natural athlete.”
When siblings share a first skating lesson with me, within ten minutes one is often one rolling all over the parking lot while the other is still reluctant to leave the safety of my magic carpet. Seemingly at random, a little sister or the quiet brother turns out to have a natural edge. Parents will confirm that “Christopher has always been a bit timid,” or “Samantha is our little jock!”
This article has important advice for adults who are about to try inline skating for the first time, natural athlete or not. Regardless of your current starting level, your chances for earlier inline success are better if you participate in the following practices well before your first lesson. We’ll stick to just skate-related incentives here, but I can’t emphasize enough the holistic, life-enhancing qualities of one-footed balance, core strength and thigh strength.
Why you need it: The gateway to intermediate skating depends on your ability to brake to a stop, control your speed on hills, and master parallel and lunge turns. What’s common among all these is the ability to solidly roll in a narrow, nearly one-footed balancing act called the Scissors Coast. Without good one-footed balance, it will feel clumsy if not impossible to step up or down a curb or over obstacles. You won’t be ready for long, efficient strides until you have enough balance to glide on one foot while the other is sweeping its way across the pavement and back.
How to get it: Practice daily! As I’ve said in other articles, there are many ways to spend time on one foot: while brushing your teeth, reading your mail, and standing in place for any reason. Take up Yoga or purchase an inflatable disk or wobble board to play on. Warm up with a few minutes of Balance Lunges before your workouts or walks. Do your best to build those all-important balance synapses that continue to accumulate over a lifetime. Remember, balance is one thing that you can actually improve with age as long as you never stop pushing it.
Why you need it: First of all, core strength is a great asset for one-footed balance! I may not have x-ray vision, but from years of teaching, I have a good idea of what’s going on inside my students’ bodies as they roll nearby. A weak or unstable torso definitely hinders a skater’s ability to stride or brake properly. Skaters with core strength also tend to fall less and get up uninjured, where the less fit are more wobbly and likely to overstretch a joint in the same type of fall.
How to get it: Join a Pilates class (mat or machine), hire a personal trainer, or take up fitness ball workouts. Like one-footed balance, working your core should be done frequently or even daily. My Off Skates Fitness pages offer specific workouts at three levels that anybody can do at home. These are intended to help skaters and non-skaters alike begin to build strength from the inside out. The resulting functional fitness will make movement of all types safer and more comfortable. Start far enough in advance of your first skating lesson and you will be that much closer to your natural athlete alter ego!
Why you need it: Obviously, the long-term benefit of thigh strength will be the endurance that lets you sprint up a hill or skate longer and farther without tiring. But this also offers important short term benefits!
During your very first lesson, a good instructor will have you make a controlled fall onto your padded hands and knees and then show you the easiest way to get up. Your personal safety is severely compromised if you don’t have the strength to quickly get back to your feet after falling in the middle of an intersection! Fear also affects your strength the first few times you skate. Some adult beginners become so tense their legs tremble throughout the first lesson. Eventually the trembling goes away, but that’s one more strength drain to be prepared for during your first few days of skating.
How to get it: Yes I’m afraid this means more workouts, but two or three leg sessions a week will do the trick. Try my Overall Strength beginner, intermediate or advanced home workout to build essential leg strength.
Actually, the Balance Lunges mentioned above will help you build all three assets described in this article. Lunging front and then back with the same foot supporting you in both directions requires and builds balance, core strength and thigh strength all at once. That’s why it’s my favorite exercise.
Besides a gradual increase in your physical competence and confidence, remember that practicing activities similar to these can dramatically improve both your overall fitness and quality of life as well as athletic success in any sport you decide to try.