Figure skating is a sport that requires more than just grace and artistry. While most non-skaters don’t realize this, pulling off any technical element in skating requires a significant amount of strength and stamina. Awkward positions must be held for extended periods of time, and muscles that most people hardly ever use must be strong in order to execute the jumps, spins, and lifts that impresses the crowd and judges. All figure skaters, regardless of age or ability, should engage in a proper off-ice strength and conditioning program in order to give them the strength and stamina to execute elements, and also to help prevent injuries.
Note: Be sure to check with both your coach, your parents, and your physician before engaging in any off-ice exercise and conditioning program.
Figure skaters looking to build any sort of off-ice conditioning program need to look at their overall objectives in order to put together an overall off-ice program. I would like to suggest three exercises in particular that all off-ice programs should incorporate, and this is for all skaters, including pairs, dance, and freestylers.
1). Bicycle crunches. Like athletes in just about any sport, if a figure skater were to do absolutely nothing else off-ice except ONE thing, then it would have to involve core strength. Your core strength is what allows you to check out of jumps, center your spins, and maintain an erect posture in dance and step sequences. Try doing a twizzle or checking your rotation out of an Axel without core strength — it simply isn’t going to happen.
A study conducted at San Diego State University evaluated over a dozen different abdominal exercises for increasing core strength, and one stood out far and above the rest: The bicycle crunch. To do the bicycle crunch, lie on the floor with your abs engaged and your lower back pressed into the floor (you may have to rotate your pelvis under to achieve this). Put your hands beside your ears (DO NOT pull up on your neck!) and elevate your legs to about a 45 degree angle. Move your legs through a bicycle pedaling motion while simultaneously crunching up in a twisting motion and touching your elbow to your opposite knee.
2). Arabesque exercises. In the worlds of dance, gymnastics, and figure skating, the arabesque position is one of the most common positions you will need to learn to sustain. For figure skaters, this is particularly true when it comes to spirals and camel spins. An arabesque is represented most perfectly by the standard flat blade or edge spiral position of the pre-preliminary and preliminary Moves in the Field tests, with the skating leg held straight, the free leg at or above hip height, and the torso at a 90 degree angle to the skating leg.
To build your flexibility and stamina for holding the arabesque/spiral position, work on the following rotation, to be completed on each foot. Start by holding the arabesque position for one minute while supporting yourself with the wall, then another minute with your leg supported by a partner or half wall, then one minute on your own, then another minute with your arms on the wall again. Rest about 30 seconds between each position. These one minute intervals will be difficult at first, but will improve over time and greatly assist you, especially if you also do ballet or gymnastics.
3). Box jumps. For most spectators of our sports, it’s the jumps that draw the big rounds of applause. If you are a freestyle skater, your jumps are usually your most difficult technical element, and one of the things you spend the most of your training time working on perfecting. Fully rotating your jumps, particularly your doubles, triples and, if you can pull it off, a quad, requires an incredible ability to obtain “hang time” in the air. Getting “hang time” is mainly a matter of being able to vault yourself into the air with incredible power, which itself is a matter of shear strength.
Box jumps are one of the best ways to work on your jumping power and increase your time in the air. A basic box jump is completed by jumping onto an 18 to 24 inch tall wooden box with both feet from a standing position. Exploding up onto the box, and then exploding off the box and back to the ground is the most basic method for working on your jump power. Additional methods of box jumping include jumping up onto one box, then immediately onto another, higher, box, and then back to the ground. There are numerous variations of this exercise, all of which will improve your jumping ability.
These three exercises in and of themselves comprise the most basic off-ice training program possible. Of course, as with any athlete, eating right, getting enough sleep, and a basic cardio program are also of benefit to all skaters.