Endurance Skating

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Musings on “Fitness” vs “Speed” cornering technique

Many skaters who dabble in speed (as opposed real speedskaters who grew up on an oval wearing lycra) come from a fitness- and/or street-skating background, and many who fit this description still do a good amount of their skating on the rec/street skating circuit, albeit with clear nod towards the kooky religion – “speed skates on street skates” is the ultimate expression of this weird, ahem, crossover of disciplines.

This is true for myself, having paid my dues cone-dodging in London’s Hyde Park and marshaling many a grim winters’ LFNS – with this sort of recreational background, you develop some pretty nifty control over skates and good all-round general skating ability (something that I have observed many pure speedskaters to be somewhat lacking), plus you can learn a few cool tricks like the grapevine or parallel slide to impress the tourists.

But there comes a point if you are serious about specializing in any particular discipline like speed where you have to unlearn some of the common wisdom that you previously thought was set in stone. In my skating journey I have come to realise that what I previously knew about optimal cornering technique should be left firmly on the street.

Rec Skating 101: Learn To Scissor….

In recreational skating and street skating, almost from day 1 we are taught to skate in a “scissor” position – that is to skate with one foot in front of the other – ideally leaving a clear gap between the rear wheel of one skate and the front wheel of the other, and you are never taught any differently.

Scissor position leading into a parallel turn... simples.

Scissor position leading into a parallel turn… simples.

The reason the scissor is so useful is that it provides more fore-to-aft stability when rolling along, and it’s the position from which you engage many  useful techniques that are asymmetric in nature such as heel-braking, t-stopping, front-to-back/back-to-front transitions and spin stopping. It is also a natural stance from which to initiate the parallel turn and lunge turn (which is like an exaggerated parallel typically done at higher speed). Once you can competently execute these two intermediate level moves, you can then progress onto crossover turns, a more advanced technique where you keep striding even during the turn by bringing the outside leg back over and in front of the inside leg and hence your feet continually “cross over” each other. When executed well, the crossover is the optimal technique for increasing your velocity while still in a tight turn, which is why it is so useful. But if you developed your skating know-how as a fitness/recreational skater, the chances are that you aren’t doing it very well.

….vs Speed Skating 101… Basic Position

Assume the position!

Assume the position!

The line between fitness and speed is often not easy to distinguish, but I think it’s easy to see when you watch how a skater take corners. You see, the rules change when you are talking about cornering from a speedskating perspective. You have to unlearn what you thought you previously knew, and leave the scissor at home – it will actually hinder your development in speed. I have never heard my speed coaches say “don’t forget to scissor.” Instead we are taught the “Basic Position” which emphasizes the very opposite of what recreational and fitness skaters are normally taught. When it comes to taking corners, speed technique emphasizes the following:

– keep both your skates parallel as much as possible
– All your weight on the inside leg; unweight your outside leg

In short, on corner entry your skates should be as close to the basic position as possible, but with your bodyweight shifted firmly on the inside leg (we never refer to it as a “trailing leg”). This is true whether you are executing crossovers from entry, through the apex and exit, or just leaning into apex of the corner, before striding or crossing over on exit.

Unlike any street-skating turning technique that I know of, you do not want any of your weight on the outside skate. Ideally you should be able to glide through a 180 degree corner with your weight fully on the inside leg and your outside skate lifted off the ground – this is one drill that we sometimes practice… it isn’t easy, but it is a wickedly brutal way to show your deficiencies in weight distribution.

speed corner2

Skates parallel, weight over your inside leg!

Doing this accomplishes two things – (a) it allows you to easily lift your outside leg and and bring your foot around and in front of your inside leg, while (b) simultaneously allowing you to generate real underpush from your weighted inside leg.  These two actions simultaneously performed make up the “crossover”.

If you watch pictures or video from good track or indoor skaters, whether they are crossing over going into the corner or just rolling into the corner they have their skates parallel and weight loaded on the inside supporting leg. Unlike recreational and fitness skaters, a good speed skater will never enter a corner with a gap between the rear wheel of the inside skate and the front wheel of the outside skate – it doesn’t ever happen.

So you think YOU can do Crossovers?

A few years back when I was doing my level 1 ICP (Inline Certified Programme) course, I remember our Senior Instructor Asha saying that of the dozen-odd skating skills on which you are evaluated, the forward crossover was by far the hardest and the one on which just about everyone would drop at least half-points. How hard? Of the many hundreds (possibly thousands) of ICP instructors she has evaluated and passed, she had only ever given full marks (ie be able to perform correctly) to 3 people on their forward crossover ability, because hardly anybody is able to generate any real underpush. Imagine that… only 3 candidates ever given full marks on forward crossovers!

It may seem a straightforward exercise, but in reality the very vast majority of recreational skaters are executing a forward “stepover” rather than competent “crossover” with a workable underpush… mainly as a result of learning to skate from the “scissor” position rather than from the basic skating position. To make matters even worse, budding recreational skaters are also taught to widen the scissor at high speed. If a little is good then a lot is better – so chances are that if you’ve been paying attention like a good student then the faster you go the more you are likely to be scissoring into corner entry – not what we want at all!

So there you have it. Crossovers as done by fitness skaters vs as crossovers as done by speed skaters. While any reasonably competent fitness skaters can execute a half-assed stepover and call it a crossover, in order to execute a crossover that is worthy of the name requires a fundamental difference in approach (hence speed vs fitness) as well as a great deal of practice and precision.

However, the payoff is when you learn to do it right is that it looks absolutely beautiful… and you go faster!


3 comments on “Musings on “Fitness” vs “Speed” cornering technique

  1. Pingback: Training Log Update – 09.02.2015 | Endurance Skating

  2. Matthew
    May 20, 2015

    Great article. Recently discovered fitness skating and dropped some major pounds. Really enjoying all the great info in the article. Glad there are still dome up to date info on skating now.


    • Van
      May 21, 2015

      I think that I will skate until the day that I die! As much as the fitness side, thee is a highly social aspect to skating that you don’t necessarily get from running & cycling.


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This entry was posted on February 6, 2015 by in Skating, Training and tagged , , , , .

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