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Winter Training – Learning To Fall | Thoughts On Inline Skate Technique

fallguy

Same dude, different sport.

My running form is not the only technical thing that I’m going to be working on heavily this winter. My primary goal next year is to become a better and faster speed skater, and in order to do so, I will need to work hard on my technique above everything else.

Ah, technique… that old chestnut that is everything in our sport.

I know that there is a heck of a lot that is less than great with my own technique.. the inefficiencies cumulatively add up and are imposing hard limits on what I will be able to do in races.

In looking at my own skating, I have been told that I need to work on and improve my “Fall”. This is perhaps the biggest area of inefficiency in my technique at the moment and the area in which I’m going to be working hard to improve.

So, what the hell is this “Fall” that we often talk about in skating?

It’s somewhat depressing that Googling “Skating Fall” or such terms comes up with blank.. or worse, discussions and pictures of skaters faceplanting left, right and center – that’s the other type of falling that sometimes happens in skating.

The fall, at least as I have understood it, is the phase of the skating stride where, upon setdown, the body weight is transferred from the active leg at the end of its extension phase to the new supporting leg as it is set down immediately underneath the body.

As with many biomechanical issues, this happens in the blink of an eye and while it may sound simple and natural, it is anything but… most skaters have an underdeveloped fall.

My thoughts on this are:

  • A well developed fall must engage the outside edge of the set down wheels. In your boot, you should feel pressure on the outside of your foot.
  • The body’s self-preservation instincts mean that this is a wholly uncomfortable and unnatural position. Your brain will work against you to ensure that it doesn’t go there. However, as with anything, it is a skill that can be learnt and developed.
  • The old adage that “how you think you move and how you actually move bear little resemblance” is usually appropriate. Often what is a center edge or mild outside edge feels much more extreme that it really is. This is made worse because our eyes are located in our head and not on our shoulders – the line of sight to your wheels are deceptive and it’s easy to believe that you are more “over on your edges” than you really are.
  • The hip & shoulder of the fall should dip with setdown skate, or at worse be level, but never allow it to higher than the recovering leg. This automatically pressures the outside edge of the skate and transfers more of the the momentum from the
  • Done correctly, the illusive force of gravity is harnessed to create pressures laterally in the skates to propel us forward – remember, skates are devices that convert lateral pressure into forward motion.

OK, with that in mind, here’s how the pros do it…

RED is the direction of travel, BLUE is the vector created by the angle of the skate

Bart's setdown is pointed across his direction of travel... this facilitates the weight transfer and loading of the outside of the setdown foot

Bart’s setdown is pointed across his direction of travel… this facilitates the weight transfer and loading of the outside of the setdown foot

Other good basics - dipped shoulder/hip

Other good basics – dipped shoulder/hip

Bart Swings Skating

The Outside Edge

Finding the outside edge of your skate is not a natural or easy… I dare say that many skaters have never really sensed it. It takes a LOT of practice to commit your bodyweight to places that the brain doesn’t trust or want to go; all the body’s self-preservation instinct wants to do is come back to it’s natural setpoint of having the weight firmly and evenly distributed across both legs. However, spending more time on the outside edge and loading this edge laterally on setdown is one of the key skills to unlocking more speed from your skating stride.

Weight Transfer

The fall is the magical moment during the skating stride where weight is transferred from the pushing leg to a correctly positioned setdown leg – if everything is done well then we retain much more of the momentum generated by the pushing leg in the setdown phase, and harness gravity to generate more of the power in the rest of the stride.

So we all know how Bart does it… let’s see how I do it… (gulp)

Again, RED is the direction of travel, BLUE is the vector created by the angle of the skate

Compared to my

Compared to my “open” setdown… no pressure on the outside of the boot, less “falling” action.

This is me sprinting at the end of a marathon.. same thing.

This is me sprinting at the end of a marathon.. same thing.

Unfortunately, I tend to keep my hip open all the way through my recovery and setdown with my hip still open, rather than setdown with a fully closed hip (an open hip is when you stand with toes pointed outward, closed hips is toes pointed inwards). This results in an open, duckfooted setdown, and no matter how close to the centre-line I place my skate, it always points outwards (right skate wheels pointed at 1 o’clock, left pointed at 11 o’clock), and therefore never on an immediate outside edge. Watching the elites they do the very opposite – the right skate setdown with the wheels pointing at 11o’clock across the direction of travel. Thus, the momentum of the push carries their bodyweight over the edge of the wheel and loads the outside edge, immediately before they “catch” it and transfer the weight back to the inside edge during the rest of the push.

Skate Gears

When we talk about skates having “gears” we refer to the angle of the skate wheels to the direction of travel. ICP Stride 1 “duck waddle” refers to 1st gear, Stride 2 to 2nd gear Stride 3 to 3rd gear.. I am realising that efficient speed technique takes this analogy to the extreme, and that your gearing doesn’t top out when the skates are pointed straight ahead, but rather at some point where the point across the direction of travel.. call that 6th gear, or whatever. However, given the biomechanics of my own skating, I am unable to access that top gear.

Steps to improve this:

  • Close the hips during the recovery phase.
  • Point the toe of the recovery skate inwards, but avoid ankle contortions (you want to keep straight ankles at all times)
  • Dip the hip/shoulder of the setdown skate

I’ve particularly noticed that my left side is quite a lot worse in this respect, with the skate angle opening down few degrees more open than on my right side. 

Not the DP

Note that this is not a discussion of the “double push” technique. Whether you just rely on the momentum from the pushing leg to load the outside edge, or you actively “underpush”… is just discussing different shades of grey. Hopefully this discussion will show that improving the fall, and learning to harness gravity to generate the momentum in your stride is a necessary first step if you want to work on double-push.  The double-push is not a mystery, but it requires good basic weight transfer before you go there.  You can’t short-cut your way to an effective DP.

Watching this year’s Berlin Inline Marathon, I often think that for the majority of us non-elite/age-groupers, the elite women are the best skaters to watch and try to model oneself after. They don’t double-push nearly to the same extent as the elite men because the greater Q-angle makes it more unnatural to do so, but they still do the basic setdown, weight transfer and fall very well.

Practice, Practice

The thing with working on technique is that one piece of the puzzle never happens in isolation. So I may find, indeed, I would expect to find, that working on improving my fall also leads to improvements in other areas – eg, a more sideways push, and changing the timing and lengthening my overall stride are also areas that I will need to work on and improve going forward, but by identifying my biggest weaknesses and turning them into strengths will set me on the right path in all these other areas.  That is how we improve! I’ll hopefully write more about these areas of my stride in future posts.

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One comment on “Winter Training – Learning To Fall | Thoughts On Inline Skate Technique

  1. Pingback: Coaching with Sk8Skool | Endurance Skating

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2015 by in Skating, Training and tagged , , , , , .
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