This blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences from ten years as a skate dad. For those of you sitting with your jackets in the bleachers, first I salute you, but second I want to give you an honest sense of what you are in for and what to expect. Ice skating is both a trying and a glorious sport, but it doesn't happen without the special group of folks who cheer, support, and console the participants. This is dedicated to you.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

- arm calculus


My daughter once pointed out to me that if the athleticism of skating is in the legs, then certainly the art and grace of skating are in the arms. Indeed regardless of their program, you can pretty much identify who is skating just by watching the style of her arms.

If you were to break it down into micro-analytic atomic pieces you'd have to say that a skater's arm style (her armamentation?) consists of camber, clock angle, motion control, rhythmics, and dynamics. Getting all of these "right" is quite a challenge.

Start with camber: how straight, uplifted and parallel your arms are with the ice. You develop this from your shoulder strength. Droopy arms? I like the weight machines where you sit facing the pad, grab the handles and then pivot up the cylindrical pads with your elbows (straight shoulder presses seem to me to be too hard on your spine). Train for strong shoulders to keep those arms elevated.

Once your arms are up there it still takes lots of practice to anchor your awareness so that your body movement doesn't destabilize the arm positions you wish to maintain.

Clock angle is how the arms extend from your trunk when viewed from directly above. Naturally the expectation is that they point at 3 and 9 o'clock (straight out sideways). I have occasionally seen a slightly closed arm, say at 2 o'clock instead. Far more common though seems to be arms that are correctly "opposed" and yet twisted to the body, at 4 and 10, for example. Unless you saw yourself on video though I don't know how you'd even become aware of such a thing. It seems common enough that I figure most coaches don't bother to correct it.

Now that you're 3 and 9 and elevated parallel to the ice, we can think about movement. Go watch some ballet and pay attention to the arm movements: they are both meticulously deliberate and tightly controlled. Except for specific reasons of expressive pose they aren't frozen in place: they always have either slow rhythm or directive intent. Except on your spiral I don't want to see you glide with your arms outstretched and fixed like airplane wings. Nor do I want to witness you windmilling or flapping your arms like a bird the entire time either. Your arms should strive for ballet aesthetics.

Finally your arm movements should vary in speed: they should have dynamics. Sometimes your arms move slowly, sometimes they move more quickly. But it's also nice when the change in dynamics is itself smooth: the transition from slow arms to fast arms should be gradual. For you calculus fans out there, the second derivative of arm movement speed is best when very small.

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