Ken Roberts

what's here

Why go by skating?

  • why Skate at all?

  • tricks and dance moves are great on skates -- but why just Go? 

learning to go by skating (on inlines)

  • what are three things missed by lots of beginning skaters?

  • what are three things missed by lots of advancing skaters?

  • what are three things missed by some expert speedskaters?

  • how can I not look stupid while skating?

  • how do I find a good instructor or coach for learning to go by skating?

climbing up a hill

  • how is technique for climbing up a steep hill different?

  • how can I make it to the top without my muscles getting so thrashed that it's hard to enjoy the rest of that day's skating?

double-push stroking

  • why is double-push faster than normal-push?

  • how learn double-push on inline skates?

  • how come double-push doesn't make me faster?

  • how come double-push does not work on ice skates?

  • how come double-push does not work in ski-skating?

theory of muscle-powered propulsion

  • how to find the optimal technique for maximum speed

  • why bother with detailed analysis when in the end what really determines maximum speed is VO2max?

  • what's the difference between "direct" versus "reactive" force?

  • how is it possible for upper-body forces to be transmitted effectively to the ground thru the leg muscles?

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Why go by skating?

Why skate at all?

Skating is cool and fun.

Has been cool and fun for a very long time.

  • in the late 1700s, they already had skating shows in Europe (long before the bicycle was invented)

  • in the mid-1800s most U.S. cities and large towns had a roller skating rink.

How is skating cool and fun?

  • Gliding feels cool and fun -- we feel it instinctively.

Lots of non-human mammal and bird species enjoy sliding and gliding -- and spend time and energy doing it even when it has no practical benefit.

I suspect the reason is because we instinctively sense that moving faster without currently applying effort is an opportunity -- to learn to control it and utilize it for hunting and warfare (and for escaping). Gliding feels good because it has "potential".

  • Moving faster feels fun -- we feel it instinctively.

Even if it's not by gliding, moving faster "instinctively feels" good and fun because it is obviously important for genetic survival success in hunting and warfare and escaping. Because it's so obviously important for survival, it is also important for genetic reproductive success, since members of the opposite sex instinctively recognize its importance.

  • Mastery of skating moves feels fun and satisfying.

Because it's a physical skill obviously requiring coordination and balance, it gives us confidence in mastery over and with our own body, as our own bodily self. Many things in the world are out of control -- and some things in our self. So it feels good to have mastery over something new -- especially something that we instinctively feel has good benefits.

  • Looks good to other people.

Because skating well and confidently is obviously cool and fun, and highly visible, the "sympathy circuits" in other people's brains are activated when they see us skating confidently.

  • Showing off

Because competent skating is not so easy to learn, it demonstrates our special physical competence. Suggests to other people -- and to ourselves -- that we might have superior competence for learning and performing other good things.

coordination of multiple skaters

dance

shows

synchronized skating

competition

Simply skating competently at all is already in part a socially competitive action, as explained above.

Competition among skaters over who's better can be applied to almost any of the special aspect of skating:  glide, speed, mastery of coordination and balance, looking good, dance, synchronized skating.

Since most of us have a greater or lesser urge to compete with other humans, these obvious opportunities for new kinds of competitions are another reason for "Why we Skate".

Lots of people are satisfied with impromptu, informal competitive scenes -- sometimes where the other person didn't even think it was a competition. Other people try some formal competitions at a local level, then decide that was enough and stop. A few make some kind of formal competition into a core long-term driver of their skating. A few travel long distances to regional and international competitions.

warfare

It shows how highly developed skating has become, that it has its own special form of simulated "warfare": 

Hockey.

Some might say it includes all the other fundamental aspects of skating: speed, balance, mastery, multi-skater coordination, and competition -- and adds something more.

Tricks and Dance moves, for sure -- but why just Go?

Skating is cool and fun -- for several reasons (above) that have little to do with Go-ing from one place to another. Some of these other things, like tricks and dance moves, might seem more "cool" than Go-ing on skates.

So why not enjoy Skating without much focus on the possibility of Go-ing?

Here's some skating reasons:

  • It's difficult to enjoy the fun of moving faster, without moving faster toward somewhere -- at least to the other side of the rink. If you've got more space than an indoor rink, usually you can go even faster without the need to make curves, then re-accelerate on the next straight section.

  • It's difficult to glide very long or far or very many times -- without gliding toward somewhere, at least to the other side of the rink. If you have only a small space, you spend more time stopping and starting, than gliding. The more space you have available, the higher percentage of time gliding, with less work starting and stopping and curving.

  • Showing off: The more different places, and different kinds of places, you skate to, the more people get to see you demonstrating your special competence -- and more people getting their "joy of gliding" neural "sympathy" circuits activated.

  • Showing off: Some (few) people are impressed by hearing that somebody skated a long distance.

Go-ing by other means

It is true that most humans get some instinctive enjoyment from going to another place -- just to see what's there and what's along the way. Or to feel a sense of mastery over a larger environment. And we have non-instinctive "currently practical" reasons to go -- because they have some important play or work which is better accomplished at some place other than where they are now.

But we know lots of ways to get there other than skating:

  • taxi, train, bus

  • personal automobile or snowmobile

  • walking

  • standard bicycle

  • recumbent bicycle

  • folding bicycle

Motorized transportation requires less muscular work in most situations. A standard bicycle takes somewhat less muscular work, and a recumbent bicycle requires substantially less muscular work than skating in most situations.

All six are usually better than skating for wet or coarse-stone or eroded pavement -- also better for softer non-pavement surfaces.

For muscle-powered propulsion, skates take less space and weight to carry on public or personal transportation, or store in a small office or apartment. But equipment for walking takes less weight and space.

And for carrying on public or personal transportation, a well-designed folding bicycle is pretty effective.

why I go by skating

So going somewhere is a good thing:  but why go by skating, instead of on a (folding?) bicycle?

Of course in some situations my answer is that I'd rather not go by skating -- and indeed I ride lots of miles on a bicycle.

But if the rolling-surface and traffic and hilliness are appropriate for skating, usually I prefer to skate -- here's why:

  • more Fun:  Skating a longer distance increases the fundamental fun skating points of (a) gliding and (b) moving faster -- increases them "measurably" in intensity and magnitude and time-percentage (compared with skating back and forth between two walls five meters apart, or lap after lap around an indoor rink)

  • more Mastery:  Skating to somewhere combines the "go-ing" aspect of bicycling there with the more complicated and visible mastery of coordinating: (a) more different moves; (b) in three dimensions instead of two.

  • more Showing Off to wider Audience:  Going by skating is more difficult (or at least unusual) than going by lots of other modes, so it "shows off" more -- with a different range of audience, in a different mind-set, than I would find at an indoor rink.

  • more calories burned:  more hours of exercise with less boredom.

  • adventure:  sometimes Going by Skating is an exploratory adventure -- sometimes adventure right out my front door, with new exploratory discoveries around my own neighborhood.

learning to go by skating (on inlines)

what are three things missed by lots of beginning skaters?

This question is better asked to a very experienced skating instructor, than a theorist.

Nevertheless, here's my best try:

  1. Beginning inline skaters learn to go fast -- before learning to slow and stop -- not knowing that there are some tricks to stopping, and taking a lesson or two in stopping could make a big difference.

  2. Beginning skaters tend to push back like running or walking -- instead of discovering how pushing out to the side can help move the skater forward.

  3. Beginning skaters tend to leave their hips and the weight of their upper body in the middle -- instead of shifting it out toward each side with strong commitment -- usually because they don't have the balance, so they're afraid if they really committed their hips and upper body way out to the side, they'd fall over.

For some other ideas, see Common Confusions about Skating.

what are three things missed by lots of advancing skaters?

I think the most important one is:

  1. not knowing how to make a really quick stop when something unexpected suddenly appears in their path.

For some other ideas, see Common Confusions about Skating.

what are three things missed by some expert speedskaters?

I think the most important one is:

  1. Having once learned well how to make a really quick stop when something unexpected suddenly appears in their path -- but not having practiced it enough lately to reliably execute it at the moment when they really need it.

I think the usual reason for this lack of practice is a distaste for wearing down their wheels -- because their quick stop does not use a heel-brake.

For some other ideas, see Common Confusions about Skating.

how can I not look stupid while skating?

For ski-skating here's some ideas -- some of which hopefully apply to other kinds of skating:

how to not look stupid when ski-skating

how do I find a good instructor for learning to go by skating?

A very important question which is not easy.

I haven't had the time yet to write a careful answer, but here's some thoughts which might help:

  • for beginning skaters:  almost any paid instructor is significantly better than trying to figure it out for yourself, or learning it from your boyfriend.

  • for beginning skaters (and most other skaters):  a safe and comfortable environment is critical for best learning -- or for much learning at all. Good instructors know this, and go to great trouble to get access to an environment which is safe for learning. If the environment of your first lesson does not make you feel safe (because it really is safe), that's a signal that you should try to find a different instructor.

  • for advancing skaters:  probably a substantial majority of the paid instructors are better than trying to figure out for yourself how to advance further.

  • for advancing and expert skaters:  coaching without a significant percentage of time spent on analysis of video clips of your skating is a (partial) waste of time. Useful athletic performance video clips can be taken so cheaply and easily nowadays that there's little excuse for not using it.

  • for expert skaters:  it is possible to get significant benefit even from a paid instructor that you disagree with. Sometimes even if they teach you something that is "wrong", the process of trying it out and feeling how and why it's wrong can sometimes have long-term positive benefit.

  • different skaters learn in different ways -- so sometimes one instructor is good for one skater's learning style but not anothers. Good instructors have experience with different learning styles, and can vary their approach to handle different kinds of skaters (in a small group).

  • different skaters have different goals -- e.g. looking good, racing, burning calories, enjoying the feeling of the moves -- and different instructors have different focus areas. Some instructors are good at guiding toward several different possible goals -- but it gets tricky with a large group and a small minority with a different goal focus.

 

?? [more to be added]

 

climbing up a hill

how is technique for climbing up a steep hill different?

 

?? [more to be added]

 

I haven't updated this or fixed the mistakes since a couple of years ago, but here's a page with some ideas for ski-skating, some of which might also help on inline skates:

climbing up a hill ski-skating

 

how can I make it to the top without getting thrashed?

how can I make it to the top without my muscles getting so thrashed that it's hard to enjoy the rest of that day's skating?

 

?? [more to be added]

 

I haven't updated this or fixed the mistakes since a couple of years ago, but here's a page with some ideas for ski-skating, some of which might also help on inline skates:

climbing up a hill ski-skating

 

double-push stroking

why is double-push faster than normal-push?

I assume this question is talking about skating on inlines, based on the observation that in many videos of race performances, the fastest racers are using double-push stroking. For an explanation of why there racers are going faster with double-push, see this page:

why Double-Push is faster sometimes than Normal-push skating

Actually double-push is not faster in some situations, such as climbing a steep hill, or accelerating fast from a standing start.

And double-push is often not faster when performed by skaters who know how to make their skate arc in both directions (inside and outside) on both edges, but do not know how to push effectively in both directions (inside and outside) -- or sometimes, do not know how to push effectively in either of those directions.

how learn double-push on inline skates?

There are several websites that give instructions for double-push. If you've got good skating balance and good enoughskating coordination so you've learned some other basic "tricks", it's likely you'll be able to learn to make the double-push motions.

The problem is that it's much easier to "go through the motions" of double-push stroking, than it is to get effective propulsive work benefit from double-push.

?? [ more to be added ]

how come double-push doesn't make me faster?

How would I know what's working or not working about your skating?

Take a lesson from a good coach.

When I took workshops from two of the best inline speedskating coaches in North America, neither one of them talked about double-push.

Instead they talked about balance, and about How to Push Effectively. It was almost like they thought that once I really had a really effective push, "doubling" it would be no problem.

how come double-push does not work on ice skates?

I assume what is meant is:

  • Why is double-push somewhat difficult to perform on an ice skate blade which is long and unrockered?

  • How come no one has yet demonstrated a measurable advantage for double-push in ice speedskating races which are performed on an ice skate blade which is long and unrockered?

Regarding the first, I have found it rather easy (and fun) to perform double-push on ice skate blades which are short and rockered.

Whether it makes me any faster on those blades, I don't know. 

I'd guess the reason hockey players don't use double-push much is because they're so focused on quick acceleration, not maximum speed.

Chad Hedrick has demonstrated that it is possible to perform double-push on an ice skate blade which is long and unrockered. There were video clips on the Web in 2005 of him doing it. I remember NBC Olympics in 2006 showing short clips of him doing at least one double-push stroke in later laps in his Gold-medal win of the 5000-meter speedskating race.

My best guess as to why double-push is so much more effective on inlines than long-unrockered-ice-blade is this:

  • pivoting the aim of the foot is important for double-push stroking.

  • the way that polyurethane inline wheels deform when rolling while pivoting enables them to carry speed without substantial frictional losses.

  • a long unrockered ice blade has substantial frictional losses when it is pivoted while the skater's body weight is on it. Those frictional losses from pivoting in double-push are as large or larger than the gains from other aspects of double-push stroking.

how come double-push does not work in ski-skating?

Well it's not yet clear that it does not work for ski-skating. I've only heard of ski-skaters seriously trying double-push since 2005.

I saw and heard rumors that that some Swedish and some Canadian racers were intending to apply some moves sort of inspired by double-push to the sprint events.

Judging by the perfomance of some Swedish skiers in the individual freestyle sprint (and other ski-skating events) in the 2006 Olympics, I think it's fair to say that playing with double-push techniques in practice is not harmful to ski-skating speed performance.

The obvious reason that double-push would not work for ski-skating is that it requires a large change in the aiming-direction of the same (long) ski after the skater's body weight has been put onto it. Snow tends to have high friction against moving the ski in any direction other than the line through its tail and tip. So the cost of a large pivot with the ski on the snow would be rather large, and in some (most?) snow conditions it would be impossible.

Another reason I've seen given, is that a long ski with little sidecut (like virtually all cross-country groomed-track skating skis as of 2006) cannot make circular-arc traces in the snow, which is what the traces of the wheels look like when double-push is performed on inline skates. My current opinion [Feb-2006] is that the most of the benefits of double-push arise from the two pushes being made at different angles toward different sides. The circular-arc tracks are mostly an interesting(?), distracting (?) side-effect.

A different approach to making the big change in aiming-direction of the ski is to "unweight" it during the switch -- by means of some combination of an upward leg-retraction move and a hop. Upward moves have a large cost in muscular work, so I think this means that this approach to double-push cannot enable a higher forward speed for ski-skating with no poles.

In December 2005 I succeeded in performing this hop-double-push move several times in sequence on skis, without using poles (in perfect snow conditions).

With poles (as in the V2 skate motion technique on skis) it shows more promise, because: (a) raising the upper body is a normal part of the recovery phases for double-poling; and (b) retracting the legs upward is a useful (little-known) way to commit more body-weight through the shoulders and arms to the pole-push, which adds propulsive force. So when using poles there is a way to convert the upward leg-retraction move required to unweight the ski during the aim-switch phase into positive propulsive work.

As of February 2006 I have not yet tried this move.

In one of the 2006 issues of The Master Skier magazine I saw printed a report that the Swedish time was experimenting with a hop and aim-switch in their skating technique, intended for use in freestyle sprint races.

But I did not observe this move in video coverage of the 2006 Olympics individual freestyle sprints -- and a Swedish skier won the Men's event. The camera angles I had access to were reasonable for observing an obvious "hop", but not very helpful for observing a pivot of the aiming-direction of the ski.

Perhaps they decided that their mastery and training for this move was not yet ready for use in a major race. Or perhaps it's difficult to observe the move in video, because lifting of the ski off the snow is very small -- or perhaps many times the ski does not rise fully off the snow, and instead "grazes" across the surface with very little weight on it. Presumably one of the key aspects of mastering this technique is use only the minimal lifting -- so you get the maximum double-push benefits with minimal upward-work cost.

theory of muscle-powered propulsion

how to find the optimal technique for maximum speed

It's a tricky thing to find the optimal technique for speed for any kind of muscle-powered propulsion, not just skating. For a taste of the theory -- and the framework behind my approach to skating technique on this website -- see

how to find the optimal technique for speed for any muscle-powered propulsion

why bother with detailed analysis? -- speed is about VO2max

Why bother with detailed analysis when in the end what really determines maximum speed is VO2max?

Because even VO2max is complicated.

And there's lots more to maximum speed than VO2max.

For lots of discussion about this see

how to find the optimal technique for speed

what's the difference between "direct" versus "reactive" force?

A rather tricky question. Perhaps there isn't any categorical difference in qualities of forces in skating. For lots more discussion see

different Kinds of propulsive Forces

how is it possible for upper-body forces to be transmitted?

How is it possible for upper-body forces to be transmitted effectively to the ground thru the leg muscles?

In order for an upper-body force to contribute to forward propulsion, it must be transmitted to the foot to push against the ground. In skating (if not using poles) this force must go through the leg.

Now in any sort of effective skating stroke-cycle, the leg is not "locked" in a straight fully-extended position. So the transmission cannot be just bone-to-bone. The muscles of the leg must be involved.

But isn't there some limit to how much force the leg muscles can apply? When I'm trying to go fast, aren't the big muscles already pushing as hard as they can just to push me forward? So how can they have any force-applying capacity "left over" to handle transmitting additional forces from the upper body? If true, then there's no point in using upper body moves when my legs are pushing hard -- though perhaps upper body moves could help in "moderate" situations where my legs are pushing easier.

My quick answer is:

  • Upper body moves do help. Elite skaters use them, even when they're also using their leg muscles "hard".

  • Key biomechanical "trick" is that many human muscles can deliver higher force at lower muscle speed -- and deliver their highest force at zero muscle speed.

  • When more force is "loaded" onto the leg muscles from the upper body, the speed of their push is indeed slowed somewhat, but (almost) all of the force is transmitted.

  • Power = Force times Velocity. So if transmitting upper-body force results in higher Force to the ground but lower leg-push Velocity, is the Power larger or smaller.

  • Larger. For most propulsive situations and configurations, the increase in Force from upper-body moves outweighs the decrease in muscle speed, and the result is higher Power, which typically results in higher overall forward speed.

 

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