Ken Roberts

Lots of skaters could be much more effective in using heel-brake for slowing and stopping, if they understood better how to make it work.

Who this page is for:

  • Inline skaters who get out to skate for exercise or to go some place, and
  • whose skates came in their box with a heel-brake already attached as the standard assembly configuration from the manufacturer:
    Keep reading below on this page.

Other kinds of skaters and skates -- see other pages:

  • instructors, or
  • people who want the underlying theory:

See analysis page describing all the different methods

  • racers or speedskaters, or those
  • whose skates did not come in their box with a heel-brake already attached as the standard assembly configuration from the manufacturer -- skates where the heel-brake can be attached as a separate option:

See the page for skates not specifically designed for heel-brake stopping

  • hockey, dance, jumps, tricks, grinds: 

Find some other source of information about stopping -- perhaps among these resources for learning -- since we don't know much about those kinds of skating.

key points

  • The obvious way to use a heel-brake does not enable quick stops, for many skaters.

Why not?  See below.

Not sure if you're getting a quicker stop? Then you're probably not.

  • For most skates that come in their box with a heel-brake already attached, there's a straightforward method for making a quicker stop, which most skaters could learn.

?? General recreational skates ?? see photos of examples.

?? Other kinds of skates: hockey, speedskates, freeskate - FSK - aggressive, dance.

This straightforward method is called Method C.

?? name of method, 5-word description.

Usually it delivers stopping force about three times stronger than the obvious way.

Method C is a special skill and does require some balance and some practice.

It is possible that some skates that satisfy those criteria above do not enable effective stopping by using Method C. For how to tell more accurately if some pair of skates supports Method C, [ see the C test ].

  • Most learning skaters should take lessons from an instructor about how to stop,  because stopping is very important -- and it does require some skill and balance to achieve a quick stop.

A good instructor can help provide a safer environment and learning approach, check if your skates and heel-brake are appropriate for your needs, and help find ways around hang-ups and confusions.

How find an instructor? see below.

Don't think that effective stopping should require learning new skill and balance? see below for alternatives.

[ Rollerblade ABT ]

[ Riding a bicycle provides exercise while without much more skill required for stopping than for riding -- and a foldable bicycle is almost as convenient to take inside buildings or on trains as a pair of skates. ]

  • Some websites contain some confusing ideas about how to perform this method. It is straightforward to identify and avoid these confusions, then focus instead on learning what really works.

what's here

see also

back to Top | Resources | formulas | more Heel-Brake | more Stopping


intro

Who am I?

I am not an instructor. I'm a skater who has tried some different heel-brake designs and different heel-brake (and non-heel-brake) stopping methods -- and who knows the relevant physics pretty well, and has put some work into analyzing how the structure of heel-brake design and skate + frame + brake configuration work to stop a skater.

Skaters who want to learn something this important for not getting hurt, should learn it from someone experienced with the tremendous fascinating complexity of helping real humans succeed in trying new actions -- an insightful and experienced human instructor (not just from reading some words on a web page based on physics).

Not like stopping a bicycle?

Most people find that it's pretty easy to make a bicycle stop in a quick and predictable way, by squeezing the brake lever with their hand (if it's a hand-brake), or by pressing their foot in the correct direction on the pedal (if it's a pedal-brake). The only skills or balance needed is to know which lever (or pedal) to press in which direction, and to not lean forward so their head doesn't fall forward onto the ground when the wheels stop.

Seems like with skates, if somebody knows to press the heel-brake downward against the ground, and to lean their head and shoulders back a little, they ought to get a quick and predictable stop. But for most people learning to skate, that's not how it works. Instead they come to a stop only slowly.

Most bicycles are usually easier to stop quicker because:

  • most bicycles have multi-part mechanisms with levers and cables to magnify and transmit the braking force applied by the rider's muscles.

  • the human muscles used to apply braking force on a bicycle, such as fingers squeezing a lever (or foot pressing down on a pedal), are muscles that practice their strength often in other similar moves performed in many other activities of normal living.

But most inline skates provide little magnification of braking forces applied by the rider's muscles, if the rider's body and legs are in an obvious normal standing or skating-propulsion position. And the usual human muscles for the obvious heel-brake move (e.g. pulling up with the top of the front of the foot) do not get much strengthening-practice in other activities of normal human living.

How come skates aren't designed to make it easier?

Which raises the question: How come most inline skates don't come with some clever multi-part mechanism that magnifies the muscular force, or enables stronger muscles to be applied?

Actually several clever mechanisms like that have been designed and manufactured and sold -- though some of those mechanisms do not work as well as others, and some have disadvantages.

But most inline skaters (including me) still purchase skates without such mechanisms. Different skaters haver different reasons. Here's my reason:

If I just wanted something easier to use without learning any new skills, I'd just ride my bicycle. I skate because it's magical, not because it's easy. And because skates allow me to "show off" my ability to learn new skills and new kinds of balance.

When I bought my first pair of skates, I was expecting to be learning some new skills and balance. I did not know then that braking was going to have to be one of those new skills. But on most "general recreational" skates (with good concepts and a decent instructor), the skill and balance for quick braking is not more difficult to learn than lots of other skating things. So I was glad to learn it, and then glad to purchase more skates that also required skill and balance for braking.

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Method for stronger braking

??

 

concept of this Method

The fundamental idea is to press the brake pad down by pressing the back of the lower leg backward against the inside of the back of the high boot stuff -- and to get the force to press the lower leg backward mostly from the skater's body weight.

Most of the skater's body weight is not in attached rigidly to the lower leg, so much of the force must be transmitted through the knee joint. Which means that muscles must be used to hold the knee joint rigid. Those muscles are the knee-extension muscles (e.g. "quadriceps") -- which are among the biggest strongest muscles in the human body. And the knee extension muscles don't have to move, they just have to hold rigid ("isometric") -- which is the mode in which they can apply their largest force. So these muscles are good candidates for this task.

There's a trade-off here in the physics, because pressing the lower leg down and back (which transfers weight off from the wheels of the front skate onto the brake pad) also tends to move the weight of the buttocks and upper body down and back -- which tends to transfer weight off from the brake pad and backward onto the rolling wheels of the rear skate.

So a key tip is to keep the knee joint of the braking leg extended straight -- to maximize the force against the inside back of the boot cuff without any extra movement of the hip down and back. It turns out that the amount of motion of the hip down and back is still a rather large -- but as long as the greater gravitational leverage is being transmitted thru the knee joint to the lower leg pressing back, then it's worth it. On the other hand if the weight of the buttocks and upper body further back is mostly supported by the rear skate, then dropping the hip further back is not worth it.

Since it takes (isometric) strength in the knee-extension muscles (e.g. quadriceps) to transmit the force of body weight into braking, skaters with less strong leg muscles might not be able to achieve the same tranmission of body weight, and so might not achieve as high an intensity of braking force.

How far to drop the knee + hip back? There's a minimum needed just in order to move brake pad into contact with the ground and press the back of the lower leg into full effective contact with the inside back of the boot cuff to transmit significant force. Basically that's the critical angle + position. Applying more force compresses the foam in the inside back of the boot and the body tissue in the back of the lower leg a little more, which allows the knee and hip to move back a little farther. If press harder and drop the knee and hip lower, perhaps could get the rear wheel of the braking skate up off the ground.

 

Why this Method is stronger: because it uses stronger muscles -- big leg muscles -- which get frequent practice when walking and lifting things.

Techique levels of this Method:

  • The "Basic" level technique for this Method is to learn to apply substantial force thru the brake pad and remove substantial weight from the rear wheel of the braking skate (the front skate).

  • The "Enhanced" level technique is to transfer substantial weight from the non-braking skate (rear skate) to the brake pad (but without putting more weight on braking skate's rear wheel).

The maximum theoretical sustainable weight on the brake pad is full body weight -- with the skater balanced on only a single point of contact with the ground. But this would require a very smooth consistent ground surface, not always found where quick strong braking is needed.

What is more stable is to keep some weight on the rear wheel of the braking skate. That way if the braking friction suddenly decreases, the lower-than-expected deceleration tends to move the skater's body backward relative to the braking skate, which tends to put more pressure on the brake pad, and increases the braking force again -- so it's somewhat self-regulating. Whereas if the pressure on the brake pad is already at maximum, it can't go any higher to compensate for a sudden smoothness or slipperiness of the ground surface.

On the other hand, if rear non-braking skate carries some body weight while the wheel of the braking skate does not, then these two points of suppport are not as stable, because if the braking friction suddenly increases, the higher-than-expected deceleration twnes to move the skater's body forward relative to the braking skate, which tends to put more pressure on the brake pad, which intensifies the unexpected braking friction even more, makes the problem worse - (at least until the rear wheel of the braking skate comes into contact with the ground again).

My take: 

This question of different approaches to weight distribution for stability and enhanced braking power is mostly theoretical -- because with most skate wheelframe + boot configuration designs, takes enormous torque to transfer weight from the rear wheel of the braking skate to the braking pad. First from the geometry of the wheelframe + boot, second because successful braking action tends to push the body's center-of-mass forward.

But transferring weight off from the rear non-braking skate to the braking skate and its brake pad is pretty straightforward, because: first, wheelframe-brake-boot configuration has little to do with it (it's mostly about body joint configuration); and second, successful braking action helps it happen.

Therefore I suspect that most people overestimate how much they're achieveing in weight transfer from braking skate rear wheel to brake pad.

Therefore I suspect a better strategy for most skaters is to devote more conscious attention to increasing weight transfer from brake-skate wheel to brake pad (by dropping the knee + hip lower) and less priority on conscious attention to taking weight off the rear skate wheels.

 

Body Position for Basic level

The critical requirements for the body position required to perform this Method effectively are:

  • only the rear wheel and the brake pad of the front skate are in contact with the ground. (all the other wheels of the front skate are up in the air -- the rear skate is rolling on the ground to help balance)

  • the back of the lower leg is pressing against the inside of the back of the cuff of the boot of the skate.

These requirements imply some other key characteristics of body position:

  • the whole braking leg must be leaned backward, not erect, so

  • the hip must be substantially behind the ankle of the braking leg -- sitting down and back.

  • the braking leg is held straight from ankle to hip, that minimizes the need to move the hip down and back. The more the knee is bent, the further the skater must sit down and back, which is more strenuous on the leg muscles, without increasing braking force - (dropping the hip back by bending the knee actually tends to decrease breaking force.)

Moving the weight of the buttocks back and down is not what increases braking power -- Pressing the back of the lower leg backward the high cuff of the boot is what increases braking power. There's no point in dropping the weight of buttocks back unless you use it to help press the the lower leg backward against the high cuff.

  • the other foot and skate are usually substantially behind the braking skate (for this Basic level) -- to support the hip of the braking leg which is leaning back, make the skater feel more secure in balance.

Here's an example of a skater in position for this Method: 

?? [ insert photo ]

Also look for this position in the videos

??

though note that the skaters are only using this Method in the final phase of their stopping, so that's when you'll see the position.

Practice static body position

It's usually not a bad idea to try out this position while not skating -- perhaps indoors.

In a safe environment in case you fall: no edges or corners nearby, no protruding objects or surfaces, no objects on the floor or ground.

At first with a wall or counter-top for support on one or both sides, and another person to help support you as you try to get into the position.

Wearing as much padding as you need to be safe.

If in doubt about how to set up the environment or your equipment or padding or get into this position without any chance of hurting yourself, then do it only with the help of a good instructor.

 

?? [ more to be added ]

 

Equipment check

Once you're in that braking position, you can check to see if your skating equipment is suitable for using this Method of braking. Here's the test:

Try to press the back of your lower leg firmly against the cuff of the boot of your skate, and answer these questions:

  • Does this result in the brake pad getting pressed down strongly into the ground or floor?

if Yes, then OK so far.

if No, is it because the cuff of the boot is so low that you can't press much against it? (then there's not much hope for using this Method with this skate + brake configuration -- see this page for other ideas).

or is it because you would have to sit your hip back and down so far that it takes too much strength or flexibility to reliably use that position while actually skating? (then there's not much hope for using this Method with this skate + brake configuration -- see below for other ideas.)

  • Is there strain in your tendons or joints or muscles on the top of your foot or ankle, or strain in your tendons or joints or muscles the front of your ankle or shin or lower leg?

if Yes, then OK so far.

if No, then there's not much hope for using this Method with this skate + brake configuration -- see below for other ideas.

  • Do you feel pain in the back of your leg as it is pressed back against inside of the back of the cuff of the skate boot?

if Yes, then OK so far.

if No, then probably the cuff of your boot does not have a good shape for your leg for this Method, or does not have enough padding on its inside. So there's not much hope for using this Method with this skate + brake configuration -- see this page for other ideas.

  • Could you hold that body position for 4 seconds? (the position needed to effectively transmit strong pressure through the brake-pad to the ground) -- Or is your hip sitting back and down so far that it takes too much strength or flexibility to hold that position while actually skating?

if Yes to this and the previous questions, then your skate + brake equipment is probably suitable for using this Method for more effective and quicker braking. There might be some more tricky problem with it, but that's something your instructor and you will have to discover and figure out how to handle.

if No, then see the following section for ideas . . .

dealing with equipment problems

If you answered No to one or more of the questions just above, that's not good for using this Method.

One more thing to try before giving up on this Method is to check if the brake pad is worn down substantially. If so, you could try replacing it with a new unused brake pad (which is a simple modification of the skate + brake configuration), and do the "Equipment check" again and answer the questions.

Or perhaps your instructor can suggest some other creative way to use this Method to make effective stops.

Otherwise, the best we know to suggest is to consider the analysis and ideas on our page for skates not specifically designed for heel-brake stopping.

Body position for Enhanced level

The strategy for the techique for enhanced level of braking is to transfer substantial weight from the non-braking skate (rear skate) to the brake pad (but without putting more weight on braking skate's rear wheel). The way to make this kind of transfer of weight is to move more body parts forward and/or upward.

  • play with moving the shoulders forward (which requires them to move down -- but the forward helps increase braking force and the downward tends to decrease braking force, so try to emphasize the forward more than the down).

The thing to worry about is that you might get your weight so far forward that a small variation in braking force might make you fall down forward. But you might (or might not) find out from playing with it that this isn't a problem, because your hips sitting back have already moved so much weight so far back behind the braking skate.

  • move the hands and arms out forward and keep them high.

The second part of the Enhance strategy is to not allow some of this weight coming off the rear skate to get added to the braking skate's rear wheel. Since there's more weight trying to come to it (from moving shoulders and arms forward), it takes more force from the lower leg into the inside back of the boot cuff to instead "steer" the weight to the brake pad. Therefore:

  • try to drop the knee + hip back even lower -- while keeping the knee joint extended (no bend) -- to drive the brake pad into the ground even harder.

Advance exercise

Advanced exercise for skaters with excellent balance who have mastered the other Basic and Enhanced techniques:

  • play with trying to lift the rear skate a little ways off the ground.

This is to develop balance and feel, expand your range of options. It not likely that lifting the rear non-braking skate up increases braking force in most real-world situations -- because weight taken off the rear skate does not necessarily all go onto the brake pad -- some of it goes onto the braking skate's rear wheel (which does not help stopping any more than when the weight was on the rear non-braking skate's wheels.)

And the mental focus to lift the rear foot and balance may distract too much from the more important focus on transmitting force to the lower leg and skate cuff from the low knee + hip position.

So there's no simple rule like "lifting rear foot works better" -- you have to play with different combinations and find out for yourself.

Learning it

The hard part is getting into the body position and apply braking force while actually rolling at some significant speed, without any outside support to lean against.

The next hard part beyond that is to do it reliably in "real world" situations like on hills and rough pavement -- and "on demand" when the unexpected happens, not just when you have time to prepare for stopping.

But that's not something this website is going to try to do for you -- because different people learn new skills and balance in different ways -- so what worked for me might not work for you.

Find a good instructor.

?? For some other ideas about how to learn heel-braking, consider some of [ these resources ] -- especially the [ videos ]. But note that some of them have some confusions described below -- so take their many good helpful ideas, but carefully test the points which might be based on such confusions. Another reason to learn with an instructor who can help you sort out what really works for you and your equipment and your own learning style.

Confusions in some explanations

??

Some websites contain some confusing ideas about how to perform this method, and seem to be confusing it with other stopping methods for special kinds of skates or special kinds of heel-brakes. It is straightforward to identify and avoid these confusions, then focus instead on learning what really works.

The typical confusion is to suggest that [[smr: putting body-weight directly over the heel brake is right and helps stopping for skaters]] it helps stopping for the skater put their body-weight directly over the heel-brake. But actually [[smr:  putting weight directly over the heel-brake often hinders Method C]]  that move often hinders Method C, for most skate - wheelframe - brake configurations as supplied by the manufacturer without modification.

Another confusion is to suggest to avoid straightening the leg for Method C. But extending the knee joint so the leg is straight from the hip joint to the ankle joint actually makes Method C easier, since then you don't have to drop the hip down and back so far.

How could websites have confusions? One underlying problem for

?? [[smr: websites is a confusion about what method to use, Method B or Method C, or mixing details of each method together. ]]

these websites might be that they're confusing how to do Method B with how to do Method C.

?? [[smr:Also, explaining bodily motions, mechanics and perceptions in words is generally difficult.  Without knowing the special needs of the reader, a writer must, in advance, provide guidance in a book, website or blog.]]

Anyway it's difficult to explain something about our bodily motions and perceptions in words the must be carefully written in advance, without knowing the special needs of each individual skater, like in a book or website. A big advantage of a live instructor is that it's usually much easier to see and explain and show when you're right there together actually doing it.

 

back to Top | Resources | formulas | more Heel-Brake | more Stopping

Finding an Instructor

??

 

Did it work?  or not?

??

 

back to Top | Resources | formulas | more Heel-Brake | more Stopping

more . . .

see also

back to Top | Resources | Formulas | more on Stopping