10 Ways Ice Skating Improved My Life

20 Apr
cropped layback spin feet

Figure skating has been one of the greatest joys of my life. It can be for you too! --Michelle (And yes, those are my legs and skates.)

I skated competitively as a kid for about 11 years before I took 9 years off due to knee trouble (Osgood-Schlatter’s condition) and to focus on school. During that time, I missed skating…and I gained a significant amount of weight. I skated occasionally for recreation and to stay limber but it wasn’t enough. I tried other types of exercise like running and yoga but nothing moved me like skating, and I didn’t stick with any of it. Then a few years ago, I called up my coach and asked him if he’d help me with some light training so that I could get back into shape. Within six months, he had me back in the skating club biannual recital and gearing up for competition. Within 18 months, I had won a couple local competitions. You see, while I was away from the sport, a whole track of testing and competition had been developed for a growing population of adult skaters–both people who started skating as adults and people, like me, who were skaters who became adults. This scene allows people 21 and up to test and compete within different age groups in levels similar to the traditional track but without the pressure of competing against kids who are working toward the regular national qualifying competition scene (e.g. 9 year olds who can do double loop jumps because they only weigh 60 pounds). Adult figure skating has its own regional competitions in which you can qualify for the adult nationals, which is my ultimate goal now.

I tried living my life without this sport and I can’t do it. It’s too ingrained into my muscle memory and my heart. No other workout provides the same level of full-body involvement for the duration of the exercise. It’s such a challenging, rewarding, and thrilling sport that taps into the dancer and artist in me. But it also is the only kind of exercise I’ve ever experienced that is so fun that I don’t think about the fact that I’m exercising; I’m only focused on trying to do the spins, jumps, or edge moves that I want to be able to do. I can’t encourage people enough to give it a real try. It’s so fun. When the cool air whooshes past my face as I skate around the rink, I feel exhilarated and joyful. Yesterday was my first day back on the ice in a month due to a sprained foot and being back felt so good that I had a really stupid big grin on my face the whole time.

Here are 10 ways that skating has improved my life, myself, and ways it could do the same for you (in no particular order):

1. Flexibility. Stretching is literally one of the best things you can do for your body. You should take stretch breaks multiple times throughout the day to keep your body limber, improve your circulation, and relieve tension. Regardless of your age or physical condition, everyone can stretch to some degree and everyone will see improvement in their flexibility and mobility if they stretch every day. This is the lowest impact form of off-ice conditioning that you can do. Take it easy at first so that you don’t over-extend or pull a muscle. Little by little, you’ll see and feel a difference in your neck, shoulders, back, hips, thighs, and mood. I always feel better after stretching. Once my muscles are warmed up, I feel like I can do anything. Because I have stretched so well for so long, I have an excellent layback spin, especially among adult skaters. It’s an amazing feeling to do that spin. Skating also pushes your body further with elements like a spiral, which is like doing a leg lift with what feels like a five-pound weight (a skate) on your foot. Improved flexibility can do wonders for your overall perception of your own physical capabilities.

2. Expectations. As your body changes during the course of your life, you have to re-learn certain things. For example, when you start skating as a young child (I started when I was six years old) and then you go through puberty, you have to re-learn how to execute each element with your new weight distribution and center of gravity (both boys and girls are affected by growth spurts in height and girls are affected by growth spurts in other areas as well). Then, as you get older and your knees, feet, and back change because of the mileage on them, you have to learn how to push yourself without hurting yourself. Skating has helped me learn how to adjust to these changes without feeling discouraged. It has shown me that there’s always a new vein of potential within myself to pursue. These same lessons about one’s body can be applied to changes in one’s life. You can learn to roll with the punches and still come out on top if you can adapt your expectations of yourself and others as people and circumstances change.

3. Discipline. As a kid, I skated every morning at 5:00 a.m. As an adult, I train a few times a week either around 7:00 a.m. or in the afternoon. Regardless of the time of day, what’s key are consistency, dedication, and practice. Learning to be disciplined about practice in order to achieve specific goals is an invaluable lesson I learned as a child skater. You can’t just tell a kid, “You can be anything you want when you grow up,” without also teaching them how to lay out a plan of action in order to work to get there. As an artistic and emotional person, I can easily get distracted. I frequently tap into the discipline I learned from skating in order to focus and get my work done. It helped me in school and it helps me even more as a freelance writer and editor. Sometimes it takes months to learn a new skating element, but the payoff of being able to do that move is an incredible high. I try to use that same kind of motivation in all aspects of my life…but it’s difficult. I still struggle with overindulgence in food or procrastinate with work at times. But having an example like I do from skating really helps.

4. Happiness. That stupid big grin I mentioned before? Yeah, that happens a lot in skating. It’s a pure, simple, invigorating kind of joy that I hope all people can experience in one way or another. No matter what’s going on in my life, I can leave it outside the rink and clear my head on the ice. And, despite a long break, skating has been and remains one of the greatest joys of my life.

5. Loyalty. I mentioned that I called up my old coach when I wanted to get back into skating. This is a man who has known me since I was 11 years old. He knows who I was, who I am, and what it takes to help me succeed. As a coach, he is part trainer, part psychologist, part uncle. He has devoted so much time and effort to me, which makes me want to reciprocate that time and effort on the ice and in achieving my potential in life. He has demonstrated that living a life of integrity can result in great rewards personally and professionally. (He also says that spending so many decades in cold rinks has preserved his good looks, ha ha. It’s not a total joke–he’s 70 and looks like Al Pacino did 20 years ago.)

6. Health. My 70-year-old coach still gets on the ice to demonstrate certain skating elements when he’s coaching. You’d never guess he was that old if you met him. He has so much energy. My grandparents, by comparison, are the same age as my coach and have multiple health problems (not all of which can be attributed to a lack of exercise or nutrition but some of which can). Skating is such a unique form of exercise because you’re in constant motion. Even when you’re hardly moving, just standing, gliding, and balancing on skates causes your whole body to work on keeping you balanced, which strengthens your core. When you skate, even at a low level or speed, your core is working, your legs–from your hips down to your feet–are working, your arms are working, and your cardiovascular system is pumping. Just 45 minutes of this can burn about 350 calories, according to WebMD’s Fit-O-Meter. And 45 minutes of a higher level of skating and momentum can burn as much as 600 calories! I would much rather spend 45 minutes learning to do new things on the ice without realizing I’m working my whole body than spend the same amount of time on a boring workout machine at a gym. It’s definitely true that the times of my life when I have been most fit and healthy have been when I’ve been skating regularly. And now that I’m trying to lose weight again, it’s time to pinch my pennies so that I can afford extra ice time to keep toning my body.

7. Control. Skating has taught me how to be deliberate in my execution of specific skating elements as well as how to better control my emotions and interactions with people. There are crucial little details about skating elements that can make or break a move. Extending your arm a certain way gives you better torque for your spins; how you place your toe pick in the ice affects the height of your jumps; and just the slightest deviation can cause you to do the element incorrectly. You have to envision what you are doing and be aware of your entire self. It’s a great lesson to apply to how you do things in life too. Think about what you’re doing. Follow the steps. Don’t cut corners or be oblivious. Then try to focus on what you’re doing on a crowded rink of skaters who are whirling around you. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t act rude or impatient with others. Keep your attitude in check. Set a good example for the kids who look up to you. Ignore divas and people who act like they’re better than you. Don’t compare your ability with others who are different and have different circumstances than you. These are all lessons I learned inside the rink that I apply to life off the ice as well. But again, with control as well as with other things in life and skating, practice makes perfect.

8. Artistic expression. When I hear music, almost always the first thoughts in my head are envisioning how I would skate to it. That kind of interpretation, choreography, and forethought are visual skills that draw on both physical and emotional intelligence. Being able to better express oneself through an outlet like skating is a great skill in life as well. It also can bring you unexpected joy. When you physically act out something you feel to music, your body and heart experience both the sound and the emotion of the music in new ways. It can open your heart to new possibilities and perspectives.

9. Strength. We know how many calories skating can burn and we know that it also improves flexibility. However, it also strengthens your muscles and thickens your skin like any intense sport. When you stroke around the rink, every muscle in your legs, core, and arms are working in tandem to keep propelling you forward (or backwards). When you learn higher-level elements, like jumps or sit spins, you push your thigh muscles to do things that combine the best of what yoga masters, weight lifters, and high jumpers do all at once. Skating is amazing because the artistic side of it makes the physical side of it look so easy…but it’s not! Skating strengthens your muscles and endurance capacity in ways that other sports can only do in combination with other exercises.

10. Long-term commitment. I have been skating now for more years of my life than I have not. I also have maintained life-long friendships with some people and I was in a relationship with my husband for nine years before we got married 18 months ago. I knew what field I wanted to enter when I was 14 so I joined the newspaper staff, then went to journalism school, and now I’m a freelance writer and editor. One might argue that I just have a personality type that lends itself to long-term relationships in general. However, I believe my commitment to skating taught me how to stay committed to people and goals. Skating, like life, can have its ups and downs, but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to give up on it. And skating has touched my heart in a way that means I’ll never let it go. I believe that because of that experience, I am better able to recognize good things when they come along and better able to hold onto them and nurture them as part of my life. These relationships, like my relationship with skating, have yielded me infinite joy back compared with the joy and love I put into them, which just fills me up with even more love to reciprocate with. It’s a beautiful cycle and part of life to learn, and it makes the rough patches of life all the more bearable.

I hope you’ll go to your local ice rink and give it whirl. Have fun! Let me know how you like it!

–Michelle :)

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