Saturday, March 30, 2013

Figure Skaters and motion sickness--is Dramamine a good idea or not?

Skaters who are determined to climb the free style skill ladder sooner or later encounter two foot and single foot spins.  Most beginning spinners, myself included, can only practice spins for a limited number of episodes before becoming slightly or in some cases violently motion sick.  The commonly accepted notion is that one becomes habituated to these cycles of unusual vestibular stimulation and over time adapts to the point of being able to do a rapid spin and immediately after finishing, carry on with another element requiring good balance and timing, for example a jump, without requiring time to "clear" one's head.  Below are a couple of abstracts from research articles which indeed strongly suggest that free stylers in fact do adapt.  So if you're currently suffering, hang in there! 

As an aside, can anyone comment on the efficacy of taking over the counter motion sickness drugs such as Dramamine prior to practicing spins?  It and other OTC remedies have a long history in dealing with the off vertical axis rotational stimulation produced during episodes of other types of motion sickness such as car sickness or sea sickness.  Would they work for figure skaters doing spins?

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008 Dec;104(6):1031-7. doi: 10.1007/s00421-008-0859-7. Epub 2008 Aug 30.

Vestibulo-ocular reflex and motion sickness in figure skaters.


UPRES-EA 3917 Mobilités: Cognition et Temporalité, Faculté de médecine, Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, 14032 Caen Cedex, France.


In order to determine the effect of figure skating on the functional plasticity of the vestibular system, we quantified vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) and motion sickness (MS) intensity in 11 female figure skaters and 11 matched control subjects. Vestibular stimulation consisted of three cycles of sinusoidal rotation (0.025 Hz, +/-60 degrees /s) and two velocity steps of 60 degrees /s (acceleration 60 degrees /s(2)). Nauseogenic stimulation consisted of a constant velocity (60 degrees /s) off vertical axis rotation (OVAR) using a 15 degrees tilt angle. Subjective sickness symptoms were rated immediately after OVAR with the Pensacola diagnostic index. During sinusoidal stimulations, the skaters' VOR, as compared with that of the controls, demonstrates a gain that is 27% lower (0.44 +/- 0.12 vs. 0.58 +/- 0.10; P < 0.01) and a phase advance (10 +/- 12 degrees vs. -0.3 +/- 6.4 degrees ; P < 0.05). During velocity steps, the VOR gain is 32% lower among the skaters (0.52 +/- 0.14 vs. 0.71 +/- 0.12; P < 0.01), but there is no difference in time constant (10.8 +/- 1.8 s vs. 10.5 +/- 2.7 s; P = 0.78). Nauseogenic stimulation evokes significantly less MS in figure skaters than in control subjects (2.8 +/- 2.8 vs. 16.2 +/- 13.7; P < 0.01). Quantitative alterations in VOR parameters observed in figure skaters probably result from vestibular habituation induced by repeated unusual stimulations when practicing figure skating.

Neuroreport. 2008 Mar 26;19(5):565-8. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e3282f9427e.

Are otolithic inputs interpreted better in figure skaters?


EA 3917 Attention, Orientation et Fonctions Exécutives, Universite of Caen, 14032 Caen Cedex, France.


The aim of this study was to investigate whether figure skaters, as individuals who experience intense vestibular stimulation, presented modification of the otolith-ocular reflex. The reflexes of 12 figure skaters were assessed using off vertical axis rotation (OVAR). Horizontal otolith-ocular reflex during OVAR is characterized by two parameters: the eye velocity horizontal modulation, assumed to compensate for perceived lateral linear translation, and the bias, assumed to compensate for the perceived rotation. We observed that skaters presented smaller amplitude of modulation and truly compensatory bias compared with control participants. Thus, the otolithic signal during OVAR seems to be interpreted more as rotation and less as translation or inclination in figure skaters.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The List

It's been roughly a year and a half since I returned to figure skating.  I decided to take stock of my skill set, such as it is.  Predictably, some skills are fairly good while others range from mediocre to bad to frankly nonexistent.  In fairness some of the items in the "nonexistent" category are "wish list" skills which I've been introduced to in my Power Stroking class but I've yet to have had any formal instruction during group lessons.  The mediocre column includes a few elements which have degraded because I've not used or practiced them since passing which ever ISI level they are part of.  Braking a T-stop with my left foot is an example of one.  My preference is to use the right skate and over time I've become less and less polished with the mirror image skill.   I plan to come back to this list every six months or so to see how many if any of the poor skills can be moved over to the good column.  I'll be a happier bunny when most of these are living under the good column.  Lots and lots to work on...

Good Mediocre Bad Nonexistent
Forward Stroking Back outside edges Back Cross-overs, CW Back Swing rolls
Forward Cross-overs Back Cross-overs, CCW Back Power pulls Back Cross rolls
Forward Cross rolls Forward Power pulls Inside pivot Twizzles (any)
Forward Swing rolls LFO 3 Turn Two-foot spin Connecting Moves
Forward Edges RFI 3 Turn Half-flip jump Ballet jump
RFO 3 Turn Waltz jump

LFI 3 Turn Forward Spiral

Back Inside Edges Bunny Hop

T-Stop (right foot braking) T-Stop (left foot braking)

LFI Mohawk RFI Mohawk

Hockey Stop 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Meryl and Charlie: WOW!

Above is a video of their short dance.  For some reason I can't download the free dance but here's a link to if not all then most of the competitors, enjoy!  (V&M's FD in Nr 42; D&W's is Nr 44)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ever have a sucky skate?

Yeah, felt just like this.  Image credit: north wapiti blog.

Yesterday I stunk out the house.  Probably the fact that I was nursing a late winter cold didn't help.  I burned a couple hours of use or lose leave in the hopes of getting a confidence boost before my next evaluation in two weeks.  Well, it was "nothing doing" in the confidence boost dept.  Elements such as my up 'til now reliable forward pivot were simply not reporting for duty.  I did manage to stagger through several Waltz jumps and hacked out a couple of miserable looking half flips but I probably should have gone home and had a beer.  Even my usually pathetic but at least semi-presentable two foot spin was missing in action.  I was left shaking my congested head and wondering WTF?  Where did all the progress that I experienced last Friday go?  Madam Skating Director skated by in between coaching private students and said "just remember a bad session on the ice still beats working--it happens, but if you have three bad sessions in a row then you need to figure out why".  Hopefully I'll get some of my Mo Jo back before Thursday's lesson and won't have to go soul searching.  Two lessons are left in this flight of group lessons.  After that I'll have four weeks to get over the top of FS-1 before they melt the ice for annual maintenance over May and June.  Will I put it off?  Stay tuned.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Stretches to improve spirals

I've got a test coming up in two weeks and my spiral, among other things, needs help, so continuing with the last post on the virtues of stretching here is a youtube video which zeros in on exercises particular to the spiral (holy-moly, is she ever flexible):

My goal is to past Free-Style 1 before they melt the ice at the end of May so if I  manage to pass at the end of this flight of group lessons (two weeks) that's icing on the proverbial figure skating cake.  In addition to cleaning up my forward spiral I've got to make my two foot spin and half flip jump passable.  I was on the ice this afternoon and made progress with both of those after receiving some great tips from a woman who skates in my power stroke class.  My spiral is almost horizontal.  I've just-got-to-(pant)-strengthen-those back adductor-muscles-(ugh)-a-little-(oof)-more... Either that or get lighter boots and blades (haha, you can laugh now).

Stretching exercises for figure skaters

Yeah, yeah, we've all heard it before.  The thing I like about these stretches is that Skate Canada


provides a reason, i.e., an example of a skating skill which each stretch improves.  Check it out:

Skate Canada - Western Ontario
Western Ontario Sport Sciences Committee

Recommended Stretching Exercises for Figure Skaters

Stretching Exercises for:
Ankle Calf Complex Hamstring
Quadriceps Hip Flexor Adductors
Iliotibial Band Piriformis Gluteus
Neck Upper Back Low Back
Quadratus Lumborum   Chest Biceps
Triceps Forearm Flexors   Forearm Extensors  
  - area stretch will be felt
• Standing with one foot behind the other,
• Point the foot/toes of your back leg over so that the tops of the toes are resting on the ground.
• Bend both knees slightly until you feel a stretch in the front of the leg and ankle of the back leg.
• Increased ability to point the toes Example of a Skill
• Better line of the leg in dance and in edge sequences
• Free leg positions in landings and spirals
• Field moves (pivots)
Calf Complex

• Standing with one foot in front of the other,
• Slowly bend the front leg to shift your weight forward.
• Keep your back leg straight and press your heel to the ground.
• Hint: it may be helpful to do against a wall.
• You should feel a stretch in the calf of your back leg.
• Using the same position as above, bend the back leg to feel the stretch in the calf.
• Increased power for jumping.
• Increased knee bend
Example of Skill
• Increased knee bend and flow in dance and footwork
• Landings of all jumps
• Sitspin positions
• Field moves

• Position yourself on the side of a bench with the leg to be stretched straight in front of you and leave the other foot resting on the floor.
• Slowly lean forward at the hips keeping your back straight until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg.
• This can also be done by sitting on the ground and reaching forward in the same manner.
• Increased ability to lift your leg higher to the front
• Decreased strain on the lower back
• Increased power for jumping
Example of a Skill
• Sit spin
• Split Jumps
• Jump take-offs
• Standing on one leg,
• Reach behind you and hold onto the ankle of your other leg.
• Pull the ankle up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.
• Increased power for jumping
• Increased extension of the hip and flexion of the knee
Example of a Skill
• Better lift into jumps
• Landings of jumps
Hip Flexor

For the right side:
• Kneel down on your right knee.
• Place your left leg in front of you at an angle greater than 90 degrees.
• Push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the front of the right hip (the side which you are kneeling on).
• Increased hip extension
• Decreased strain on the low back
Example of a Skill
• Increases the flexibility on landings and in dance positions of leg extension
• Layback spin positions (skating leg)
Camel spin positions (free leg)

A: Sitting Down
• Place the bottoms of your feet together and allow your knees to drop out to the sides.
• Gently press on your knees towards the floor to feel a stretch on the inside of your thighs.
B: Kneeling
• Kneeling on one knee with the other leg straight out to the side,
• Point the toes of your straight leg up towards the ceiling.
Slide the straight leg slowly away from you until you feel the stretch on the inside of your thigh.
• Increased leg lifts to the side
• Increased power for jumping
Example of a Skill
• Flying camel, death drop, butterfly
• Spiral
• Jump take-offs
Iliotibial Band
• Cross one leg behind the other.
• Bend both knees slightly so that your knees are not locked.
• Bend over and reach towards the toes
of the leg which is crossed behind.
• The stretch should be felt on the outside of the leg which is crossed behind.
• Decreased compression of the femoral condyle and patella femoral joint
• Decreased lateral pull on the patella allowing it to have better mechanics
Example of a Skill
• Better line of the pelvis on cross behinds during footwork
• Cross foot spins

• Lying on your back with one knee bent to 90 degrees,
• Place the ankle of the other leg on the knee of the bent leg.
• Grasp around the thigh of the foot on the ground and gently pull your leg towards your chest.
• A stretch should be felt in the gluteus area.
• Increased power in jumping
• Balances the pelvis muscularly
• Decreased tension in gluteus area
Example of a Skill
• Increased flow on cross behinds and connecting steps
• Jump takeoff steps and fly sit spins
• Sitting with your legs out in front of you,
• Bend one knee and cross it over the other leg.
• Place your hands on/around the bent knee and pull it gently across your body.
• A stretch should be felt in the gluteus area.
• Do not twist in the lumbar spine.
• Increased stability of the pelvis
• Decreased mechanical affects on the sacrum
Example of a Skill
• Increases the flow of edges because of the ease in crossovers (Balance)
• Connecting steps/footwork

For the right side:
• Place your right arm behind your back at the level of your waist.
• Place your left hand on the top of your head.
• Gently with your left hand guide your head forward until you feel a slight stretch, then into left side bending (left ear to shoulder) and then into left rotation (rotate your head to the left).
• You should feel a stretch on the right side of your neck.
• Decreased tension in the shoulders
• Decreased tension in the neck
• Increased mobility in the neck
Example of a Skill
• Ease of expression with head movement and an increase in neck mobility
• Balance
• Layback spins
Upper Back
• Cross one arm in front of your chest, keep it at chest height.
• Place your other hand on the elbow of the arm crossed in front of you and pull your arm towards your chest.
• Leaning slightly forward and adding slight rotation may increase this stretch.
• A stretch should be felt through the shoulder blades and upper back.
• Decreased tension in the shoulders and neck Example of a Skill
• Spinning/rotation for jumps
• Pair/dance positions
Low Back

• Sit on the ground, legs out in front of you and knees slightly bent.
• Tuck your chin towards your chest.
• Reach forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your low back.
• Decreased strain on the lumbar spine
• Decreased lordosis of the low back
• Increased flexibility in forward bending
• Decreased strain on the hamstrings
Example of a Skill
• Sit spin
• Dance posture
Quadratus Lumborum
For the Right side:
• Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
• Let your right knee bend to allow the right hip to drop slightly.
• Reach up over your head with your right arm and bend at the waist to the left.
• A stretch should be felt on your right side.
• Helps to prevent pelvic muscle imbalance
Example of a Skill
• Increased flexibility in side bending for layover positions
• Field moves

• Stand sideways about one foot from the wall.
• Place the arm closest to the wall up against it at shoulder height.
• Gently twist your whole body away from the wall to feel a stretch across your chest.
• Decreased rounding of the shoulders
• Increased power for jumps
• Increased extension of the arms
Example of a Skill
• Improved general posture which is pleasing to look at
• Balance and stability for all skating skills
• Stand with your back to a counter or shelf (or you can just place your hand against the wall).
• Your arm should rest against or on something at shoulder height.
• Bend both knees slightly to feel a stretch in the front of the upper arm and or the shoulder.
• Increased drive up into jumps
• Increased extension of arms
Example of a Skill
• Increased in the height of jumps
• Field moves
• Place one arm over your head and bend your elbow while holding a towel or a stick in your hand.
• Grab the other end of the object with your other hand by reaching behind your back.
• Gently pull down on the stick or towel with the lower arm so that you feel a stretch in the back of the arm which is over your head.
• Increased extension of your arm over head
• Decreases muscle imbalances
Example of a skill
• Lifts in pairs
• Arm positions over head in field moves
Forearm Flexors
• Hold your arm out straight in front of you with your palm facing down.
• Place your other hand on the palm of the hand which is held in front of you.
• Pull the hand upwards so that the fingers point towards the ceiling.
• A stretch should be felt on the under side of the forearm.
• Prevents muscle imbalances between the flexors and the extensors
• Prevents wrist injuries when you fall onto your hands
Example of a skill
• Press lifts in pairs and dance holds
Forearm Extensors
• Hold your arm out straight in front of you with your palm facing down.
• Place your other hand over the back of your hand which is held in front of you.
• Pull the hand downwards so the fingers point towards the ground.
• A stretch should be felt on the top of the forearm.
• Twisting the hand slightly away from your body may increase this stretch.
• Prevents muscle imbalances
• Prevents wrist injuries when you fall on your hands
Example of a Skill
• Press lifts in pairs and dance holds

Monday, March 4, 2013

Clearwater Ice Arena revisited

I was down in the St. Petersburg, Florida area two weekends ago for a boat race.  As was the case last year I took my skates along for the ride.  Last year I got up early and dropped in on an early  morning free style session.  This year before going south I searched the arena's web site in vain for that same FS session.  It was missing in action.  I did note a couple of public sessions, one of which was scheduled from 8:30 to 10:00 pm on Friday.

Now maybe last year I wasn't fully awake but this year the arena seemed a little down on it's heels.  The interior walls badly needed a fresh coat of paint and perhaps that's in the works.  Outside I noticed that the signage was little different and the exterior of the building was undergoing a major revamping.  One had to enter the arena via a side door which took one into the rink proper rather than the lobby.  Since I'd been there before I remembered how to get from the rink to the lobby in order to buy my ice pass.  That was a good thing because signs directing patrons to the lobby were small and easy to miss.

Once out on the ice most of the above didn't matter.  Ice is ice.  The typical Friday nite date crowd that can be found at any ice arena was out in force.  Basically there were the hockey kids whizzing around, a coach and several mid-level free stylers practicing in the center circle, teenagers skating in groups and/or stopping in the middle of traffic without any rhyme or reason.

I got in a bit of useful practice which was a good thing in as much as I was missing both a lesson and a power stroking session back home.  The other thing I noticed was that the rink seemed smaller than I remembered from last year--I really must have been asleep on my skates then!

Will I pack my skates when I return next year?   Probably.  The construction will probably be completed by then and hopefully the arena won't seem so drab.  I wonder if this rink has changed hands or perhaps management since last year.  Can any reader comment on this?

One positive difference between this year and the previous one was that upon my return to home ice I didn't break any bones!  The more I skate other venues, the more I come to value my home rink.