Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Warm up vs muscle memory: Physical, Mental or Neurological?

The title of this post brings to mind the old question: Animal, Mineral or Vegetable?  As I circulated around the perimeter of the rink during the first half of last night's Free Style session I experienced the usual frustration of trying to find a patch of ice that didn't have a coach and/or their skater parked smack dab in the middle of it.  Coach A. generally rigs my lesson so that I have thirty minutes to "warm up" while she coaches another skater.  Most of the time I wind up blowing that time advantage just perimeter stroking and taking evasive action to avoid other skaters. There's very little opportunity to attempt working on elements which I know are going to be part of my upcoming lesson.  Out of the corner of my eye I watch the digital hockey clock count away my precious warm up minutes without really finding an opportunity to explore any of my weak side elements.  If I do get a gap I usually attempt something in my strong direction, at least for the first few times.

After my lesson, which focused unsuccessfully on my list of usual suspect elements, I started to wonder what part of a warm up is physical vs mental?  It occurred to me that things like 3-turns and Mohawks in my strong direction require very little in the way of "warm up" before attempting them. Further, they require very little thinking on my part.  The same elements taken from my weak side don't happen at all during the first ten or fifteen minutes on ice.  After that if they do happen, a lot of thinking has to occur before and during their execution.

Even though I've been doing the weak side stuff for the same length of time as the ones from the strong side (actually more so, since I double up the practice on the weak side) they just refuse to enter into muscle memory. Why is that?   I have to think the whole process through: remember to bend the knee, pre-rotate, don't wide step, lean either into or out of the circle, etc. etc.  The amount of "admin" required is soul destroying.  And even with all this mindfulness going on in the background, sometimes (most times) the best laid Mohawks o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley.

Over and over, I come back to the same realization:  I don't have to think much about the strong side.  Those just happen.

Now before I go much further, I have tried different types of physical warm ups, (brisk walks, jumping jacks, etc.) followed by stretching regimes recommended by various skating gurus, and have come to the conclusion that the best warm up for a specific activity is probably the activity itself.  I've also come to the conclusion that muscles are at least "blood-heat" warm 24/7, so little if any further "warm up" is required.  Think about it:  if you suddenly had to jump up and run away from danger would you want a system that required a long and careful warm up plus stretching before making your escape?   Short answer: not unless you're bucking for a Darwin award.  You'd want a system that puts the pedal to the metal and gets the hell outta Dodge tout suite.

Then again, maybe what's not happening is precise muscle function, which is in turn controlled by the nervous system--ya know, maybe what I need is to have an acupuncturist chase me around on the ice and stick needles into various meridians until the correct muscles fire on my weak side.  Instead of Ice Capades I could have a debut role in "Acupuncture on Ice". One of those "spotlight" kinda things I suppose.

Or maybe since I have to think so much about the weak side elements, a therapist is in order; one who speaks with a heavy Viennese accent:  "Vie do you hate so much this forvard right inside Mohawk?" 

I don't know; I just don't know.

Meanwhile, those who have Face Book can watch this short video of a young fellow doing a wonderfully graceful double axel on in-line roller skates--something I'll never do regardless of which side I might try it from.


  1. Oooh, "Acupunture on Ice!" Pick me, pick me! I totally agree that too much mindfulness (or in my case, too SLOW mindfulness) makes certain moves impossible. Like that gorgeous double-axel from that guy on %$%#% roller blades!!!! How did that just happen?

  2. Hi Jo: Thanks for the moral support in spite of my rant. And yes the young man on snow-flake roller skates is quite something! His skates appear to be three rollers rather than four as in some in-line skates.

  3. Maybe try figures? My experience is that after a few minutes of edges work on 8s my Mohawk, 3s etc. tend to be better...