Devoted ice skaters need to cross-train since we repeat the same movements over and over, often for hours at a time on a regular basis, this is hard on the body at any age. I train with teens in a Sport-Study Programme and they often complain about the same aches and pains that I do! Unlike the teens though, we adult figure skaters may have pre-existing injuries that can be aggravated by the intensity of our figure skating training, we also need longer recovery times between intense training sessions and, unfortunately, take longer to heal from injury.
There are all kinds of cross training possibilities out there and is really just a question of finding something that floats your boat and helps to counteract the negative aspects of intense figure skating activity. I have tried ballet, yoga, triathlon, Pilates and Cross Fit and really enjoyed them all, in the summer time I like to be outdoors as much as possible so cycling is my activity of choice. Of late i’m finding that I really need to focus on flexibility a lot more… the joys of the aging body!
The Essentrics™ technique was created by Miranda Esmonde-White, a former dancer with the National Ballet Company of Canada. After retiring from professional dancing she opened her own dance & fitness center in Montreal. American readers may have seen her TV show “Classical Stretch” on the PBS network. . To quote her website: “The ESSENTRICS™ technique is based on the concept of eccentric muscle contractions, which strengthen the muscles in the lengthened position. This type of muscle activation increases tension on the muscles as they lengthen, creating a long, lean and toned physique, helping to relieve aches and pains and to prevent injuries. The simultaneous strengthening and stretching in ESSENTRICS™ results in a strong, vibrant, youthful and pain-free body.”
As well as helping mere mortals, numerous elite athletes have also benefited from Essentrics™, notably figure skaters Megan Duhamel and Amelie Lacoste, as well as the Montreal Canadians Hockey team.
Since Miranda Esmond-White is based in Montreal, I decided to try out an “Essentrics™ Aging Backwards” class. According to the website, it is “aimed at regaining your mobility while slowly building strength and re-awakening the power of your 620 muscles…. It is designed for those who have atrophy-related stiffness, frozen shoulder, chronic aches and pains, or who are beginning to exercise after a long sedentary period….” Chronic aches and pains? Yep, that’s me!
We started with a very gentle but thorough warm-up, followed by some very gentle stretches done first at the barre and then on the mat. As an adult figure skater, I really appreciated working barefoot and the time we spent working on the feet. One of the down sides of skating is having your feet and ankles relatively immobile for long periods of time. I never broke a sweat, but I felt comfortable, warm and energized. In a perfect world, I would do this class right before my on-ice training! It was also good to focus on stretching and mobilizing the joints that don`t get a whole lot of use in skating (feet and upper body), as well as taking the time to mobilize all of my joints through their entire range of motion.
I had the opportunity to take a more advanced Essentrics class as part of my figure skating coach continuing education program. This one was “Aging Backwards on steroids”, as always the exercises look oh-so-easy but we did a two hour session. Unlike regular stretching classes you never go to the point of pain, the muscles are gently warmed up and are progressively taken through greater ranges of motion, we focused a lot on hip flexor and hamstring mobility since these tend to get very tight in figure skaters.
If you can’t get to a class fear not! all her classes are on DVD and there are Essentrics™ trained teachers all over the world, so you have no excuses to not give it a try. Check out their website and be sure to share how you cross-train for figure skating on this website!