Dec 4, 2011

Adults and training intensity

I started skating seriously at the age of 37, although I had gone through what I think was probably the equivalent of Freestyle 2+/3 in college (this was before ISI had codified the levels, that is how old I am).  Then I didn't skate for 17 years.

When I started skating again, I didn't "train;" I skated a few times a week, and took a couple of classes. It wasn't until I decided to do USFS tests that I really started thinking about it as "training."

So what exactly is "training" and how does it differ from simple improvement?  How does it affect goals, and how does it affect that broken-down, over-scheduled, overweight body that you seem to have suddenly been saddled with?

Training vs. recreational skating
For adults, really, all skating is recreational. Like other hobbies, you can invest a nearly professional level of commitment to it, or you can do it for fun or as a social activity.

The biggest difference between a skater in training and one there just for fun is that the people in training usually have a goal, and it's often time-specific, like a test, show solo, or competition.

I like to define training as
a specific schedule of directed, dedicated activities designed to lead to a time- and/or skill-specific goal. It includes skill development, conditioning and strength training, and happens on a regular schedule, at least some of the time under the direction of a professional.
If you're just skating to keep up with the class levels, and to do your rink's shows, you're probably not training.  Even if you're skating every day, you're probably more recreational than training if it doesn't much matter to you when you land that jump or learn that dance, as long as you land it/learn it eventually.

A lot of adults (a lot of skaters in general) slide into a training mode without really thinking about it. Suddenly you realize you're taking 3 lessons, running and stretching before skating, and checking your pulse rate after your warm up, which has now become a serious effort to make you breathe hard.

Why train. Why not just skate?
For adults who are seriously trying to improve their skills, whether it's landing difficult jumps, or dancing with a partner, training mode is a better option, even if you're only skating a couple of times a week. If you think of yourself as training, you're not only helping your skating, and your health, you're helping your brain to take this frankly dangerous activity seriously. I see a lot of adults who won't follow a coach's technical advice because it's hard to fix technique, and they think that what they're doing is fine, it's not like they're in training, right?  So they keep making dangerous mistakes, because they think it doesn't matter.

Training while working
As any adult knows who has tried to have a job, a life, skating, and 8 hours of sleep a night, something's gotta give. For me, it was the job (haha). It was after I left my downtown executive position to teach and run my consulting business that I finally found time to train properly.  Other adults sacrifice the 8 hours--I see a lot of serious adult skaters on really early morning ice. I'm talking the 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. sessions.  When I worked downtown, I gave up lunch in the winters so I could go skate at the nearest outdoor rink, a 10 minute bus ride from my office.

Starting when you retire
This solves the time problem, but brings serious health concerns. Women who start skating hard after menopause should get a bone density scan. If it's problematic, I wouldn't say stop skating, but I would say stop jumping.  And don't skip the conditioning and strength training components. For older adults in serious athletic pursuits this is extremely important. Find an off-ice trainer who understands the issues of older adults, and has some familiarity with the specific conditioning and strength needs of skating (for instance focusing on core has opposed to extremity strength).

While you should understand your limitations (asthma, osteoporosis, certain medications like blood thinners and other medical issues do need to be shared with a medical professional), any reasonably healthy person can skate with no more risk than if they decided to start jogging. I actually started skating again because of back problems--my doctor gave me the choice of PT, surgery, or exercise. I told I had been a skater, and she loved it, because skating improves core strength, where my issues were. Sure enough, combined with the PT, this fixed my back issues.  It helps a lot that I had a doctor who didn't immediately freak out at the idea of skating (some of them do).

Training will definitely help with any weight issues you have, but you don't have to avoid skating just because you're overweight.

Isolation and confirmation
These two things are the biggest issues with being an adult skater. Find a program that honors adults, with sympathetic coaches and understanding of adult issues. This is easy in an urbanized area, where you have several rink choices.  You might end up somewhere farther than you would like, but trust me it will be worth it.

A lot of "good" coaches don't understand the slower trajectory, fear issues and schedule difficulties that plague adult skaters. I have also heard coaches, and I'm talking about coaches who accept adults as students, poking fun at, not only other adults, but at their own adult students. You'll know a program is good for adults if they have a lot of adults, a couple of coaches who focus on adults, and (the gold standard) dedicated "no one under 20" adult practice ice.

If you're in an area without choices, work to make your own coterie. Introduce yourself to other adults. Whenever you see an adult skater, ask them where they skate/train and who their coach is. Set up after-ice kaffeeklatches.

Skating as an adult is incredibly rewarding. I love the dropped jaws when people find out I didn't skate seriously until I was almost 40. Some of my best friends I met through skating.

How do you define training? How do you fit it into a grown-up schedule?


  1. I'm one of those who 'slid' into training. I've also been fortunate that I'm at a rink that supports adults. The day I retire is the day I start skating 20 hours a week.

    The only doctors I've had who aren't supportive of my skating are orthopedic surgeons. I guess they see an old lady, they immediately think 'infirm'. I'm astonished at how many women my age are effectively crippled. Sad.

    I like to test because you keep developing new skills. I'm committed to passing gold dance by the time I"m 70.

  2. Wow, Babbette, that's an impressive goal!

    I have just been recreationally skating. I am fortunate to have lunchtime ice 5 min from home--and I work from home 3 days/wk. But, I find it is very easy to skip a day of skating on the grounds that I just have too much work to do. I have a great coach who really gets adults and like to work with them, but I have a very hard time making a schedule and sticking to it.

    What, in your opinion, makes a reasonable training schedule as a first step? Running x days/wk? Does a brisk walk do enough or must it be running? (I'm a former runner, and not overweight, but now my knees just don't love me when I run now.) Weights x days/wk? How many? Skating on the other days? Skating on the same days? Any suggestions would be welcome.

  3. Great post! I define training as working towards a goal. Right now that is finally getting the dreaded left inside three turn consistently so I can work up a Delta program for competitions in the spring.

    I work full time and skate three times a week. I'd love to fit in another day but I also play flute in a wind band, sew (skating costumes and 'regular' clothes) and have a husband who thinks he needs to see me once in awhile.

    I can't wait until I retire so I can skate every day!

    I'm lucky to have a coach who loves working with adults. She grew up in the Soviet system where if you weren't winning medals, you were done skating by the age of 15.

  4. For conditioning training the idea is not the type of activity, but rather what it does for you physiologically. The point of aerobic conditioning (the "warm up) is to get your heart beat up to about 70% of your maximum heart rate for your age and weight (you can find guides on line), and then keep it there for about 20 minutes. The better your aerobic health is, the faster you can get it there.

    Some people recommend only a very light stretch before skating or other aerobic exercises, and to save a serious stretch for the cool down period.

    Running is very hard on the knees. Try cycling or stairs believe it or not. Better use of the muscles (and also better specificity for skating--stairs and cycling use the large muscles in a way quite similar to skating).

  5. What do you think of jumping if you have osteopenia? I'm in my 40s and started skating in my 40s. Have osteopenia from 3 years of chemo. I also have family history of osteoporosis and I'm small-boned and thin. I'm working on loop, flip and lutz and have zero aspirations to learn an axel.

    I definitely train - I skate about 4-6 hours a week, walk 3+ miles every day, do some light arm weights and leg lifts to help combat the osteopenia in hip and spine. Also stretch 5-6x a week but I'm not flexible at all despite the stretching.

    I would like to pass Silver moves and Bronze FS someday but probably will never get the sit spin low enough. I'm still going to try! I love your blog and thank you for this great topic.

  6. Skating is weight bearing exercise, so it tends to be good for bone strength. However, anyone with a diagnosed medical condition should always consult with a doctor, familiar with their medical history, before engaging in strenuous activity.

    Do I sound like the guy at the end of the cialis commercial, or what.

  7. Love this post (and a lot of other ones too)...working full-time w/limited options makes it difficult. However, I'm committed to passing my Adult Gold dances and start testing Internationals before I'm eligible for Masters and that not all that far away. Recreational skating morphed into training for me when I had to take an online sports participation class to finish my degree a few years ago.

    Being the only adult on a relatively busy freestyle session has its drawbacks; working on gold dances on these sessions makes it even more challenging. Glad I passed my Gold MIF a couple years ago...working on Intermediate Supplemental & maybe I'll pursue it, maybe not.

  8. I think I switched from recreational to training mode when ice time became sacred. Getting on the ice a certain number of hours per week was more important than work or getting dinner on the table. It payed off. I passed three USFSA tests and won two medals in competitions.

    Before being forced off the ice due to illness, I was weightlifting three times a week, stretching daily and had a routine of jumping rope and stretching before I set foot on the ice. I found that it reduced my warm up time and allowed for more figure skating specific skills on the ice.

  9. I have the luxury of empty lunchtime ice a few days/wk, so I can spend 2 hrs at a stretch. Should I still be warming up before I go out there, or can I reasonably call the first 1/2 hour my warm-up, if I use it for power stroking, cross-overs and a series of edges drills? Can you explain cost/benefit of off-ice vs. on-ice warm up?

  10. I got very lazy for a while, and was definately not training! I skate in the mornings before work, so when my job changed and I had to start at 8 instead of 8.30 or 9, it made it harder to get to the rink, as if i wasn't there by 6 (i walk to the rink, then get the bus to work), which meant leaving home at half 5, there's little point in me going. Fortunately, I've discovered work are pretty flexible as long as I tell them in advance, and I currently work 9-5 two or three days to make sure I can skate before work. It also adds to the motivation that if I don't skate, I'm staying til 5 (instead of 4) for "no reason".

    So I guess I'm getting back into training. Was hampered by an ankle injury, which is recovered about 85% now, so back jumping and spinning.

    I've submitted my test papers for level 1 field moves, but have no date yet. And I just started working on a new program for a competition at the end of april, or possibly one at the end of february if they offer adults. Seeing how much work there is to do on this motivates me to train properly!

  11. I'm definitely a recreational skater, even though I do have a goal: I want to learn at least all the elements in Basic Skills (through Basic 8: waltz jump, 1-foot spin). But I don't care how long it takes me to learn all this. At my rate, it will probably take 10 or 15 years, but that's fine with me. I skate twice a week, occasionally take classes (when I have coupons for free classes from my kids' registrations), and probably will never take any private lessons: I'd rather spend all my money on my kids. Who are definitely in the training mode. Their goals are time-specific.

    If I am having difficulty with something, I say: OK, I'll learn it eventually. If my kids are having difficulty with something, they say: mom, we need to skate more often and longer! (Especially the older one.) If I have to skip a skating session, I just live without it. If my kids skip a skating session or an off-ice training session (which doesn't happen often), they go and skate/exercise on another day instead. That's the difference between the recreational mode and the training mode.

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: FreeSkate 3 and Basic 2

  12. I was hoping someone not in training mode would chime in! Maria is right on target, and I think embodies the type of adult skater who is often disparaged or dismissed at the more clueless rinks. She's in for the long haul, but just doing it for fun. Over the life of her skating activity, she's going to be worth a fortune to that rink, but a lot of programs would dismiss her as "not serious."

  13. Great post, Xan, thank you!

    I've really enjoyed reading the comments and everyone's experiences too.

    I suppose I would define training as you do - working towards a specific goal (test, competition, skillset, etc.) As an adult, I've skated both in training mode and out, and personally I find I'm much happier with my skating when in more of a training mode, since I progress faster. (I am impatient...)

    I'm now skating about 8-10 hours a week, over 6 days. I skate at a couple of different rinks and at a variety of times in order to make it all work with a grownup schedule. I am incredibly lucky to have flexible work schedule and a rink 5 mins from my office for lunchtime skating. My daughter also skates seriously, so that makes the schedule a little more challenging!

    I do off-ice about 5 days a week in the evenings, except stretching which I do every day. I really like Dara Torres' resistance stretching program - plus I figure she became an Olympian again when she was over 40 so there's got to be something to it! My main focus for off-ice so far this time around has been core strength and flexibility, but I also do some plyo and off-ice jumping. I wouldn't suggest jumping off-ice without some training in how to do it safely.

    I know some people think I'm nuts for skating as much as I do, but it's something I've wanted my entire life and I FINALLY have the opportunity to do it - and I'm taking it!

  14. Great post Xan!

    I would say I'm in training mode though I sometimes struggle with motivation. I skate 5-7 hours a week (freestyle + figures). Like Emily above I am fortunate that my work schedule is somewhat flexible and I live/work 5 minutes from a rink... a rink with adult skate (coffee club) M-F. I also do Pilates one day a week but i really need to do a lot more off-ice conditioning.

    I am a slow learner so the only way I progress is with large amounts of practice. It also requires a lot of patience... which fortunately I do seem to have. I have also found that working on figures (with actual patch blades) has been a revelation as far as the weakness of my edges and posture in my skating before I started. I recommend it :-).

    Balancing work and skating is always tricky. Since I'm not married and have no children I don't have those responsibilities, but I do have to balance skating with piano, choir, travel for work and various other activities that keep me in motion.

    I started a Facebook group for the adult skaters in Phoenix and it's been helpful as a means of helping to build community among the adults here. Competing at Adult Sectionals (I'm Pre-Bronze so no Nationals for me) has been a source of inspiration and camaraderie.

    I'm also fortunate to have found coaches (both here in Phx. and previous in Portland and Tucson) that took me seriously and were willing to push me a bit.

    The Internet, blogs like this one, and SkatingForums have been a great resource also.

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  16. Gordon, I found your group-- fantastic community builing! What a great idea.

  17. I need to start skating more... *sigh*

  18. Me three, adds to the *sigh* chorus.

  19. I'm probably in training mode most of the time. I have certain goals in mind and I am working towards them. I have certainly sacrificed things in favour of skating (holidays versus new boots springs to mind) and do off ice stretching / exercises to hopefully improve my skating. However, there is no point in my doing all this if I'm not enjoying it!

    I skate twice a week before work, getting up at ~5.45am to get to the rink and practice before my lesson so I'm in training mode on those days, solidly working on things. Practice ice rules mean there is no socialising on the ice, so, other than to say hi, there is no chatting and everyone is practicing hard or in a lesson.

    I sometimes skate on public sessions too but it is getting too busy to do anything other than smaller moves safely on them at the moment so I'm not getting as much practice time as I was in the summer. Work gets in the way of more patch (practice ice) times!

    Another session I regularly go to is club which is once a week. It is usually quite busy (50+ on the ice) so it is not always easy to practice. That is my time to socialise with some practice thrown in! :P There is a dance group lesson which is ~80% adults and a lot of my skating friends do it whether they normally do dance or not so it ends up being a lot of fun! There are 2x15 min dance intervals so I always get up for all the dances I know and really try to improve them. The rest of the time either my friends and I take it in turns to watch for traffic while the other jumps or spins or whatever or we practice whatever we learnt in group. It is pretty much the only times we are all on the ice at the same time anymore so its much more of social skate than other times I'm at the rink. We often have a hot choc and a catch-up in the cafe afterwards too! I consider it just as important to me as my more serious sessions. I love it!

    I skate 4-5 hours a week, more when comittments allow, and will (hopefully!) be putting my (UK) Level 1 Compulsory dance papers in in Jan. I'm still trying to get my free skating back to the levels I tested to as a kid but am a long way off being able to test this or field moves due to my previous passes 20 odd years ago!

    Taka xx

  20. Thank you, thank you for your blog! I have spent hours reading it are I saw on another blog that you were an adult skater who also coaches. You have answered nearly every question I have ever had in regards to goals,"mean girls", etiquette, skating gear, coaches. I also love everyone's comments. I could never before find information specially geared toward adult skaters, even on skating forums.
    I just started skating several months ago at the ripe old age of 28 and it's been at times traumatising. Now I feel validated in many ways and I look forward to being able to achieve goals and maybe, just maybe, coach one day.

    1. Thank, Mercedes! I like to joke that I found that last topic that wasn't already on the web somewhere.

    2. Also, be sure to check out the "Skating Resources" page, which has a list of blogs-- there are several by or about adult skaters.