Dec 26, 2011

Why are they just skating around in circles?

"St Lidwina" recently overheard a conversation between a couple of moms and a coach, wherein the moms were complaining about the warm-up, in particular that the skaters "weren't learning anything."

While this was a freestyle class, if you're at a rink with learn-to-skate classes of 30 minutes you're not observing the phenomenon of the "free skate" at the beginning of class. But at longer classes, and in all  free style classes, there will be a period of anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, where the skaters are "just" skating around in circles.

Why are they wasting your money?

Warm up
Coaches have not arranged for this just so they can wait for stragglers (we don't, as a rule), catch up on gossip (that's what Facebook is for), or stand around with our thumbs up our asses (too hard to reach). Warm up is an actual thing, and it is important to get you physiologically acclimated to the cold. In an ideal world even learn-to-skate kids would warm up off ice by jogging or doing calisthenics for 20 minutes, then spend 5 minutes getting their skates on, and would then step onto the ice ready work.

Excuse me, I'm back now.

I was laughing so hard I had to stop typing for a minute.

Now I have to say, that the leisurely gossip stroll that passes for class warm up (at least with the teens) is also not ideal, but it is having some salutory effect towards actually warming up one's core, which is what you want. And the little kids treat it like public session, so they're getting a really good benefit out of it.

Just skating
Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big proponent of just skating. I love when learn-to-skate level kids go to public session and just skate, without having to worry about "practicing." You get a lot of benefit from just skating, plus, every now and then we need to leave those kids alone. Let's sport them 5 minutes where no adult is telling them what to do, or making them have "quality" time. How about throwing a little wasted time into these poor, over-scheduled kids' lives.

Five minutes of pointless skating is going to affect their ability to get into Yale, and,assuming $90 for a 10-week class, I think you can afford the prorated dollar that is the value of those 5 minutes. Skip your visit to Starbuck's one day every 3 months to make up for it.

Who needs help?
Warm up is also a time for coaches to watch and see whose skates are poorly tied, who needs gloves, or an extra jacket, whose mom needs to be told to please get out of the doorway. Has a coach forgotten her lesson book or the box of toys or stickers? This gives her a couple of minutes to go and get it. Is there a particular issue with some skater that mom needs to tell the coach about (leave early, getting over a cold, new glasses, here for a make-up, not going to be here next week, whatever). The mom gets to tell the coach now without cutting into lesson time.

Group warm up
A lot of rinks will do a brief group warm up as well. (Or not so brief. The Ice Rink of the Damned has freestyle warm ups that can go on for 40 minutes or more. No wonder no one can learn an axel in class.) This is an opportunity for skaters to push themselves. The lower level skaters will try to keep up with the skills and power of the high ones, and the high skaters will suddenly realize that those little shorties are getting good and they better deliver or they're going to look pretty silly.  It also allows the coaches to introduce patterns and skills that aren't going to be taught in class. Also, notwithstanding that we're not waiting for the stragglers, it does give them an opportunity to sneak in.

Kids don't need to be "learning something" every waking second, and unless you're inside that skater's head, how the heck do you know whether they're learning something or not?

Instead of complaining about the wasted time, ask a coach what their warm-up philosophy is, or just ask your skater if she enjoys it. That's worth its weight in gold.


  1. I'd give anything to see my daughter spend more time on warm up. She strokes around 1/2 the rink, does power pulls the other half and thinks that's enough of a warm up to try an axel.

  2. I find that I can get really "warmed up" simply by skating around in a circle... especially if I start thinking about my technique and my strokes and then when I realize that the smaller kids look better I try even harder. It can be quite exhausting and challenging... but also fun. Sometimes we play tag with each other or challenge each other to races during the whole rink warm up. Its fun, but also gets us working on the basics, which gets forgotten a lot of times by the time you are in the higher FS classes (I'm in FS5).

  3. Personally I think 1:2 (group) warmup to instruction ratio is the maximum skating programs should do, 1:1 is pushing it too far. Afterall, lessons are meant to teach, power class is something separate.

    Further more, if we do run mini power as group warmup, it should be run efficiently, taking differences in levels into consideration. Higher level skaters will not warmup effectively if they stand half of the time waiting for the little ones to finish. There are multiple coaches on the ice and the whole ice is available, it's totally possible to divide skaters into 2 groups by level.

    Anonymous 3:41 AM, ITA proper stroking is so exausting!

  4. jjane- your mouth to G*d's ear. Good luck with your on-target observation. Those warm ups are a joke.

  5. @Anon & jjane, I completely agree. I try to make myself do four full laps of proper stroking and good cross-overs at the ends (two in each direction) to start a warm up. I'm usually completely panting with burning legs by the time it's over. That's easy at practice time when the ice is pretty empty; it's actually harder to warm up well before lessons when there is no group warm up and all the lessons are restricted to tiny patches of ice. I have time but not space. Does anyone have any suggestions for good warm-ups in small spaces (say, the width of the rink, but only 1/5 of its length)?

  6. MommyTime, when the ice is going to be restricted like that, do your warm up off ice. In fact, you should always do your warm up off ice. You'll get every benefit of on-ice warm up except what I call "getting your legs under you," i.e. feeling comfortable on the skates. The best warm up gets your heart rate up to 75% of max (google MRH calculator) and then keeps it there for 20 minutes. A 10 to 15 minute off-ice warm up, then the class will do this.

    For off-ice warm ups do just a light stretch-- warm up is about blood flow, not flexibility.

  7. Oh for heaven's sake, spoonerism much? "MHR calculator"


  8. Thanks, Xan, for the great advice. This helps a lot!