June 11, 2012

Time for a Change: Knowing When To Change Your Boots

Ahh, yes. Those boots. Without them, you'd be nothing. Skatingly-speaking, of course.
So how do you know when a pair of skates are finito, and what then, needs to be done about it?

Skating boots aren't unlike us humans really: they better with age up to a certain point, then start having mechanical problems. No matter whether you wear entry-line boots or a $500 pair, you need to know when it's time to change them up.
Do you need new boots, or did they never fit you properly in the first place?
A lot of skaters complain they need new boots, when in fact they were never fitted properly in the first instance. If you feel your boots aren't supporting you in the right places, or are always causing you pain, then perhaps the brand and/or model just aren't suited to yourself. Ensure boots are fitted correctly in the first place, and save yourself the expense of two pairs in one season.

Boots will feel uncomfortable in some places when trying them on in the shop, but in general you should be able to feel the general support, they shouldn't pinch your toes or across your foot width, although you probably will feel pressure and/or pain around the ankle areas. Enlist a professional boot fitter to give you all the advice you need and take your time in the shop. This is a big purchase, and the shop is vying for your business. Make them work for it.

The speed at which you'll need to replace skates depends on the intensity of your skating.
Recreational skaters clearly aren't going to work through a pair of skates in the same way a national-competitor will. This is just common sense. So, apply it. Don't listen to what other people, who are not in your situation are telling you, you need to decide for yourself what's right for you in relation to the work you make your boots do.

Signs of ageing.
The aesthetic aspect of the boot itself gives you a good indication as to whether the boot is getting to the end of its life. You can see whether it's starting to "break down". The place to look for in particular is the sides at the point which your ankle becomes your foot. Stand in your boots and bend your knees, and you'll see the part I mean. This pivotal point in the boot structure bears much of the stress you put through them, and offers the support the ankles need to avoid rolling over while performing deep-knee bends. When the leather is thinner, creased, and the outer colouring of the boot starts to break down at this point, it's a good indication the boot is no longer supporting your ankles as they need to be supported.

Other general usage signs can be an often unpleasant reminder of just how long you've had those skates. Day in, day out, the outer surfaces break down and become prone to dirt and advanced wearing-and-tearing.

Changes in the feelings you experience while skating.
You know something's up when the same gestures you used to make on-ice now leave you with a different sensation than they used to. This can be as simple as feeling as though ankles are not held tightly during a sit-spin or deep rocker, and although this sounds benign enough, can be extremely dangerous to the skater. If the ankle rolls over at a critical time (e.g.: toe picking for a flip take off at high-speed) soft tissue injuries, and sometimes even bone damage can occur. Don't make the same mistaker I did (which cost me 1.5 years of ankle rehab): when you know something is wrong with those skates, stop.

If you have a sure-fire way of knowing when your skates are for the recycle pile, leave us all a comment at the bottom of this post!

Have any questions, want to know more, don't agree? Please leave me a comment!


  1. So... my skates used to feel really good, but now they're different! The outsides are still pretty clean though, so I think I need some help. I skate every day in the summers and have since my swizzle days (remember those heel-toe-heel-toe two-footed pump things?) but over time I have gone from a once-a-week class to two classes a week, one power/stroking class, and then one or two more days of extra practice. I have had the same boots since I got them two and a half years ago, and now my ankle never feels properly seated unless I turn my routine 'heel-tap' when I tie my skates into a 'heel-stab-into-foam-floor-until-you-think-your-blade-will-shatter'. Also, my skates get looser a lot easier and I was shocked today when I had to re-tie three times in two hours! I don't feel like my left outside edge is quite the same as it used to be, and now I can't do power-pulls as well on the foot - when I do a sit spin, I don't have the same control as I did when I was just starting to learn it, and really none of my moves feel completely the same. My ankles lean in like I'm wearing rentals, and I can't jump off my blade correctly. This probably seems like I should very obviously get new skates, but I had a phase like this where I completely lost my ability to perform a centered spin and a few other skills last summer. On top of that, I just switched coaches and she is speed-working me back from the basics again, just so we can both get a feel for each other, but that means I haven't done any jumps or spins with her! My spins are okay still, but, like I sort of mentioned before, I can't even do a salchow anymore! I am really upset and I got pretty frustrated on-ice, especially after my mom dissed my sit spin and brushed off my comments on not feeling right doing my skills anymore. I really need the help of someone who doesn't personally know me, and so can't act like that or pretend like they know me better than I do, but still has reason to care. I just found your blog and I would love it if you could give a little advise to go off of. Thanks so much (ha.)!!! Btw, I am 12 years old, so if this came off as a bit immature, I'm sorry!

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  2. Hi @Sk84Life ! Let me first say that you did not come off as immature at all, and I'm thrilled that you wrote me! I'm so glad you found the blog and hopefully it will continue to be a resource to you during your time in skating!

    It does sound to me like your skates might be up for renewal to be honest. I you've had them since you started, and it's been several years, along with the fact that you've increased your skating time, they might simply be worn out. The fact that your ankle doesn't feel like it's supported is a dead giveaway, and I'd definitely ask your coach to have a look at your boots for you and give you some advice. Your coach can watch your boots closely as you bend in them, or do a sit spin, to see how the boot is bending and get an idea of the support they are giving you (or not, as the case may be). The fact that they don't look battered up on the outside doesn't necessarily mean they're still doing their job properly on the inside. You can also visit your local pro skating shop to ask the boot experts there for advice on the state of your skates. Bear in mind that their job is to sell skates though, so they might not be as impartial as your coach or other skating professional.

    I wouldn't worry too much about the fact that you're going through, and have done in the past, a phase of "losing" some of your elements. This also happened to me around your age, and it does to a lot of skaters, espcially girls. Our bodies change as we go through puberty, curves appear and this can all affect how we balance, and place ourselves when skating. I lost my axel for a couple of months (which has taken me like 2 years to get, so I was pretty darn upset when it went away again!) but it came back stronger than ever once I'd readjusted. So I think your plan of action should be:

    - Take action to make sure you're not putting yourself in harm's way by skating in your current boots. Do this by asking your coach to check out your skates and listen carefully to their advice. Your coach has seen A LOT of skates during his or her career, they can give you great advice about what they think you should do.

    - If necessary, start shopping around for skates. Ask other skaters for their opinions. Not all brands are equal. Wifa have had a reputation in the past for being heavy (although they have since brought out a "light" boot), Risport always fit very narrow and long on my feet (personal experience, I'm not saying all Risport fit narrow), so research the boot that fits your needs and feet. Try not to follow someone's advice blindly, I did this when I started out and spent about 8 years in a brand that never made me feel amazing. I switched to Graf and they fit my feet like gloves. But that's just my personal experience, and you need to figure out yours.

    - Don't be too hard on yourself. You're growing up and bodies change. This can affect our skating skills, but it doesn't cause us to un-learn things we know how to do. While going through transitions like this it's important to enjoy your skating so that the frustration doesn't overwhelm you and steal the joy of skating from your life.

    - Allow yourself time to adjust to your new coach. It seems logical to me that you've gone back to basics and this will give you a chance to get to know each other on a humane and a professional level.

    OK, I hope those pointers make sense and that they help! Please don't hesitate to get in touch via email at gracie@figureskatingadvice.com or reply here if you need anything else!

    Warmest wishes,

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  3. Thanks for the wonderful advice! I will definitely try everything you suggested, and now I feel a lot more confident asking my coach about this than I did before I had another opinion.

    Last time I skated, I noticed that a lot of my elements were easier once my skates had loosened, but when I say loosened, I mean that my heel was moving up and down and could also shift slightly from side to side, which made me feel like I was going to sprain/twist something whenever I landed a jump (thankfully more often than last time). I don't know if this changes anything from your last answer, but now I am starting to wonder: Is there a such thing as the right tightness for skates? I have always tied my skates pretty tight (probably because my laces are really long, I haven't cut them, and now I wrap them around my boot once before triple-lacing them), but now I am not so sure if that was affecting (effecting? idk) my skating in any ways. I know that having my skates looser at the top will help me get lower for my sit spin (I got all the way last time! Realized the only reason I couldn't was because the tops of my skates were restricting my knee-bending abilities!), but do you have any tips on being able to tie the part around the foot and ankle super-tightly? That's really the only way I am able to feel comfortable skating, but no matter what I try, everything loosens up after about half an hour.

    Also, I have gotten into the bad habit of stepping on the inside of my foot and leaning my ankles in too much when walking (and possibly skating), probably because of my old converse, which had terrible support. I'm not really sure if that affected my skating, as power-pulls (I don't know what you call them) don't come as easily on one of my feet anymore, but either way I am getting inserts. Do you think it would be of any use to wear them in my skates too? These are the questions I would feel embarrassed asking in person, but my skates are also about half a size too big, which could potentially be dangerous I guess, so the inserts might also help with the tightness problem. Sorry if I'm bothering you, but you are so helpful and inspirational! Thanks, Gigi!

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  4. @Sk84Life hello again and thank you for writing back! Sorry for my late reply, I just got back from a trip.

    First off, awesome news that my previous advice helped, and that it helped you feel more confident talking about your boots with your coach! I'm all for skaters feeling confident to address the issues they are having in their skating lives in order to take good care of themselves and get the most out of their skating.

    Right, regarding the looseness issue. Is there such a thing as the right tightness for skates: yes and no. It's normal for your skates to slacken off at the top as you practice. As the leather (or synthetic material) heats up from the heat of your foot, it will soften and if you're doing lots of bends (e.g. sit spins) this can loosen things up. I used to have to re-tie my skates about every hour when I was a free skater, just to get that nice tight feeling at the top of the boot again. What a pain that was, and in all honestly I stopped having to do that when I switched skate brand (to Graf - but again, don't go out and buy Grad because they worked for me, boots are a process and you'll see how things go as your skating career evolves). Your foot should absolutely not be wobbling to the point of you feeling unsupported, and your heel should not move in any way. I would absolutely encourage you at this point to talk to your coach and parents about this, as incorrect ankle support caused me to rip multiple ligaments in my right ankle and put me off the ice for one year. I cannot stress how important it is that your skates support you during your sporting performance.

    Regarding your laces, don't worry about them being long too much, I've seen plenty skaters tie them around their boots over the years. As long as that works for you, then fine. It might be considered by some as unsightly for testing or competition though, and it's less tedious if they are the right size so on the next occasion for new laces, enquire at the shop about getting the right length for your boots, and if they only come in standard lengths, ask the shop pro to cut them and seal the ends for you.

    Regarding advice for tightening the foot part of the boot: apart from the obvious answer of pulling the laces tight when lacing up, there's not a lot you can do. Some skaters have a tool which is essentially a hook that they use to pull laces tight, which allows them to get a better grip than with fingers alone (see: https://www.google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=skate+lace+tightener&tbm=shop). Also be careful of what you are wearing on your feet in the boots: thicker socks may impede your ability to tighten the boots.

    Regarding leaning over in your shoes and boots: this will only be worsened by boots which are too loose or not supportive enough. This links back to what I mentioned earlier about potential risk of injury.

    The inserts are a great idea. In my experience anyone I've ever known (non-skaters included) who ever went to have an assessment by the relevant doctor or biomechanics professional ended up needing some form of insert. We're all different, no-one's perfect (well, no one I ever met anyway!). I think it could be very beneficial for you to wear your inserts in your boots but this is something that must be discussed with, and decided by your doctor - only a trained medical professional can advise you on how to look after your body in the best way. I wear inserts in mine boots which my podiatrist custom made for them, and they've been in there since 2009 and they're still going strong!

    You are not bothering me AT ALL! Please do not hesitate to contact me via email on gracie@figureskatingadvice.com if you need anything else.


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  5. Hello! I know this is an older post, but I'm hoping you'll see this. I got a pair of skates in October, and ever since I got them, I have felt like they were like 1/2 a size too big. No one believes me, and says that I just havent found the "sweet spots" on my blade yet, however I feel that isn't the case. I cant find the sweet spot on my blade for spins and constantly rise on the toe pick, my foot shifts when I pick for a jump, and my heel slips constantly. Are they right about me not adjusting to them yet or do you think they dont fit me?

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  6. I used to spend 5 days a week every week at my local ice rink in lessons and public sessions practicing. For study reasons i had to stop skating and had not done so in about 2 years. I went to a public session recently and found i remembered alot of my basic skills, less so of my advanced jump, spin and ballet skills. My boots felt different than i remember. My ankles were so sore after only 2 hours. Im 21 yo so im pretty sure my feet arent growing anymore. Is it possible i outgrew my boots? Do i need to break them in again as they have maybe gone stiff sitting at the bottom of my closet? Im certain the blades need sharpening as well. But they just didnt feel right. I was on and off the ice constantly adjusting them and i even got a couple of small blisters... Do i just need to persevere and break them in again, or should i enquire at my local pro shop about a new pair?

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  7. I've been using Risport's RF2 Supers for about 2 years now and although its already been 2 years, the arch of my feet always hurt the first 20 minutes I skate, and that makes it difficult for me when I only have like 5-10 minute warmup sessions for performances or competitions. My boot doesn't hurt me when I'm off ice, but its just for the first 20 minutes I'm on ice. I've had superfeet insoles put in about 4 months ago, and they hurt less, but they still hurt a lot to the point where I'd have to take a break after doing like around 3-4 circles of crossovers just to shake off the pain. Do you think I should get new skates or will the pain just fade away? Also, is there such a thing as trading in old skates for new ones at a lower price or something? I've never traded in my skates before as I only started skating at the age of 16 (3 years ago), and I kept my first pair and bring them around to competitions to let famous skaters autograph them. I've been learning at a pretty fast rate recently since I moved to Canada and I didn't want the pain to restrict me from learning even more.

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