February 23, 2013

Ideas For Perfect Spirals & Biellmanns: Flexbility & Strength

Now more than ever, having amazing spirals is a points scorer, especially with the COP system in place. More and more ladies are exhibiting stunning spirals in their programs, and as such it's becoming expected on the competitive scene, no matter the level. So how can you work on getting yourself to that standard of spiral?

Here we're going to look at what makes a spiral, and then think about how to work on each area to determine a plan of action. I'm not going to concentrate on every little detail of a training programme. Every one is different and to take into account physical condition, injuries, and all the trimmings that comes with a skating life, the best way to achieve your dream spirals is to consult a professional sports trainer who can determine a plan of action for you. We will however look at the types of things you should be thinking about to reach your goals.

There is one thing that so many people just do not get, and yet it is the pivotal point of spiral greatness. Here it is:
Flexibility ain't everything. You need both flexibility and strength.

I know, scary right? And you thought stretching everyday would get you here:

Sasha Cohen of the USA by: Ryosuke Yagi (pssst.: Sasha is a self-confessed yoga lover, and attributes a lot of her strength and flexibility to her yoga training)
So what's all this about being strong as well as flexible? Let's look at these two facets of the perfect spiral, and then we'll see how to go about working on them for your own benefit.

♥ Flexibility 
This is all about how stretchy you are. Chances are, you (or your child skater) are already putting effort into working on your stretching regime, several times a week, if not daily. Although some people are naturally "bendy", and may have hips that turn out easily (think of a ballerina with her toes turned to opposite ends - the ease with which she can do that depends on her hip opening), muscles can be stretched well, even in people who don't have natural "turn out".

Perhaps you already follow a specific stretching regimen, or you take stretch classes at your gym or rink. Either way, I'm not going to go into individual stretches here, because there are numerous resources on the net (not the mention at your gym, from your coach or trainer, etc.) where you can find good information about stretching, and there's no point in me reiterating it here.

Stretching will not only augment your flexibility in terms of range of motion (necessary to enable your leg to lift higher in your spiral), but will also bring you a host of other benefits, including improved balance, and blood circulation, meaning more nutrients and oxygen can get to the muscles when they need it (this means you'll go for longer before fatigue sets in).

So if you're looking for sky-grazing spirals but aren't yet working on your flexibility, now is a great time to make an appointment with a professional trainer to lay out a stretching program. Don't forget to see your physician before starting this (or any program or activity involving new physical activities), and to be prudent and tell your trainer of any susceptible areas you have in your body (e.g.: I had chronic tendinitis in both knees for 2 years while I was skating in shows, and couldn't sit with my knees bent under me for years following those bouts of tendon inflammation. I had to work this into my training regime.)

♥ Strength 
So you can swing your leg up really high in the air, but can't seem to get it to stay there? Well, you're half way there, and strength training is going to get you where you want to be.

The strength of your buttock muscles, along with your lower back is going to be the key factor in gaining perfect spirals now you have the flexibility (note: you don't have to wait to have the flexibility you desire to start strength training). The best way to start your strength training is to see a professional trainer at your gym (or perhaps your rink offers this service) and have them lay you out a program to reach your goals. I realise these can be pricey, but you only need to have them assess your current situation, understand your goals, and design an exercise plan for you. Then, providing you have the discipline, you can use their exercise plan to achieve your goals, at no extra cost to you.

One great machine that really took my spirals to the next level was a weight machine which featured an ankle strap. You can swing your leg up into the spiral position against the amount of weight that you choose (you'll start off with the minimum, and work up as your butt and hamstrings get stronger). The key is to lower your leg as slow and steadily as possible: this works the key muscle groups so much more, and more intelligently with respect to your goal of perfect spirals, than simply swinging your leg up into the air and then letting go. The latter will only train your muscles to be efficient in short bursts of high-energy motion, rather than the fatiguing feat of not only getting your leg up, but keeping it there.

You can also start doing buttock strengthening exercises at home, to boost your regime. You can find a whole host of sites which show stretching and strengthening, but make sure to use a mainstream peer-vetted website, as to not succumb to radical or dangerous exercises or advice.

I highly recommend that you try out pilates for toning your back and core muscles. Pilates builds you in to a fit and strong person from the inside out, by toning up your core muscles, rather than the superficial ones that give your body "definition" (think 6-pack abs). Although superficial tone is desirable, strong core muscles will afford you better balance, flexibility, strength, and capacity to hold on to dodgy landings, edges, etc.. in your skating. To read about how pilates changed my life, read this blog post.

Plan of Action! ♥
To be honest, I've laid down the ideas to help you get where you want to be with your spirals above. So to summarise:

First Off: SEE YOUR PHYSICIAN for the all-clear on starting new physical activity
♥ Make an appointment with a personal trainer
♥ Talk about your goals: take pictures or have your phone with you to show them videos of those spirals you most envy (this will help trainers who don't know skating lingo)
♥ Talk about your time plan (big comp in 6 months? Set that goal!) and any weak points in your body that need special care and attention
♥ Start your stretching and strength programmes
♥ Keep going! (it's hard, I know, but the results are VERY rewarding)
♥ When you feel like you're getting somewhere, talk to your trainer about bringing your skates into the gym (skates are extra weight that you need to train your muscles to lift!)
♥ Start transferring your skills to the ice when you're feeling confident
♥ Enjoy the benefits of all your hard work

Remember that every body is different (literally), and what's important is finding what works for you, rather than comparing the minutiae of your training regimen to those of other skaters in your rink.

Now I realise this wasn't a very technical post today, and there are several reasons for that. One, I'm not a certified personal trainer and don't pretend to be. I am in no place to comment in each and every muscle and how to work them. Two, there are already many good resources both online and (most likely) in your community for finding out more information on stretch and strength training. And finally three, I wanted this post to be an introduction to the sorts of things you should be thinking about for those dream spirals, not a step by step training regime. Every individual is different, and needs to be assessed by a range of professionals to achieve their goals, that's common sense. 

At this point I'd like to say that your body is your own responsibility, and I cannot accept any responsibility for injury, loss, etc., which may be incurred from following anything in this blog post. Please see your physician, and consult a sports training professional to get the most out of your goals without putting yourself in harm's way at all.

If you're in search of the perfect spiral (or Biellmann, or charlotte, or whatever else floats your boat), or even if you've got there (would love to see a photo! Get in touch via Twitter or Facebook!) let me know your thoughts on the subject, and any tips or tricks you have to share with our readers!

Until next time, stay healthy and safe,

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1 comment

  1. It may be worth checking your local dance studios as well. I found a flexibility and contortion class at an aerial dance studio and love the class!

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