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Ice skating is a widely popular activity that also the basis of many winter sports, including figure skating and ice dancing, ice hockey and speed skating. But Olympic dreams aside; ice skating in all its forms is an accessible and easy way to spend time with friends and family while getting a diverse range of health and fitness benefits.
Ice skating has been around for a long time and was probably originally used a form of transportation in cold climates. The oldest pair of skates was found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland and date to 3000 B.C. These skates were made from the leg bones of a large animal, probably a deer or elk. Holes were bored at each end of the bone and leather straps were used to tie the skates onto the footwear. Skating, as an activity was wide spread, with archeological evidence found in Russia, Scandinavia, Great Britain, Germany, as well as Switzerland.
In the 14th Century, the Dutch started using wooden platform skates with flat iron bottom runners. The skates were attached to the skater's shoes with leather straps and poles were used to propel the skater. Around 1500, the Dutch shifted to a narrow metal double edged blade, so the skater could now push and glide with his feet eliminating the need for a pole. Modern ice skating was born!
Ice skating may seem difficult but achieving the appropriate balancing of the body for successful skating is really not too difficult to master.
Popular ice skating sports
Most of us are familiar with this Olympic sport where individuals, pairs or even groups (as professionals) perform a series of dance-like movements including jumps, spins and turns to music. Figure skating offers a more artistic form of ice skating.
Is also an Olympic sport in which couples perform dance routines to music. Ice dancing differs from pair figure skating in the types of moves allowed. Any lift above the shoulder is against the rules!
Speed skating is a competitive form of ice skating in which the competitors race each other on an oval track and the racers can reach up to speeds of 30 miles an hour!
Types of speed skating are long track speed skating, short track speed skating, and marathon. Male skaters race 500, 1,000, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Female speed skaters race 500, 1,000, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters.
An icebound version of field hockey, this winter sport features bladed sticks, a hockey puck and plenty of body padding, this contact sport is certainly not for the faint-hearted! Ice Hockey is played on a rectangular rink which has curved corners. The six players on each team aim to score as many goals as possible, by getting the puck into the other team’s goal. A puck is a black rubber disk which is 1 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter. Each goal is worth one point. Each game lasts for three 20 minute periods. Often the games are very fast and very rough.
Health Benefits of Skating
Whether you simply want to try ice skating for a bit of fun, or aim to join a serious ice hockey or figure skating team, this enjoyable winter sport offers a number of key health and fitness benefits.
According to Dr. Carl Foster, associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and coordinator of sports medicine and sports science for the United States Speed Skating Team, skating provides aerobic benefits that compare to running and biking and delivers a better cardiovascular workout than stair-stepping equipment. Just 20 to 30 minutes of additional skating activity each day will help your body become physically stronger and lower the risk of heart disease.
Skating was found to be a better aerobic workout than cycling, but not as good as running. This is because coasting is easier while cycling than skating, and impossible while running.
To reap the maximum cardiovascular benefits, keep moving, and don't just glide over the ice. Interspersing between coasting and speed skating is a great way to boost your endurance and increase the calorie burn.
Skaters can increase their aerobic workout by:
• Skating harder/faster (but not until you’ve mastered stopping from high speeds!)
• Try long distance skating at a slow, steady pace to improve endurance.
• Skate regularly to achieve long-term aerobic benefits.
The anaerobic benefits are actually better than running or biking, because skating provides a natural and smooth side-to-side movement that exercises inner thigh and buttocks muscles. You can also develop hamstring, quad and calf muscles by combining forward, backward maneuvers while skating. It strengthens upper arms and helps build the muscles of the lower back and abdomen.
Skating at a steady comfortable rate expends 285 calories in 30 minutes. Interval skating, (alternating one minute of hard skating in a tuck position with one minute of easy skating in an upright position) expends 450 calories in 30 minutes.
Improves Balance, Coordination and Joint Flexibility
Balance and coordination both benefit from skating. Skating requires agility and the ability to balance on a single foot. More advanced movements require skaters to develop even more coordination. With its emphasis on quick foot movements and supple knees, skating also increases joint flexibility and strength. Your leg joints will receive a great workout and feel more flexible in no time.
You'll also increase endurance through ice skating. The best way to do this is to ice skate regularly, increasing your speed and distance a little each time you get out on the ice.
Focusing on lower-body movement, ice skating offers fine exercise for the leg muscles, especially the hamstrings and quadriceps. You'll also build up your abdominal and lower back muscles while keeping your balance on the ice.
Improved Mental Health
Skating can be an opportunity for much-needed quiet time. Choose scenic skating locations to take full advantage of the experience. Traillink has tons of trails and can be searched by zip code.
You can also choose a skating buddy to help brighten your mood. Since it’s fun and provides opportunities for socialization, most fitness and recreational skater’s skate longer than participants in other similar activities.
Skating generates up to half the impact shock to joints, ligaments and tendons that running creates. Though in the early learning curve you may have some impacts from falling!
Skating does involve balancing on skinny blades and moving at speeds faster than a walk. As such, it is possible to fall – especially early in your learning curve. Be sure to wear the proper safety gear to avoid unnecessary injuries.
• Knee pads
• Wrist pads
• Elbow pads
• A skate or cycle helmet
Be sure to exercise caution if skating on “wild ice” such as ponds, lakes or rivers. Ponds or lakes that come under the auspices of a municipality may be checked for ice skating safety by a professional and posted as safe or unsafe for ice skating.
Skate in areas that are visible to surrounding houses or where other people may congregate. Do not skate after dark unless the skating area is well lit.
Currents or temperature changes can cause ice to melt dramatically and be unsafe. If skating in an area like this ALWAYS check ice conditions. It takes 5 to 7 days of temperatures in the 20s to freeze pond or lake water. The thickness of the ice should be at least 6 inches, and it can be checked by drilling a few test holes.
Drill a few test holes away from the edge of the pond. Be careful proceeding out onto the ice to drill. If the ice cracks while walking on it or drilling into it, get off immediately.
Always be sure to skate with a friend or two, if possible. If someone is injured or falls through the ice, there would be someone to call for help. If there is no other option but to ice skate alone, make sure someone knows where you are and when you will return.
All skaters should carry a whistle in the event of an emergency. It will get attention and alert everyone to a problem such as a fall resulting in an injury or someone who may have fallen through the ice. Having a plastic rope on hand in case of emergency could mean the difference between saving a life and disaster. An outdoor first aid kit is a good idea to have in the skate bag in case someone falls.
If you come from a warmer climate and this is your first time experiencing the cold, pay special attention to this section.
No matter which winter sport you choose, staying warm is important. Your body needs to stay warm to work properly. When your body is at the right temperature, it won't need to spend as much energy getting warm which will provide maximum energy for winter fun. The right clothing will help you do that.
New fabrics and insulations are constantly making apparel warmer, more breathable and more waterproof. But there are still a few basics to keep in mind.
Layering your clothes allows you to add or subtract layers depending upon your activity and the weather conditions. In general, the three main layers are wicking, insulating and weather protection.
Wicking is the layer you wear closest to your skin and is supposed to draw moisture away from your body and through the outer layers of your clothes so it can evaporate (think long underwear). Choose silk or a synthetic fabric that boasts “wicking power”. Cotton for outdoor winter wear is a no-no. Cotton absorbs and retains moisture, the exact opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. The wicking layer should fit snugly but not tight to the skin and be loose enough to trap air between layers, but not too bulky to restrict movement.
The Insulating layer is worn between the wicking layer and the protection layer. Its purpose is to keep heat, from your body, in and cold out. This layer includes sweaters, sweatshirts, vests and pullovers. Popular insulation materials include:
• Fleece is a synthetic material that keeps insulating even when wet and dries quickly.
• Wool is a natural fabric and wicks away moisture.
The Protection layer is worn on the outside and consists of a “shell” and pants, which guards you against the elements of winter.
Winter shells and pants should be made from materials that repel water and protect you from snow, sleet or rain and blocks the wind, while also letting perspiration evaporate. Depending on the weather and type of winter activity, you may want to have protective layers with increasing amounts of insulation.
Always look for functional hoods, cuffs, pockets and zippers that will make garments comfortable in all types of outdoor weather.
Socks – a single pair of comfortable well-fitting wool socks should be all that is necessary for maximum comfort. Too many layers of socks can inhibit circulation and cause problems with moisture and blisters.
Headwear is essential for warmth since you can lose as much as 60% of your body heat through your head. There are thousands of choices and styles to choose from and depending on weather, wearing a hat may eliminate the need for one of your layers.
Scarves or neck gaiters are especially nice for particularly cold or windy weather. If you do wear a scarf be sure to tuck it in to avoid getting tangled up in your arms or poles.
Sunglasses or Goggles can be an important item to have especially if it is a bright sunny day or windy. Make sure your eye protection has full UV protection.
Gloves or mittens are a necessity to protect your fingers from frostbite. Gloves or mittens should fit so you can move your digits around in your glove. Restricting finger movement can actually reduce circulation and make you feel colder.
Now that you are all geared up, here is one final note: Don't forget to put on sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15. It might seem odd, but sunlight, reflects the white snow and ice back onto your face and can result in sunburn. So cover up with sunscreen and use a lip balm that contains sunscreen. It’s as important to apply sunscreen in the winter as it is in the summer!
Finding Places to Skate
Many communities have indoor ice rinks where you can skate year round. Arena Maps and Find Rinks are two places to find a rink in your area. If you want to find a local rink that allows you to skate outdoors your best bet is to check your local Parks and Recreation website for locations.
More Links to Rinks
Updated April 17, 2013
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