A strong, supple figure skater looks like a goddess on the ice. The ideal is to exhibit consistent form with no hint of the sweat, repetition and stretching that got you there. Stretching is especially important to get right because skaters typically train into muscle imbalances -- rotations are always in the same direction, and jumps and landings use the same leg over and over. Stretch smart to float across the rink and power up into an attention-grabbing double or triple Lutz.
Pre-Skate Stretch Prep
Always warm up before stretching. A five- to eight-minute warm-up sends fresh blood and energy to your muscles and prepares them to lengthen without strains or tears. Try simple aerobics like a jog or jumping jacks to break a light sweat and then tackle your stretch routine. Dynamic stretching that mimics the moves you will make on the ice is the best way to flow into practice or competition. You should include stretches for your ankles, calves, hamstrings and quads, hip flexors and piriformis, glutes, iliotibial bands, upper and lower back, chest, shoulders arms and neck. Figure skating uses multiple muscle groups simultaneously, so don't focus on your legs and skip the upper body. Start slow and "develop" the stretch deeper as stiff muscles relax, and always work both sides of the body for balanced flexibility.
Resistance bands and stability balls give some extra kick to your pre-skate stretches. Work your hamstrings with resistance bands by lying on an exercise mat, wrapping the band around one foot and grabbing the handles with elbows flexed, arms tight to your sides and fists resting on your chest. Raise and lower your fully extended leg 10 to 15 times, keeping tension on the band. Switch legs. Open tight hips and increase your turnout with groin stretches on a stability ball. Stand with hands on hips and position one knee on the ball. Find your balance and slowly move your knee to the side until you feel the stretch in your inner thigh. Then smoothly move the leg back toward your body and keep the flow going for 10 to 12 reps before changing legs.
Super Spin Enhancers
Stretch your neck and upper back to loosen up for more fluid spins. Get the kinks out of your neck and shoulders by putting your right arm behind you, bending your elbow and resting the arm across the small of your back. Then place your left palm on the crown of your head and gently but firmly move your head forward until you feel the stretch on the right side of your neck. Rotate your head leftward so your left ear tips toward your left shoulder and then your chin tilts up. Switch sides. Once your neck is relaxed, extend one arm forward at chest height. Place the other hand on the elbow and gently pull the extended arm in to your chest. Remember to keep your shoulders down as you stretch both sides.
Skaters' Ballet Barre
It's all about grace and beauty, so go for ballet barre training to stretch when you're off the ice. Many dance exercises are the same moves you choreograph into your routines, and you can reinforce them in the ballet studio. Plies improve balance, weight shifts and posture while stretching hips, inner and outer thighs and ankles. Developpes open the hips and stretch the leg slowly with control from upper thigh through the strongly pointed foot. Arabesques stretch spine, shoulders, arms, legs and feet while challenging the strength needed to maintain balance. Port de bras will open your chest and stretch your shoulders and upper arm muscles.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .