Top 4 things to look for in your first speed skates
Speed skating is characterised by an unusual and somewhat counter-intuitive movement pattern. Pushing to the side to go forward contradicts the linear action-and-reaction movement of walking or running. This requires the development of specific ankle strength and conditioning.
Making the switch from a recreational or fitness skate to a speed skate is an exciting one. The visual difference between a recreational and a speed skate emphasises the focus of each.
The difference between recreational skates and speed skates
A recreational skate looks top-heavy, being mostly boot. The focus here is on supporting the untrained ankle of the skater.
Recreational inline skates place a thick, soft liner within a larger external shell. The shell extends above and below the ankle joint, supporting the ankle by limiting its range of lateral movement. Dynamic balance on these skates comes from larger movements by the skater.
In contrast, a speed skate looks bottom-heavy, being mostly wheel. The focus here is on maximising rolling speed and grip.
A more rigid shell positioned closer to the foot, increasing a skater's feel for fine balance. Dynamic balance comes from small movements at the ankle. The rigidity of the boot and frame help to deliver all the skater’s pushing force to the surface.
As with any complex skill, learning to speed skate takes time. To keep skating fun and get the most out of time spent at practice you need to ensure beginner speed skates meet 4 key needs:
- control, and
Coaches should recommend skates that fit closely, particularly for new skaters with narrow feet and ankles.
Beginner speed skaters need a skate that can adapt to changes in foot size and shape, and to the progress of their skating skill. Firstly, a boot should adapt equally to accommodate a broad or narrow foot.
A well-designed skate can accommodate differing requirements for ankle support and arch support. Some extendable skates have budget appeal but can compromise comfort, often accounting only for differences in foot length.
The boot should be both comfortable and supportive. Skaters who develop sore feet over the course of an hour won’t enjoy their time on skates and will be difficult to coach. That's if they stay on the practice floor at all.
Likewise, without adequate support while developing specific ankle condition, skaters will become frustrated.
A heat-moldable shell is a feature of high quality skates and allows the boot to be formed to suit the skater’s foot. Memory foam or other high-density foam provides comfort for the ankle without compromising feel.
A skater’s feel and control are compromised when forced to use neoprene booties or thick socks to take up a void between their narrow feet and the inside of the boot. This is particularly the case around the ankle joint.
As speed skaters develop stronger ankles and learn fine balance, their skates should allow for greater range of movement.
The lower skating position characteristic of the speed skater requires increased forward flexion of the ankle when the skate is set down. This lower position allows for a longer stroke, which in turn requires a wider range of ankle movement.
As the skater learns to roll further with each stroke, fine ankle control becomes more important to balance and to maintain stroke pressure.
As skaters learn to skate in a lower position and become proficient at technical movements, increasing wheel size adds roll and can further refine their technique.
Learning to skate in a pack is one of the challenges for the new speed skater. Racing and many practice exercises require skaters to match the speed of others in a group. The skate should not limit the speeds a skater can reach as their skill improves.
In the past, switching to a speed skate meant dealing with a skate that was much longer. This made steering difficult for untrained ankles and caused problems in learning the crossover. Larger wheels of 100, 110 and 125mm diameter have made skates faster. Now beginners can use a shorter, 3-wheel skate, and still train together with more advanced skaters on longer skates.
In summary: What to look for in a speed skate
The ideal speed skate for a beginner skater should:
- provide a close fit that accounts for width, length and arch
- be heat-moldable to customise the fit
- allow for a range of ankle movement
- provide a manageable wheelbase length
- accommodate larger wheel sizes
Mick wrote this.
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