Skate skills

The Ups and Downs of Hills
Part 1:

How to Climb
You'll reach the top quicker with the right form and attitude

By Kim Perkins
(posted Friday, June 9, 2006)


Photo: Darlene Prois

You're skating happily along when you turn a corner and see it: The Hill ... Oh, no!

The road ahead is going up, up, up, but your spirits are sinking like a stone.

If that's you, you're already defeated. You'll carry your dread up the hill like a dead weight. Instead, remember the story of the running coach who used to make his team yell, "I love hills! I love hills!" as they climbed.

Before long, the team was flying by the competition.

In fact, you, too, can learn to love hills. All it takes is some positive thinking and a few changes in technique.

Q&A: What should I do differently on hills?

Basically, keep your stroke light and short.

Skating on flat ground is all about maximizing your roll, or forward momentum. But on hills, gravity kicks in. The steeper the hill, the less roll you have to work with. So you have to rely on other means to keep moving.

An effective hill stroke is like working out on a StairMaster. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Set your skate down under your belly button.
    Tired skaters are apt to set their feet down under their armpits at the beginning of each stroke. But that virtually eliminates any useful push, making them work much harder. Instead, get in the habit of making your knees brush each other in the middle of every stroke. That will keep your skates under your body.
  2. Follow through on your recovery.
    Recovery is what happens at the end of your push when you pick your skate and arch it back and around under your body. It is what gets you in position for your next stroke. When climbing, follow through with the forward momentum from your recovery by landing your foot in front of your body. This will help propel you up the hill and save energy.
  3. Don't push!
    On flat ground, putting power into your stroke will make you faster. But on hills, it's a waste of energy. An effective hill stroke is light and quick. When skating up hill, increase your cadence by about 20 percent. And use body weight, instead of muscle, for propulsion.
  4. Work with gravity, not against it.
    If ever there was a time to "fall" with your body weight from side to side, this is it! Just remember to keep your steps small and your feet under your body (for the most part). You can also stand a little taller since you won't need the deep knee bend to anchor your push. Also, let your arms dangle to add more weight to your fall.

Should I point my toes to the outside?

Not on purpose. The steeper the hill, the more your feet will naturally turn out into the "duck-walk" position. But having your toes out will interfere with your balance and eliminate what little roll you have going. So it's best to fight the tendency. But don’t be too strict about it. As you would on the flats, make sure your weight is centered over your heels and that you are pushing through the heels, not the toes.

When I start to climb a hill, I am huffing and flailing almost immediately! What am I doing wrong?

You're not pacing yourself. Be patient. Hills are supposed to slow you down. Don't attack the bottom of the hill — it won't get you to the top any faster. Wait until you are two-thirds of the way up before you pick up the pace.

Another problem may be that you are unconsciously leaning forward. A lot of people do this when they climb. But leaning forward just makes climbing harder; it puts weight on your toes, ruins your balance, and takes the wind out of your heel push. Instead, sit back and relax.

And don't forget your mantra: "I love hills!"

Related reading

Go to Part 2: How to descend

- Beginner's Guide to Outdoor Racing

- Beginner's Guide to Inline Skating

kimKim Perkins was one of the top women skaters in the United States before retiring from racing last year. She specialized in ultra-distance events, like the Athens to Atlanta Road Skate, which she won in 2002, 2003 and 2004. These days, she coaches privately and is pursuing a graduate degree at San Francisco State University.
- Go to her web site.


The Ups and Downs of Hills

Go to Part 2: How to descend

Related reading

- Beginner's Guide to Outdoor Racing

- Beginner's Guide to Inline Skating

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