Planet column: Skate Coach

Gimme a break!

Or How to Brake Without Breaking

(Part 1 of a three-part series on mastering the heel stop)

By Kathy McSparran, certified inline instructor

Mastering the heel brake is one of the most important things a skater can do to prevent road rash and "human hood ornament" syndrome. Unfortunately, as evidenced by carefully documented emergency room statistics (i.e. I just made them up) too many of us are confusing braking with breaking. So let’s break down this heel brake thing once and for all.

It’s easiest to learn something new if you take things step by step and only give yourself one thing to think about at a time. Certified skating instructors (ahem, like me) typically chop new skills up into three parts. For the heel stop, I like to call them Bend, Scissor and Brake.

The Bend

Kathy demonstrates the Bend positionIn class, we work on perfecting the Bend first. Standing in the grass with our hands out in front of us on invisible low tables, looking pretty much like a bunch of zombies, we practice bending our knees just the right way. "Bend at your ankles," I tell them. "Feel your lower leg tilting forward and press your shins into the tongues of your skates." If they do it right, I hear a chorus of creaking skates. More importantly, their weight is on the balls of their feet, not on the heels.

Next, we fix the upper bodies. There’s a tendency to bend forward at the waist like you’re starting to take a bow. Trust me, you’re not THAT good on your skates yet. Instead, imagine you are an elevator going up and down in the elevator shaft. If you’re really good you can do an elevator shaft bend and still keep your shins pressed forward against the tongues of the skates and feel the weight on the balls of your feet.

Next, hit the pavement. Wait, maybe I should rephrase that. Next, carefully step out onto the pavement. Practice the Bend (elevator-shaft/weight-on-the-balls-of-the-feet) while rolling. Double check to make sure your knees are going forward out over your toes and that your elevator has not tipped and dumped the poor passengers against the doors. Ouch!

The Scissor

Back in the grass, fresh from your zombie like bending, it’s time to perfect the Scissor. Scissoring just means sliding one skate forward in your stance. If you’re doing the bend right then scissoring should be easy. Just make sure you put the foot with the brake on it in front.

This step is so easy, in fact, that the cue I give students in class is “nothing else moves.”

(Continued ...)

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Want to perfect your heel stop? ... Read all three parts of Kathy's series:

Part 1: How to brake without breaking

Part 2: "Help! ... I still can't stop!"

Part 3: Putting power into your heel stop

Talk about this story

Related reading

Go to the Planet's Beginners Guide to Inline Skating

Read more of Kathy McSparran's Skate Coach columns

Go to Get Rolling's how to use your heel brake video


Copyright © 2005 by Robert Burnson

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