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Ask Bill Begg!

Skating's top coach answers your questions

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World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.

Find out more about Bill Begg and his column.

How to Heal a Toe Push

QDear Bill: The veteran and elite skaters are probably tired of hearing about what to do to fix a toe push (and maybe you are, as well). But could you please weigh in on the subject? I follow the standard advice (stay low, dig in the heels, keep toes up, push out, not back), but nevertheless my two front wheels take a beating. Could you please spell out your remedy? I know that I won't be the only skater out there who would appreciate it! - Thomas - Indianapolis, IN

Hi, Thomas: For starters, I should say that I never tell my skaters to "dig in their heels" or "keep their toes up." I have never found that advice to be helpful.

Instead, I stress the importance of pushing correctly and extending the legs fully. To start with, I illustrate the dynamics of the push by comparing it to way the wind drives a sailboat. The wind hits the sail side on, but drives the boat forward. In the same way, a skater's push is to the side, but drives the skater forward.

With that in mind, I teach my skaters to focus on several things as they skate:

  • Extend the leg fully to the side on each push. (Remember that while you are pushing to the side, your skate ends up behind you because of the forward movement of the support leg.)
  • Keep your knees over your toes.
  • Keep your hips over your ankles.
  • Keep your butt low (in the sitting position).
  • Keep your body weight over your support leg (You'll know you're in the right position if your nose, knee and toes line up.)

Keeping your body weight over your support leg is the key to getting good roll. It involves transferring your weight with each stroke and determines whether your skates are working for you or the other way around.

Following this advice can be difficult, especially if you are out of shape or lack flexibility. But hang in there. If you train yourself to push correctly, you'll not only go faster, with less effort, but save your wheels.

How Much Knee Bend Is Enough?

QHi, Bill: It seems that all of us skaters are striving for more knee bend. But as a medical person, I know there are limits, even for the most resilient athletes. Experts often advise athletes to keep their knees behind their toes when doing squats or similar deep-knee bend exercises. The idea is to prevent strain of the knee cap structures such as the patella, quad tendons and patellar tendon.

What I am wondering is how to improve knee bend without causing knee strain or overuse injuries? What advice do you give your athletes and what can you suggest for us weekend warriors? - Mike

Hi, Mike: This is a subject that many people disagree about, and I don't claim to have the corner on the truth. Though I am a qualified coach, I'm not a doctor. (The only "medical advice" I volunteer is when people ask me is if too much hard work will kill them. I tell them, "Many people have died in pain, but no one that I know of has died from it.")

Some years ago, I used to prohibit my skaters from bending their knees by 90 degrees or more when doing squats or other knee bend exercises. But my kids' gym trainer, who keeps up to date with the latest pronouncements, assures me that deep full knee squats are fine and, in fact, better for an athlete's muscle balance and power than partial squats. But if you're not sure your knees are up to it, use knee supports, at least at first.

I always prescribe "knees over toes" and "hips over ankles" (see above) for basic technique. Following these rules means bending your knees deeply. Bending your knees puts your legs in a position like a compressed spring, ready to release its energy. The straighter your legs, the less power you will have for your push.

I can't recall any skater I have coached in recent years who had knee problems. I suspect that the low skating position is second nature to most top pros and not likely to cause knee injuries.

One thing that is important in preventing injuries of all types is to keep your entire body strong and fit. Toward this end, we do an off-skate program twice a week in the preseason and more specific off-skate exercises during the racing season.

Exercises that help strengthen and condition the knees include low walks, gunthers, step ups, frog jumps, skip jumps, burpees and treadmills. All are done without weights during the preseason.

There are also some good gym exercises, including the fully-extended GHG (Glute-Ham-Gastroc) exercise.

Unlike some coaches, I do not encourage slideboard work. I think the sliding into the side of the board could create knee problems.

Cheers, Bill


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