By Penny Wright
Muscles. You need them to move, fast or slow. But with between 656 and 850 in the body, which do you focus on and how do you train to maximize results?
Whatever you do, don't ignore the "core," that network of muscles in your midsection that is essential for all body movement.
The core consists of 29 muscles that extend from the rib cage to the pelvic girdle. It includes hip flexors, glutes, quadriceps, abductors and adductors.
Strengthening your core does wonders for your skating. It bolsters your stability, flexibility and balance. And it has an almost magical ability to help you acquire that Holy Grail of speed skating: deep knee-bend, which will give you a more powerful push and a happier back.
Many athletes equate core conditioning with working the abs. But for greater effectiveness, it's better to do exercises that engage multiple core muscles.
The core exercises developed by Joseph Pilates do just that. You don't, of course, have to use the Pilates method; there are other options. But the exercises here are based on the Pilates approach, which emphasizes slow, precise movements and controlled breathing.
To get you started, here are two exercises that will help you strengthen those muscles you need for better form and greater power..
1. Lie on your back.
2. Tighten your stomach muscles and press your back to the floor.
3. Slightly raise both legs and arms.
4. Bring together the left arm and the opposite right leg while at the same time extending the other arm and leg away from the body.
5. Repeat on the opposite side.
Your movements should be slow but fluid and open. The extended arm should be like superman's reach when he's airborne. The rhythm of your breathing should follow the raising and lowering of your arm.
Do 10-12 repetitions to start. Add more repetitions as your strength increases.
1. Lie on your back, arms to your sides, palms facing down, and knees bent.
2. Slightly raise your head, shoulders, and arms.
3. Tighten your abs and lift your legs straight out to create a 45 degree diagonal with your torso.
4. While continuously pulsing your arms up and down, slowing inhale to a count of 5 and exhale to a count of 5, repeating that cycle of breathing 3 times.
5. Slowly return to the start position with shoulders, arms and head on the floor.
6. Bend your knees with feet flat on the floor, focus on your breathing, and relax.
Keep increasing the time for the exercise as you build your core strength.
As you do these exercises, keep in mind:
1. Quality is better than quantity.
It's not the number of reps you do, but how you do them that is important.
2. Focus is better than inattention.
Be fully conscious of each movement of your body. If you don't pay attention to what your body is doing, you're more likely to hurry through an exercise and do it incorrectly.
3. Slow is better than fast.
Execute each movement slowly. It's the same idea as "slow-motion dry-land skating," the slower you go, the more you focus on form — not to mention your muscles must work longer!
4. Breathing is better than not.
If you don't breathe or breathe incorrectly, your body won't get the oxygen it needs for fuel. To develop good diaphragm breathing, inhale slowly through the nose and exhale slowly from the mouth.
Penny Wright is a personal trainer, fitness instructor and member of the Bont North America racing team. She owns the AZSk8right Inline Skate School in Phoenix and was the founder of the Predator Speed Skate Club. She posted a lofty personal best in 1998 when she set the record for master women at the Northshore Inline Marathon. Ten years later, her mark (1:12:07) still stands. "This year, I'll be skating a few marathons as well as devoting some time to a new milestone: becoming a first-time Grandma! ... Obviously my goal is not to skate like a grandma!"
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