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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.

Nov. 6, 2007

How Can I Sprint Faster?

QHi, Bill: I do not compete much, but I skate a fair amount. Over time I have increased my top speed from the low 30 kilometers per hour to 40-42 km/h. But I'm having a hard time going any faster. I wonder if you could tell me what top skaters do to improve their speed? Is it a matter of working on technique? Is it about building strength? Or is it just a few elect skaters who are capable of going at top speeds north of 45 km/h? Any suggestions for picking up the pace would be appreciated. Thank you. - MT, New York

Hi, MT: First of all, congratulations. You have already come a very long way: 40 km/h is not too shabby. Of course, an important consideration in top end speed is how long you want to maintain it. When going full blast in a pack sprint, top skaters reach about 50 km/h (31 mph). On the other hand, Tristan Loy averaged 37 km/h (22 mph) when he set his solo one-hour record.

Without seeing you skate, I can only guess on what would speed you up. But here are some general suggestions:

1.) Use a high back arm swing along with a full extension leg push to the side. Remember that when sprinting, your arms are as important as your legs.

2.) Include interval sprint training in your workout routine. If possible, do this training with skaters who are faster than you. Another great drill for top-end speed is motor-pacing behind a motor scooter. It helps not only with speed but confidence.

3.) Perfect your technique. Make sure you have a proper "loop" recovery and a high back leg lift. During your recovery loop, the calf of your leg should reach a position parallel to the ground. After your loop, you must drive the recovery leg forward, past the supporting knee, before you touch down.

4.) Consider some weight training. But be advised: it can also slow you down. With weight training, your focus should be on converting strength to speed. Off-skate plyometrics can be a great help. (Forum discussion on weight training)

Recovering From a Back Injury

QHey, Bill: I've just come back after a long-term lower back injury and have noticed a marked decline in my skating. What drills or exercises would you recommend for rebuilding my technique, speed and stamina? Also, do you have any ideas for what I can do to strengthen my back to avoid re-injury? - Cheers, Jon from the UK

Hi, Jon: Sad to hear about your back. Back injuries are a curse for both skaters and cyclists. Both put lots of strain on the back, which is one of the weakest parts of the body.

Whatever you do, don't rush your recovery. Bad backs can ruin lives, so take your time and get professional help. Remember that when it comes to back injuries, discretion is better than valor.

Once you are sufficiently recovered, make some time for abdominal exercises. They are a big help for the back. One of the best of these is the bent knee sit-up with alternate twist. Do it with your hands at the side of your head. Each time you come up, extend your elbow past the opposite knee.

Another good exercise is the back extension. You do this one lying on your stomach. Once there, you raise one arm and the opposite leg simultaneously and hold for two or three seconds. Then you alternate sides. This strengthens both your lower back and buttock muscles.

Once you return to skating, put yourself on a gradual one-year retraining program. Concentrate on overall body conditioning and technique. Remember that as your legs get stronger, you will put more strain on your back. Provide yourself with a general foundation, so you will be ready for more specific training later on.

You may also want to wear a flexible neoprene back support while training. One of the guys I used to train with (three decades ago!) was John Chemar, a top New Zealand skater/cyclist. He always wore a back support while skating and cycling, yet was still able to compete at the highest levels.

Cheers, Bill


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