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Relationship Between Off-Ice Testing Variables and On-Ice Speed in Women's Collegiate Synchronized Figure Skaters: Implications for Training

Bower, Michelle E1; Kraemer, William J1; Potteiger, Jeffrey A2; Volek, Jeff S1; Hatfield, Disa A1; Vingren, Jakob L1; Spiering, Barry A1; Fragala, Maren S1; Ho, Jen-Yu1; Thomas, Gwendolyn A1; Earp, Jacob E1; Häkkinen, Keijo3; Maresh, Carl M1

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 831-839
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a59a5c
Original Research
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Bower, ME, Kraemer, WJ, Potteiger, JA, Volek, JS, Hatfield, DA, Vingren, JL, Spiering, BA, Fragala, MS, Ho, JY, Thomas, GA, Earp, JE, Häkkinen, K, and Maresh, CM. Relationship between off-ice testing variables and on-ice speed in women's collegiate synchronized figure skaters: implications for traning. J Strength Cond Res 24(3): 831-839, 2010-The purpose of the current investigation was to identify any existing relationships between off-ice performance measures and on-ice performance quantified by speed and acceleration. Twenty-seven women (age 19 ± 1 year; body mass (59.5 ± 6.8 kg; height 164.6 ± 6.35 cm; body fat 23.2 ± 3.9%) who were collegiate synchronized figure skaters volunteered for the investigation. To examine the relationship between off-ice performance and on-ice speed and acceleration, collegiate synchronized skaters were evaluated on various performance tests over a 1-week period. Off-ice tests completed were peak torque for hip abduction and adduction, 40-yard sprint, vertical jump height, 30-second slide board stride count, and a 1-RM (repetition maximum) squat. On-ice tests included a timed single lap sprint, 4.5-minute (duration of long program) lap count, and an approximately 16.5-m (18-yard blue line to blue line) timed acceleration. Significance was set at P ≤ 0.05. This study showed 3 primary findings: (a) slide board stride count was the single best predictor for both single lap on-ice speed and acceleration accounting for 53.5% (adjusted R2 value) of the variance in the single lap test and 42.5% (adjusted R2 value) of the variance in acceleration times; (b) vertical jump height test was the second best predictor for both the single lap test and on-ice acceleration accounting for 36.6% and 39.9% (adjusted R2 values) of the variance in times recorded, respectively; and (c) the best combined predictors for the single lap speed test were slide board stride count and 40-yard dash (R2 = 0.675), whereas the best combined predictors for on-ice acceleration were slide board stride count and vertical jump height test (R2 = 0.571). Conditioning for synchronized skaters to enhance performance of on-the-ice speed and acceleration should include slide board training implementation of plyometric and linear speed training while developing and maintaining 1-RM strength to support power capabilities.

1Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut; 2Department of Kinesiology and Health, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; and 3Department of Biology of Physical Activity and Neuromuscular Research Center, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland

Address Correspondence to William J. Kraemer, William.Kraemer@uconn.edu.

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Introduction

Synchronized skating has become more widespread among collegiate athletes and on an international circuit over the past decade. It is on its way to becoming the next winter Olympic sport, yet currently it is not as popular as its well-known counterparts of singles, pairs, and ice dancing. Synchronized skating requires 8 to 20 skaters to perform various footwork, formations (circles, blocks, lines, intersections), and lifts in unison while completing choreography to a musical program (Figure 1). Since the addition of the World Championships in 2000, there has been increased pressure on the top teams in the United States to earn a medal. Until this past season, Sweden, Finland, and Canada were the only teams in the world who had received a medal at the World Championships; however, the senior-level subjects in the current investigation made history by becoming part of the first United States synchronized skating team to earn a medal at the World Championships. By watching these top teams compete, it is evident that they all exhibit a great deal more speed on the ice throughout their programs in comparison to their less competitive counterparts. Speed and flow of movement are the only judging criteria analyzed during every element executed during both the short and long programs in synchronized skating. This is critical to gaining high scores during a performance (25). Therefore, of particular importance for both strength and conditioning practitioner and sport coach in synchronized skating is the development of knowledge in physical performance characteristics to establish scientifically based off-ice training regimen protocols and to identify weaknesses in conditioning.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Although no studies to date have investigated the off-ice variables that predict skating performance in singles, pairs, or synchronized skaters, several have done so using men (4,5,7,8,10,12,18) and women hockey players (6). Previous research in men and women ice hockey indicates that 40-yard dash time and vertical jump height consistently predict on-ice speed and acceleration (4-8,10,12,18). It is reasonable to suppose that the “skating stroke” in figure skating and ice hockey is similar and that these relationships also might exist in synchronized skaters.

Because of the unique recruitment of the hip extensors and abductors in a posterolateral direction during a forward skating stride (1,21) coaches must also consider relationships outside of linear speed and sagittal plane movement. Pies et al. (20) demonstrated that cardiopulmonary responses to slide board exercise in competitive women ice skaters were similar to those observed during a program of equal time on the ice. It also has been demonstrated in sprinting and skating that speed is a component of stride frequency and stride length (3,4,8,19). Combining the relationship between sprinting, skating, and stride frequency with the research conducted with slide boards in singles skaters, it is realistic to assume that measuring stride frequency utilizing the slide board would exhibit a significant relationship to skating speed and acceleration in synchronized skaters. This could be important for increasing a scientific rationale for not only training aerobic capacity (20), but also as important speed and acceleration by using slide boards. In general it was hypothesized that the highest correlations would occur with the slide board, vertical jump height, and speed measures.

The primary propulsive muscles involved in the forward skating stroke include the gluteals (hip extension and abduction), quadriceps (knee extension), hamstrings (hip extension), and gastroc-soleus group (ankle extension) (1,21,22). Analysis of the skating stride in speed skaters has indicated high electromyogram (EMG) activity of the hip and knee flexors and extensors, suggesting that skaters who are stronger in these areas might produce greater rates of propulsion on the ice (23). Thus, measuring 1 repetition maximum (1-RM) squat strength and peak torque (PT) produced during isokinetic contractions of hip adduction and abduction also might provide useful insight into developing scientifically based off-ice conditioning regimens.

The primary purpose of the current investigation was to identify the existing relationships between off-ice performance measures and on-ice performance quantified by speed and acceleration.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

To examine the relationship between off-ice performance and on-ice speed and acceleration, collegiate synchronized skaters were evaluated on various performance tests over a 1-week period. Off-ice tests completed were isokinetic peak torque for hip abduction and adduction (hip PT), 40-yard sprint time, vertical jump height, 30-second slide board stride count, and a 1-RM squat. On-ice tests completed were a timed single lap sprint, 4.5-minute (i.e., the same duration of long program in competition) lap count, and an approximate 16.5-m (18-yard blue line to blue line) timed acceleration. Regression analysis then was used to analyze relationships between the on- and off-testing results to provide a descriptive insight into synchronized skating, which has been an understudied sport in the scientific literature. Differences within the team also were examined to see if tested and physical characteristics varied across members of the team classified as junior, collegiate, and senior members of the Miami University synchronized skating program. In addition, subjects were grouped into equal-size tertiles to determine where differences existed with each parameter tested.

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Subjects

Twenty-seven women who were collegiate synchronized figure skaters were tested over a period of 7 days in various off-ice and on-ice performance tests. Subject characteristics are described in Table 1. The Miami University synchronized skating program is made up of a total group of athletes consisting of 3 different teams (junior, collegiate, and senior); the junior and collegiate teams are cross-skaters (i.e., athletes who skate on both teams), and the senior team competes at a higher level nationally and internationally than the junior and collegiate teams. As a group, all the teams competing for the Miami University synchronized skating program have been considered one of the “top teams” in the United States in each competitive category. All of the subjects had obtained their senior level of testing for the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) Moves in the Field test. Dance tests obtained through the USFSA ranged from presilver to international levels. The subjects who held a senior ranking in this study made history as part of the first U.S. synchronized skating team to earn a medal at the World Championships in London, Ontario, Canada. All women who participated in the study were informed of the risks and benefits involved in the study and signed an informed consent document approved by the Institutional Review Boards for use of human subjects in research at the University of Connecticut and Miami University.

Table 1

Table 1

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Testing Protocols and Procedures

All tests were completed over a 1-week period and were standard types of tests used to characterize physical capabilities related to force production, speed, and power. Subjects were familiarized with testing procedures to enhance performance levels on tests. A schedule was planned with considerations to existing practice times, minimizing muscle soreness, and physiologic demands of the tests performed. Table 2 describes the order of testing completed over the week.

Table 2

Table 2

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Anthropometric Measures

Body mass and height were measured with a standard clinical eye-level beam scale and rounded off to the nearest kilogram and centimeter, respectively. Body composition was estimated via skinfold measurement using Lange skinfold calipers and a 3-site test with triceps, suprailiac, and thigh sites for prediction of percent body fat (3).

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Peak Torque for Hip Adduction and Abduction

Peak torque for horizontal hip adduction and abduction was performed using standard isokinetic methodology using a CYBEX NORM Isokinetic Dynamometer (Testing & Rehabilitation Systems by CSMi, Stoughton, Massachusetts). Following the dynamic warm-up, subjects performed 2 sets of hip adduction and abduction in a side-lying position and were allowed to grip a side handle for stability. Location of the force arm lever pad was placed 5 cm above the patella for each subject. The dynamometer was calibrated, and a calibration of a 0-degree horizontal was set for each subject. The range of motion used for each subject in the test was in a range from 0 to 51 degrees on a horizontal plane. All testing was performed at an angular velocity of 30 deg·sec−1. A warm-up set of 3 repetitions was used and subjects were instructed to push and pull against the accommodating resistance provided by the dynamometer. The second set was performed after a 10-second countdown following the first set and consisted of 4 repetitions where subjects were instructed to push and pull as hard and fast as they could while remaining in a side-lying position. The highest peak torque for adduction and abduction for each limb was used for analysis.

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40-Yard Sprint

A premeasured distance of a 40-yard sprint test was performed on a standard indoor gymnasium wood surface floor. Subjects were reminded of the basic techniques for proper sprinting. A dynamic warm-up was used followed by 3 warm-up sprints (i.e., 50%, 75%, and almost 100% perceived efforts) followed by 2 to 3 minutes of rest. Three sprit tests then were administered with 5 to 10 minutes of recovery between sprints. The same research team member timed all subjects using the same stopwatch to remove intertester variances and reliability problems. The sprint time was started as in many practical testing situations by the subject's first movement and was completed when the subject crossed the finish line for the distance (3). The average of the 3 sprint tests was used for analysis.

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30-Second Slide Board Stride Count

A dynamic warm-up was used and subjects were refamiliarized with the proper slide board technique. A Power Systems Ultra Slide Board (Power Systems Inc., Knoxville, Tennessee) with standard booties was used for the 30-second slide board stride count test. Subjects were tested on freshly lubed slide boards to minimize friction. Prior to each test a 20-second lead in warm-up (80-90% perceived effort, determined by the subject) was used for all subjects. Then, a 2-minute rest was taken and then the 30-second all-out slide board test was started. This was followed by 3 minutes of rest before the next testing sequence. All subjects were verbally encouraged to move at maximal effort during the test. Two 30-second slide tests were administered with the best stride count of the 30-second test recorded.

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Vertical Jump Height

Vertical jump height and reach testing was performed using standard procedures with a standard Vertec Jump Tester (M-F Athletic Co., Cranston, Rhode Island) (3). Following completion of the dynamic warm-up, each subject had 2 jump attempts with 3- to 5-minutes of rest between jumps. If the last jump was the highest, a subsequent trial was given to make sure the highest jump performance was obtained. The best jump height of the trials was recorded and used for statistical analysis.

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1-RM Squat Test

As previously described, a 1-RM strength test for the squat was used to determine maximal strength in a whole body structural movement, which emphasized lower body strength (3). A dynamic warm-up was completed and the loading progression at 50%, 70%, and 85% of 1 RM was estimated based on 1.5 × body mass. Following an adequate warm-up, no more than 3 to 5 attempts were needed to obtain the maximal weight that could be lifted 1 time. Three to 5 minutes of rest between each attempt was used to avoid fatigue and ensure adequate recovery (3). Failure was defined as the inability to squat to a depth where the femur was parallel to the floor, the inability to maintain proper technique, or both. For accuracy and consistency, the same member of the research team experienced with testing this lift was used to determine the 1 RM for each subject.

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On-Ice Tests

A standard National Hockey League-size sheet of ice measuring 200 feet by 85 feet was used for all lap tests. Cones were placed on the ice to ensure an approximate equal distance covered by all subjects. Figure 2 shows a diagram of the cone placement for all tests conducted on ice and the location of the technicians for timing. All timers were the same for each subject and each segment of any test.

Figure 2

Figure 2

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Single Lap Speed Test and 16.5-m (18-yard) Acceleration

Three attempts on a clean ice surface were given for all subjects to perform 1 lap as fast as they could. As shown and described in Figure 2, cones were placed around the perimeter of the ice to ensure an equal distance was skated by each participant. Three technicians were used to time this test: 2 to record the lap time and 1 to record the acceleration. An average of all collected times (6 numbers for lap times and 3 numbers for acceleration) was calculated and used in the data analysis for each subject. Prior to testing, the off-ice dynamic warm-up was completed along with approximately 2 to 5 minutes of on-ice stroking to provide a movement-specific warm-up. Two course-specific warm-up trials at 80-90% effort also were given to provide a higher-intensity readiness warm-up prior to the 3 attempts recorded for time, which were separated by 3 to 5 minutes to provide recovery between the second and third testing trials. All subjects were encouraged to skate as fast as they could, and teammates provided additional verbal encouragement.

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4.5-Minute On-Ice Lap Test

The 4.5-minute on-ice lap test was completed on Day 7 of the experiment and was the last test conducted. Skaters were given 2 days of recovery prior to this test because of the nature and logistics of the experiment in relation to ice time available. On either Day 4 or Day 5, coaches conducted a familiarization of the 4.5-minute test to all subjects to minimize a learning effect. It can be assumed, however, that most synchronized skaters are familiar with the 4.5-minute duration because it is the length of the long program. The same dynamic warm-up was used followed by 2 to 5 minutes of on-ice stroking to complete the warm-up prior to testing. Four to 5 skaters were tested at the same time and were given different starting points on the ice. Subjects were instructed to skate as many laps as possible in a forward, counterclockwise direction over 4.5 minutes while a warm-up song selected by the subjects was playing. The technician informed the subjects of time remaining at the halfway, 2-minute, 1-minute, 30-second, and 10-second points. Only 1 trial was completed for this test for all subjects.

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Statistical Analyses

The statistical analysis approach was based in regression using an adequate n size for statistical efficacy for the stability of the regression coefficients. Pearson correlations were calculated to examine bivariate relationships between the off-ice and on-ice testing variables. Stepwise regression analyses were used to describe the extent by which the off-ice variables were related to the on-ice tests. A one-way analysis of variance was conducted to compare the senior team to all others (junior and collegiate teams) in all variables tested. The 4.5-minute lap test, the acceleration test, and the single-lap on-ice speed test were examined using a tertile analysis to ascertain differences by rank. Tukey's post hoc test was utilized to specify differences when significant p values of less than 0.05 were obtained between the on-ice groups established during the tertile analysis. For all statistical tests, an alpha level of p ≤ 0.05 was operationally defined as statistical significance.

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Results

Mean scores and standard deviations for off-ice and on-ice testing variables are presented in Table 3.

Table 3

Table 3

Significant correlations were found between on-ice single lap test performance and 40-yard dash time (r = 0.578; p = 0.002). Vertical jump height significantly correlated with on-ice single lap test (r = 0.692; p = 0.001). In addition, slide board stride count and acceleration times both showed significant correlations with the on-ice single lap test where r = −0.732; p < 0.001 and r = 0.692; p = 0.039, respectively. In addition to acceleration times on the ice, the 4.5-minute lap test also showed a significant correlation to the single lap test (r = −0.399; p = 0.039).

Significant correlations between several off-ice variables and acceleration also were observed. Percent body fat was significantly correlated with acceleration times with a coefficient of r = −0.396 where p = 0.041. Off-ice variables shown to predict acceleration were vertical jump height (r = −0.632; p = 0.000) and slide board stride count where r = −.0692 and p < 0.000. Peak torque of the right hip abductors showed a moderate and significant correlation to acceleration (r = −0.392; p = 0.000). Forty-yard sprint times also represented a moderate significant correlation with acceleration times on the ice (r = 0.431; p = 0.025). A summary of the Pearson-product moment correlation coefficients are presented in Table 4 for all testing variables.

Table 4

Table 4

Stepwise multiple regression analysis revealed that the combination of the slide board stride count and 40-yard dash performances accounted for 67.5% (adjusted R2) of variance in the on-ice single lap test times (p = 0.000). In addition, the combined effect of both the slide board stride count and vertical jump height accounted for 75.6% (adjusted R2) of the variance in acceleration times (p = 0.000).

A one-way analysis of variance showed significant differences in means when comparing the senior team vs. others (junior and collegiate members) for height (p = 0.030), vertical jump height (p = 0.020), 40-yard dash time (p = 0.028), slide board stride count (p = 0.002), and on-ice lap test time (p = 0.002).

Order of ranking was established via tertile analysis for all on-ice performance tests completed (acceleration, single lap test, 4.5-minute lap count), and post hoc testing revealed differences in means between the ranked tertiles for several variables. When ranked by acceleration, the third tertile differed from the first in vertical jump height (p = 0.003), right hip abduction peak torque (p = 0.038), slide board stride count (p < 0.001), and acceleration (p < 0.001). The second tertile significantly differed from the first only in acceleration (p < 0.001). However, when examining differences of the second and third tertiles, vertical jump height (p = 0.017), slide board stride count (p = 0.005), and acceleration (p < 0.001) were found to be significantly different. When ranked by the 4.5-minute lap test, a significant difference from the first tertile was found only in the slide board stride count scores of the third (p = 0.038). Rankings in the on-ice single lap test revealed that skaters who scored in the first tertile significantly differed from the second in percent body fat (p = 0.008) and slide board stride count (p = 0.008). Skaters in the third tertile significantly differed from the first in vertical jump height (p = 0.005), 40-yard dash (p = 0.029), slide board stride count (p = 0.003), and acceleration (p < 0.001).

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Discussion

This study showed 3 primary findings: (a) the slide board stride count was the single best predictor for both single-lap on-ice speed and acceleration, accounting for 53.5% (adjusted R2 value) of the variance in the single-lap test and 42.5% (adjusted R2 value) of the variance in acceleration times; (b) the vertical jump height test was the second best predictor for both the single lap test and on-ice acceleration, accounting for 36.6% and 39.9% (adjusted R2 values) of the variance in times recorded, respectively; and (c) the best combined predictors for the single lap speed test were slide board stride count and 40-yard dash (R2 = 0.675), whereas the best combined predictors for on-ice acceleration were slide board stride count and vertical jump height test (R2 = 0.571).

Slide board stride count was a strong predictor for on-ice speed and acceleration in synchronized skaters. It is well accepted that running and skating speed is a component of stride length and stride frequency (3,8,14,19,24). Although there have been no studies to date examining the relationship between on-ice speed and stride frequency in figure skaters or synchronized skaters, the current findings would warrant the use of off-ice training using slide boards to increase speed on the ice. Previous research done with figure skaters might further support the notion for using slide boards as an off-ice training tool to improve aerobic power. Pies et al. (20) established a similar cardiovascular response to on-ice performance when using the slide board in competitive female figure skaters reporting observed heart rates of more than 190 beats per minute, suggesting that slide boards can be a useful off-ice training tool. Off-ice training in addition to regular scheduled on-ice practices also may be necessary to see marked improvements in aerobic power. Mannix et al. (16) demonstrated that on-ice interval training plus regular scheduled on-ice practice did not result in improvements of aerobic power, whereas on-ice interval training plus cycle ergometry interval training yielded significant improvements in anaerobic threshold, work rate at VO2peak, and improvement in VO2peak in female figure skaters. In another study involving cycle ergometry, Foster et al. (11) demonstrated that speed skaters who could cycle on an ergometer at 60 rpm (slower cadence to parallel that of speed skating) and a power output of 5.0 W/kg (high intensity) for longer duration before fatigue (inability to turn the pedals) also were more successful (able to produce more power) during their competitive season. Earlier research by Green from 1978 (12) indicated that the glycogen depletion patterns and alteration in muscle metabolites are similar to those seen during cycling at similar percentages of VO2max in hockey players. The similarities in biomechanics between slide board exercise and synchronized skating may yield a higher training effect than cycle ergometry; however, more research needs to be conducted to further support this speculation. Therefore, based on the current findings, a synchronized skater who can produce a high stride frequency on a slide board for short periods also will have a strong ability to accelerate quickly and produce speed on the ice. Furthermore, prolonged interval training using time frames applicable to the length of a skating program (i.e., 2 minutes, 50 seconds for the short program and 4 minutes, 30 seconds for the long program) using a slide board and, most likely, cycle ergometry may be useful for improving anaerobic power and thus the ability to perform both the short and long programs more efficiently. If a slide board is not available for off-ice training, however, linear speed and plyometric training may prove effective for increasing speed and acceleration on the ice.

The present study demonstrated significant relationships between vertical jump height and 40-yard sprint times to on-ice speed and acceleration. Furthermore, the best combined predictors for speed were slide board stride count and 40-yard sprint time, whereas the best combined predictors for acceleration were slide board stride count and vertical jump height. Although no studies have investigated off-ice performance measures and prediction of skating performance in singles, pairs, or synchronized skaters, the findings of the present study concur with similar investigations in men and women hockey players. Behm et al. (4) reported correlations of r = 0.51 for 40-yard dash time predicting maximum skating speed in secondary school and junior hockey players. In a thesis defense by Levine in 1992 (15), the 20-yard dash and vertical jump height performances were found to be the second best predictors of speed for a 90.4-m skate test (preceded by standing broad jump). Bracko and George (6) reported the strongest variable to predicting skating speed for girls and young women hockey players between the ages of 8 and 16 years was 40-yard sprint time with an r of 0.72. They also reported that vertical jump height and 40-yard sprint time had correlations of r = 0.62 and r = −0.66 when predicting on-ice anaerobic capacity. Mascaro et al. (18) demonstrated that vertical jump height anaerobic power (calculated with the Lewis formula) was the best predictor of skating speed (54.9 m) in professional hockey players (r = −0.85). In a recent study by Markovic (17), statistically significant improvements in vertical jump height have been reported by implementing plyometric training. Thus, the present findings point to the training concept that off-ice linear speed training in combination with plyometric and slide board interval training may provide a powerful combination of off-ice conditioning to improve skating performance in synchronized skaters. The ability to produce speed and power on the ice should not be considered without examining relationships between strength in sport-specific musculature and on-ice performance.

We demonstrated significant moderate correlations between percent body fat and acceleration (r = 0.396) and isokinetic peak torque of right hip abduction and acceleration (r = −0.392). The correlation that resulted between percent body fat and acceleration indicates that a skater whose body composition has a higher percent of lean muscle mass relative to her own body mass has faster acceleration times on the ice. It has been accepted in sprinting that speed is a component of stride frequency and stride length, where stride frequency is directly related to the number of fast-twitch fibers found in the muscle (3,19). Considerations for implementing and maintaining a consistent off-ice periodized resistance training program in combination with a healthy nutrition plan should be used to maximize fast-twitch fiber hypertrophy and minimize fat gain.

No other strength measures (1-RM squat, isokinetic peak torque for right and left hip adduction and left hip abduction), aside from isokinetic peak torque of right hip abduction, resulted in sizeable or significant correlations to on-ice performance in the present investigation. It is speculated that the relationship demonstrated between peak torque in right hip abduction and acceleration can be explained by the constant skating in a counterclockwise direction during practice and warm-up, requiring the right hip abductor to contribute more to the forward propulsion when cornering. Years of creating muscular imbalances on a dominant side (most likely the right in this case) may provide a higher contribution of force from that muscle when comparing strength in the opposite limb of the same muscle while performing activities that require high amounts of strength such as in acceleration. Further investigation should be conducted to strengthen these notions. It can be speculated, however, that performing single-leg and unilateral exercises using free weights may help diminish any existing muscular imbalances of the skating musculature (hip abductors). Furthermore, on-ice coaches should attempt to spend even amounts of skating in both directions during any conditioning to avoid constant strengthening of a dominant side. Although maximal strength was not associated with on-ice performance, it is intimately linked to power development and cannot be dismissed in a resistance training program or power and speed will be negatively affected if detraining occurs. Although beyond the scope of this study, the development and maintenance of maximal 1-RM strength using a periodized resistance training program (e.g., linear or nonlinear formats) is vital if power is to be optimally developed or maintained. This may be especially important even in women athletes where “fears of getting big” can diminish optimal loading with maximal or near maximal resistances and therefore performance gains in maximal strength.

Analysis of the skating stride in speed skaters has indicated high EMG activity of the hip and knee flexors and extensors, indicating that skaters who are stronger in these areas might produce greater rates of propulsion on the ice (23). It was hypothesized that 1-RM strength would yield a significant relationship to on-ice speed, yet this study proved to reject the hypothesis for this specific variable. Anderson and Behm (2) reported a 60% decrease in chest press isometric maximal force under unstable conditions (using a stability ball) and thus concluded that force output when in an unstable condition impairs force production. This relationship may provide an explanation as to why individuals who can exert great forces or power under stable conditions off the ice are not necessarily the individuals with the most power in unstable conditions on the ice as discovered in this study. Additionally, the back squat is performed primarily in the sagittal plane, whereas the general act of skating by itself requires movement in the frontal plane and use of hip abductors in addition to the hip and knee extensors (1). Future investigations should attempt to employ user-friendlier and less difficult measures of strength in synchronized skating to maximize true measurements of strength in the sport-specific musculature. Again, however, generic specificity and need for the inclusion of squats in a training program where heavy loading is possible is vital to the foundation of any strength and conditioning program.

The isokinetic measurements of this study were performed in 3 to 4 maximal contractions at a relatively slow speed (30 rads·sec−1), without the observation of only 1 significant correlation (i.e., with the dominant right hip abductors). Our findings concurred with a study conducted by Kanehisa et al. (13) with speed skaters where it was concluded that speed skaters demonstrated a higher muscle performance in a repetitive maximal contractions of the knee extensors rather than in a single-effort repetition using isokinetic resistance. During a review of the physiology of speed skating in 1987, de Groot et al. (9) reported that as a result of the maintenance of a low knee angle during the glide phase of a skating stride, the ability to sustain isometric contractions of the leg and trunk muscles is vitally important. Thus, future studies should investigate the relationships of repetitive and isometric contractions of the skating musculature to on-ice speed and endurance in synchronized skaters.

Contrary to the hypothesis, there were no significant correlations between the off-ice measures and the on-ice 4.5-minute lap test. Less than optimal ice conditions increasing the coefficient of friction when skating might have been a mitigating experimental factor in decreasing the number of laps able to skate during this test. In retrospective speculation, because the off-ice tests were all measures of explosive strength, power, or both, no correlation between longer anaerobic efforts lasting 4.5 minutes might have been expected. As reported earlier, Pies et al. (20) showed that continued efforts on a slide board (4 minutes or longer) resulted in similar cardiovascular responses to on-ice performance and may be a suitable training tool. Therefore, maximum strength measures, explosive power (vertical jump height), and stride frequency may not be good predictors of maintaining longer duration high-intensity speed on the ice. Future research should analyze longer duration off-ice activities such as isometric contractions, measures of stride counts on a slide board for more than 30 seconds, and associated power outputs over intervals similar to short and long program durations used in synchronized skating competition.

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Practical Applications

With quality of speed throughout each element being 1 of 5 judging criteria, gaining insight into related off-ice performance variables is critical to getting a competitive edge on the international circuit. The 4 other judging criteria for each element executed within a program vary depending on the element, whereas quality of speed and flow are continually being judged (25). Greater on-ice speed is a striking difference often seen by coaches in figure skaters and synchronized skaters who score well at national and international competitions vs. those who do not (16). The current findings warrant use of the slide board as a means for improving speed and acceleration when short intervals of 30 seconds or less are used in training. When considering past research such as that conducted by Pies et al., Green, and Mannix et al. (12,16,20), the slide board also may be useful for improving aerobic power, anaerobic threshold, and the ability to buffer pH changes, which could in turn result in improved on-ice performance through physiologic and psychophysiologic mechanisms.

Many synchronized skating teams and coaches in the United States are constantly challenged with choosing between spending valuable ice time for conditioning or for practicing elements and choreography. Practicing the different elements and working on choreography typically are chosen over conditioning on ice because of the cost and limitations of time available for on-ice practice. This often leaves conditioning and speed development neglected. Using the slide board and possibly a cycle ergometer to conduct such conditioning sessions may solve this choice dilemma and be beneficial in improving sport-related fitness and speed on the ice and preserving ice time for skating-specific skill development and choreographic routines. In addition to conditioning with slide boards, implementation of plyometric and linear speed training with synchronized skaters also may result in performance enhancements on the ice in relation to speed and acceleration.

In conclusion, synchronized skating is a complex skill involving many diverse components. An understanding of the off-ice variables that predict skating performance can increase awareness of the aspects of sport-related fitness that are important for success in the synchronized skating.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the dedicated athletes and the synchronized skating coaches at Miami University of Ohio for their participation and support of this collaborative project.

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References

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Keywords:

sport science; speed; power; winter sports; athletic performance

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