In the last couple of years, I have been in off-season situations where there wasn’t a good replacement sport for inline speed skating. Generally, this is because I lived in locales where long track or short track ice speed skating weren’t viable options, or because the indoor inline skating options are limited for speed skating. Life also tends to get in the way, as it does for many non-professional (read “I don’t work out for a living”) athletes. As a result, I have always looked for a way to spend my time in the off-season that will benefit my on-skate time during the summer months. In addition, I was looking for options for building strength and power that would support my speed skating and, ultimately, make me stronger. The answer was lifting weights.
When I talk about lifting weights, I am talking about any kind of resistance program that will help with skating. For me, right now, that is predominately barbell training. Historically, it has also included dumbbell training, and body weight training. Previously, I lifted to get stronger, simply doing lifts that would result in greater physical strength. I have noted in previous posts that part of the point of weight lifting for speed skating is to put more power in the push. The idea here is that the more strength your legs have, the harder you can push. I have been experimenting and researching this idea for a little over a year now, and I can affirmatively say that lifting heavy stuff is good for skating.
Other endurance athletes know that lifting weights is good training. Recent research supports these ideas. Just because it is good for cyclists, though, doesn’t make it it good for skaters. However, for a lot of reasons, it is true with skating. Lifting weights helps with the economy of movement, which I examined in my last sports science post. The idea here is you aren’t working as hard to get as much power transfer into the implement of forward movement. For time on the bike, more push power in the legs against the pedals means you can maintain power for longer, or exert less energy for the same power as previously. For skating, economy in this context means more power to the ground with less effort. While there are a host of other factors involved here, notably technique, having the strength to push into the ground is one of the major components of skating. That is, after all, why skaters have those noticeably larger butts and thighs. Lifting weights with a focus on speed skating will help build those butts and thighs so you can leverage your technique and put more power to the ground.
So, should you lift? It sure sounds like it. Now we know why, the next question is how? My answer to that query is however you like that will get you stronger. Joey Mantia says he doesn’t lift weights, but prefers isometric body weight and plyometric exercise to build strength and power. He can also do a wall sit for something like 10 minutes (his own estimation from the Minnesota Mantia Clinic). He isn’t alone, Chad Hendrick and Shani Davis have also stated they don’t lift weights in interviews. However, Apolo Ohno lifts, and so do a lot of other speed skaters, like Sven Kramer and Kevin Jagger.
I lift a barbell. I find that barbell training works well for me. It may not work well for others, so consult your coach or your doctor to make sure it is something you can do, and do safely. My current favorite lifts are rear squats, power cleans, dead lifts, and Romanian dead lifts. All of these exercises target the posterior chain, basically the muscles from your upper back through your heels. These are also a vast majority of the muscles used in skating. I mix these up with other exercises for power (like kettle bell swings), and upper body (like dips). Another change that I made this year was training specifically for power. I lift faster with a little more volume in my lifts, while still focusing on good form to build more powerful muscle. The goal here is explosive lifting. This should sound a lot like plyometrics, another terrific way to build power for skating. In addition to lifting, I am still cross training with steady state cardio and plyos with some dry land and slide board, because you can’t neglect the skate specific stuff for cross training without losing out on skating performance.
If you are wondering about programming, you could do just those four exercises above, but you would end up a bit uneven. This is why I have incorporated some upper body work in my strength training this year, notably over head presses and dips. For basic lifting, consider Strength Camp’s big four, front squats, dead lifts, dips, and pull ups. If there is interest I can share more about how I am presently programming my strength training.
So, do you even lift? If not, maybe you should be.