Conquering Large Skating Hills
When it comes to skating large hills even the most advanced skaters still find them to be a daunting challenge. Maintaining speed, control, and having the ability to stop are some of the items that tend to prove difficult. Hopefully this blog will provide you with some useful tips to make the task a bit less challenging. Now we normally love to provide advice, but in this instance we are going to defer to one of the skate industry experts. This blog is inspired by highly regarded inline skating coach and author Barry Publow. Mr. Publow is the author of the books, “Speed on Skates” and “Inline Skating: The Science of Speed.” Each of which is well respected within the inline skating world. The following tips are based from these publications and will hopefully turn those nightmarish hills into exhilarating thrill rides.
Okay, this one seems a bit too obvious, but the importance of maintaining stability on your skates is magnified when cruising down a hill. The key to stability is what Barry calls “tensed-relaxation.” Tensed-relaxation means that you keep a relaxing composure while consciously contracting your muscles to stabilize your ankles, knees, and trunk. Additionally, you need to be prepared for a bump or push in any given direction. Since your speeds will be higher when going down a hill, the bumps and pushes will come much faster, meaning you need to be prepared at any and all times. Basically, when skating down a hill you will need to be in what is referred to as “defensive” or “athletic” position. Keep your body low and your muscles engaged in anticipation for a move in any direction.
Braking when going down a hill is much easier said than done. The reason for this is that once you have reached a high level of speed, braking difficulty is increased because it affects your stability. When braking down a hill you need to approach it one of two ways. The first approach is to view the hill with the mindset that it is large and that you do not want gather much speed. If you elect this approach, begin braking near the top and apply constant or consistent braking spurts of pressure all the way down.
The second approach is that you desire to coast the entire hill and maintain speed. If this is your approach, beware that once you reach a certain speed (which varies depending on your comfort level) you can no longer brake. This speed may not be reached on every hill, but you will reach it if it is considerably steep or long. In this case, you will want to coast the length of the hill and wait for your speed to decrease towards the end. Once you decrease to a comfortable speed you can then engage your brake to slow yourself.
You may not think that stamina has much to do with skating down a hill. However the exact opposite is true, in fact it requires quite a bit of energy due to the constant flexing and relaxing of muscles. The constant flexing and relaxing of muscles is necessary to maintain balance and stability, and it can be quite tiring. In order to maintain energy for upcoming hills, do not contract your muscles too tightly when skating or coasting because the constant tension will make you fatigue much faster. Relax when you can and maintain your energy when you really need it. And remember, if you feel yourself becoming very exhausted, do not overexert yourself. Save the big hill for tomorrow if necessary.
And For the Advanced Level Skaters…
If you’re an advanced level skater you are likely to be well-versed in skating hills…even though they can still be a challenge. When it comes to tackling hills, aerodynamics can be a key contributor. If you are not worried about keeping your speed up when cruising downhill, you don’t need to worry about aerodynamics. But if you like to try and carry your speed as far as possible you’ll find aerodynamics to be your best friend.
In order to maintain an aerodynamic position and keep your speed up, maintain a “deeply-seated” position with the head and shoulders at or just below hip level. Also, keep your hands in front of you in a stable or clasped position. This will help improve stability and reduce wind resistance. This position is commonly called a “tuck”. If you have every skied before this position will be familiar to you. If not, just know that it is the same position you see skiers going into when they want to maximize their speed.