Is ice skating really that good an exercise for the beginner?
March 20, 2013 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Everything I am reading about ice skating raves about what a wonderful workout it is and how you will develop a core-o'steel and burn no end of calories! How true is that, really, for the beginner?

I am teaching myself ice skating from, essentially, absolute beginner level. I am just getting to the end of chapter four of the book I am using, which teaches forward stroking and a preparation for skating backwards.

Up until now I have been teaching myself to stop, and to glide forward on one foot on the flat of the blade. So until yesterday, all of my workouts consisted of: stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, stop. Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, glide. For an hour or more.

Yesterday I reached the dizzying heights of proper forward stroking. Yes, seven whole minutes without stopping! I was on the ice for almost an hour and a half. It was not strenuous at all. I did not break a sweat. I did not suck wind. My ankles, calves and glutes do not ache and my abs wax not tense upon me. I didn't check my heart rate but I assume it was bobbling along at resting pace.

Basically I don't believe that what I did amounts to a workout. In terms of effort, it was easier than walking. It's supposed to be! That's what skates are for, to propel you with effortless speed along those frozen canals!

Or am I wrong? Is it possible that I could do this activity for 90 minutes, not feel a thing, and still call it a workout? Why? I don't get it.
posted by tel3path to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I generally try to go as fast as I can while ice skating, considering it more of a speed sport. That might make a difference.
posted by tooloudinhere at 11:17 AM on March 20, 2013

You have to achieve a minimum competency to get the benefits. Once you do that it's a pretty good workout assuming you push yourself.
posted by fshgrl at 11:20 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, it really depends on your health goals now, doesn't it?

Walking, for example, is at around the 30 minute level or over, apparently very, very good for you. That's not going to impress a cardio fanatic, but as a life long habit, it's fantastic.

Right now exercise is really fetishizing interval training, and making things as intense as possible in short bursts, or strength training. Exercise is very subject to fads and fashions, but one thing we do know is that if it is making you active and not giving you an injury, it is better to do something you enjoy.

In the long run, regular skating is going to build up specialized muscle focused on pushing you about on your legs and working your body to keep your balance. The latter is going to naturally give you a stronger core and stabilizer muscles, but you'll only get what you put in. Gently scratching about on the ice is going to have gentler results than caroming around like a pinball on speed. Likewise biking is great exercise, but learning not to fall over is not the same as racing around a track. Treading water isn't as strong exercise as doing the butterfly.
posted by Phalene at 11:22 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I ice skate every week and I think what you described is hyperbole (maybe marketing stuff from an ice rink or someone trying to sell a book?). I actually find ice skating to be quite relaxing, like taking a stroll. If you really go fast, or you are a figure skater or hockey player, well then of course there's more cardio and strength involved, but general ice skating, no I don't think it's that rigorous of a workout. But it's still certainly exercise and it's fun and I highly recommend it.
posted by Dansaman at 11:32 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to be on a hockey team and when you're skating up and down and doing stick handling it can be a very intense workout. I was in the best shape of my life when I was skating.

So I think that once you're up and moving around, you'll need to amp it up a bit to get a real workout benefit from it.

I didn't sweat all that much, but I did get a great snot bubble!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:38 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You need to step it up - skate faster. Compare to running - if you can skate at a rate similar to jogging where your heartrate is elevated then you will get benefit from it. This could take a while if you don't have your basic skating skills yet - get your crossovers asap and you'll be able to make faster and faster laps. Consider trying out speed skating - that's a great workout. I would also suggest taking a class to check your technique.

When I was a figure skater (at a pretty low level), I was in the best shape of my life, much like Ruthless Bunny. Those who had maxed out their aerobic benefits from regular skating would tie weights to their ankles or tyres to their waist. But probably a while before you get there!
posted by wingless_angel at 11:52 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's low impact, a good leg workout, and as cardio as you wanna be. If you're not breathing hard, just go faster.
posted by zippy at 12:17 PM on March 20, 2013

Doing those ovals you do at the start can be a great exercise - your thighs will ache, trust me, if you do it for a while. As can be balancing one foot and other exercises where you need to keep your core straight for the exercise to work. How is your posture? I found that when I was taking classes far more bits of me ached afterwards because they insisted on proper posture which meant you were using a lot more muscles - if you can, if may be worth your while to take a class for that alone, even if you're getting ahead with the skating. I found it really hard to work out when I was not skating properly on my own.)

(But don't go fast until you can stop properly - I've nearly been wiped out by people who like to dash but haven't mastered a proper stop.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:29 PM on March 20, 2013

Are you in decent shape to start with? If you're already a runner or a cyclist or whatever then I agree with everyone that you'll need to reach a minimum technical ability before you start to feel the effects.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:01 PM on March 20, 2013

Response by poster: Hmm, I doubt it'll ever be safe to go very fast on a UK rink - they're always very full of people who have never skated before and who literally have no idea how to stop.

Anyhow, this is the problem I have with wanting to learn any form of dance - they usually don't provide much exercise for the beginner and sometimes, the technique drills required to learn a step can mean you spend the whole session hardly moving at all. I'm having to choose between exercise and dance, and lately I've resorted to Zumba, but that was a low point; I'm in crisis here. I'm in okay shape, but I don't know how long that will last.

At what point will I start getting some exercise out of it? I'm just finishing chapter 4. Only after chapter 6 will I even be allowed to do a bunny hop, and then I'll have to complete chapters 7 through 10 before I'm allowed to do stuff like a waltz jump. Will a waltz jump propitiate the aerobics gods? It seems aaaaages away.
posted by tel3path at 1:16 PM on March 20, 2013

Best answer: Hmm, I doubt it'll ever be safe to go very fast on a UK rink - they're always very full of people who have never skated before and who literally have no idea how to stop.

I don't know about the UK, but in the US rinks have certain evening hours that are for adults only, and that's when the serious workout folks come in. Look into that.
posted by davejay at 2:20 PM on March 20, 2013

Best answer: I'm in okay shape, but I don't know how long that will last.

If you're in okay shape now, then the key is likely to pick something that you find interesting or fun, that is also physically demanding when you do it with proficiency. If you keep jumping from thing to thing, you'll never develop that proficiency, and you'll never reap the benefits...and if you don't find it interesting and fun, you'll keep jumping from thing to thing.

I highly recommend making a list of things that, with proficiency, are physically demanding. Then, in the short term, try each one out for a while (as you've been doing!) with the understanding that you're trying to find the fun/interesting thing that you'll ultimately stick with. Then stick with it, because your body is currently "okay" now, so it isn't like next week you'll be a wreck. Stick with it, and as you gain proficiency, you'll start benefitting from it faster than your body can fall apart.
posted by davejay at 2:25 PM on March 20, 2013

Best answer: I'll throw an example here to help motivate you: I was an avid roller skater for a couple of years. I started doing it on a whim, because friends were doing it, and I was pretty pleased that I could stand up and make my way around the rink. After doing it for at least one hour, once a week, for about four months, I started feeling competent enough to think less about skating and more about enjoying myself. About a year in, I thought "well, this is getting boring, I should learn to go backwards", and over the second year I gave it my best shot consistently, even though I never really got very good at it.

After the two year mark, life intervened and I stopped going. Within a few months, I could see my body start to change back to how it had been before I started skating; I had been reaping significant benefits from the exercise, and hadn't even realized it, because each week's session I was a little stronger, a little more proficient, and I was now a proficient skater. Six months later I went back for a single session, and I was shocked at how much proficiency I still had skills-wise, but how little strength my body had to actually utilize that proficiency.

posted by davejay at 2:30 PM on March 20, 2013

Best answer: Which rink are you at? When I went to Lee Valley 9am Sunday was a great time for the beginner adults - after the serious kids were done for the morning but before the really general sessions started.

The sessions davejay referred to are often graded in the UK - 'patch time' - those sessions are only open to certain test levels or higher. But most rinks have beginner ice dance sessions for adults which can also be used as general practice.
posted by wingless_angel at 3:09 PM on March 20, 2013

Best answer: You might get better (fitness) results from learning less and just going out and skating more. Most of the beginners I know are spending way more energy than skaters who have more practice, just because they have to work harder just to stay upright. Similarly, it's way harder for me when I'm working on a new skill--as long as the new skill is far enough out of my reach. But it sounds like you're drilling every tiny step until you've got it down, so you're not pushing to the point where you're working.

I do find skating to be easier than walking/jogging for the same distance, but I go faster. Per time unit, I can definitely equal a jogging workout.

P.S. If you take this advice, wear good pads.
posted by anaelith at 4:20 AM on March 21, 2013

Response by poster: Well, I tried the early afternoon session but it was even more full of inexperienced skaters - Italian teenagers going the wrong way, crying toddlers sitting on the ice, that sort of thing.

You don't get access to patches until you have at least NISA level... 3, I think? That's something to look forward to. I levelled up to Chapter 5 today, so in my next session I can do... a turn and a curve on two feet!!! Mad. skillz.[1]

I've decided to keep skating at least two or three times a week, and if anybody asks me if I worked out that day I'll just lie about it. I take the point about speeding up regardless, but if I'm going to take up a difficult sport like skating, I'd rather do a little bit right than lots wrong, even if that means I don't reach workout-level intensity for a few months.

[1] I could just cry.
posted by tel3path at 8:48 AM on March 21, 2013

What about rollerblading on the days you don't skate? The muscles used are similar and it's probably easier to find a place to blade. Also, if you get the ones with balls instead of wheels, you can mimic some of your skating moves.
posted by windykites at 7:59 AM on April 5, 2013

« Older How to bed down for the night?   |   Sports cars for Canadian winters? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.