Is your skating damaging your body? Probably, but here's the solution.
Is the way you skate leading to pain, increasing injury risk and making you skate worse? For the vast majority of skaters, the answer is probably yes...
In this video/article I’m going to go over how imbalances in our body from skating too much in one stance can do us over. Then I’ll share with you some exercises I use with the skaters I train to deal with the problem, reduce injury risk and get them skating and feeling better.
What are imbalances?
Differences in strength, power and mobility between each side of your body, excessive strength on the front of your body and weakness on the back, differences in strength between muscles around a specific joint. These are just some imbalances the body can develop.
Most of us have one side of the body that feels more stable, strong or functions better than the other for certain tasks.
Get up now and jump laterally from one leg and land on the same one, and then back in the opposite direction landing in your starting position. Like in the clip below. Repeat for both legs!
Chances are you felt more stable on one side.
Imbalances are normal, until they're not
Now imbalances are totally normal and there’s nothing inherently bad about them. Your body is even physically asymmetrical; for example your diaphragm is bigger on the right than it is on the left.
That being said there’s lots of research showing that differences in strength and function between each side of the body isn’t just linked to drops in performance, but also to an increase in pain, overuse injuries and more severe injuries too.
Why then if imbalances are normal, does research find all these problems?
Well, like with anything, doing too much of it is going to cause problems. Even if it’s healthy stuff like drinking water or skating, and it's no different with imbalances in our bodies.
How do they lead to problems? Well, a common cause is that if you’re lacking strength or function in a certain part of your body, it's likely going to offload its job to another part that wasn’t designed for that task or designed to handle the increase in force.
Take your ankle which was designed to flex forwards and backwards. One of the reasons it does this is to absorb force, but if you've had an injury that's left you with limited range of motion there, it won't be able to effectively absorb force and as a result it will get sent to other parts of the body like the knee. putting extra stress on it. If you imagine when you skate you're jumping sometimes hundreds of times in a session, that's hundreds of blows to the knee in a way it wasn't designed for.
Over time this added stress can create even more dysfunction, pain and overuse injuries over time.
Alongside that, even if you skate primarily in one stance, most of the times you fall you land first on one leg. If this leg doesn’t have the strength or mobility to take the fall, or you don’t have the control over one side of your body to land in a decent way, your injury risk is gunna go up.
Considering most injuries occur during these kinds of fast, unpredictable movements and falls, we need both sides of the body to be prepared to handle them. Even if you only plan on skating in one stance.
Why do we have imbalances?
Ok so like I mentioned the body is naturally imbalanced, but there are many other causes of imbalances.
One is how different we use each side of the body when we skate. For example, if you’re holding a noseslide, most of your weight is on the front leg, and the other is pretty much just hanging there to provide a bit of stability.
When we push each side of the body is also doing completely different things, for example the front leg is static, acting to stabilise us, as the other leg moves dynamically to actually push against the floor.
I did a poll on Instagram, and it turns out that the majority of skaters skate only in one stance - 79% said they cruise switch less than 20% of the time, and 69% said they do tricks in one stance 80% of the time.
This means most skaters are using each sides of their body in completely different ways for hours on end. Chuck in excessive sitting that keeps the body locked in one position, previous injuries that leave you with less function on the injured side, and other one sided activities we do all throughout the day, it’s not surprising imbalances develop in our bodies.
With a lot of skaters I’ve trained I’ve found many of them to be more stable on their front leg, whereas they often have more movement ability - with for example single leg jumps - on their back leg. Which matches up with pushing and doing tricks primarily in one stance.
Pros vs amateurs
Skate research is pretty much non-existent but somehow I found some measuring imbalances in amateurs and pro skaters, and I’m not gunna lie, the results were pretty shocking… (In the paper "amateur" just meant skating for at least 10 years, not necessarily sponsored).
The imbalances in different single leg jumps for some of the amateurs was more than 40%. Whereas, the research on pro skaters showed the imbalances in strength to be almost non-existent.
Pros often have a pretty solid switch game so the lack of imbalances for them isn't necessarily the shocking bit, it's more the massive differences in the amateurs.
In general it's said that more than about 10-15% difference in performance between each side of the body is linked to an increase risk of injury, so not only will the pros be more resilient to injuries, but the ability of both sides of their body to function well is no doubt helping them skate better too.
(Quick disclaimer: The research on amateurs measured different single leg jump abilities, and the research on pros measured max strength at different joint angles. They're metrics that are closely related to each other, and I've seen the same training skaters in person, but we need more research to be sure about the differences between pros and amateurs.)
The solution - unilateral exercises
So like I said we’re naturally unbalanced, but too much can create problems. The goal isn’t perfect balance between both sides, you’ll always have imbalances, and maybe large ones - especially if you plan on only skating in one stance. But making sure both sides of your body function well enough to handle the insane stresses of skating, by getting both sides up to a decent baseline level of strength and function is the key.
One of the best things we can do to work on those imbalances and build up that baseline level for strength and preparedness for skating is by following a decent training program that includes unilateral / one sided exercises, a balance between exercises for the front and back, amongst work targeting other imbalances.
The exercises I'm about to show you are just a selection focused on differences in strength and stability between each side of your body.
Add them into your current training program, or if you're looking for a full program that covers not only the imbalances I’ve just gone over but also targets other essentials for injury & pain reduction, better skating, and generally preparing your body for skating, check out The NBD Skate Performance program here.
With training it's always about progression and picking whats appropriate for you. One way you can do that is picking the exercises, reps or intensity using something called "RPE" (rate of perceived exertion).
RPE is a 1 to 10 intensity score (1 =chilling on the sofa, 10=running from a lion). The good thing about RPE is that it's a way of picking exercises or reps based on you and how intense the exercise is to you. This is important to not only make sure you're not pushing it too hard and getting so sore you're destroyed for days and unable to skate, but also to make sure you're hitting a high enough intensity to trigger an adaptation.
Take two skaters - one who's never trained and one who's been training for years - and give them a split squat. Ten reps of bodyweight split squat will likely be quite intense for the untrained skater, maybe 8/10. But for the trained skater, ten bodyweight reps might not be intense at all, maybe 3/10. So they would need to load the exercise to raise the intensity and make it worth it for them.
So check the exercise chart and choose a rep count that allows you to hit the listed RPE. If you're not getting anywhere near, you might want to consider loading the exercise or picking a different variation.
Evaluation of Shoulder Strength and Kinematics as Risk Factors for Shoulder Injury in United States Special Forces Personnel www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6416681/ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6416681
Risk factors for lower extremity injury: a review of the literature https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/37/1/13
Relationship between hamstring strains and leg muscle strength. A follow-up study of collegiate track and field athletes https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8412057/
Knee side-to-side strength asymmetry and hamstring-to-quadriceps strength ratios in professional street skateboarding athletes https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0765159719301637
Relationships between jumping asymmetry and performance in skateboarders https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344631734_RELATIONSHIPS_BETWEEN_JUMPING_ASYMMETRY_AND_PERFORMANCE_IN_SKATEBOARDERS
Effect of unilateral training and bilateral training on physical performance: A meta-analysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10133687/
Effects of unilateral vs. bilateral resistance training interventions on measures of strength, jump, linear and change of direction speed: a systematic review and meta-analysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9331349/
The Effects of Individualized Resistance Strength Programs on Knee Muscular Imbalances in Junior Elite Soccer Players https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4667994/
Imbalances in the Development of Muscle and Tendon as Risk Factor for Tendinopathies in Youth Athletes: A Review of Current Evidence and Concepts of Prevention https://frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00987/full