Many of you are probably familiar with the exercise commonly known as a “skater,” where one bounds back and forth from one foot to the next. This is a great drill to increase metabolism and build strength through the legs. I wanted to discuss it here and bring attention to aspects of the movement that can increase its safety and effectiveness, as well as offer ways to regress or progress the drill.
One of the great aspects of the skater is that it involves a contra-lateral movement which means that one side of the body is moving in opposition to the other side. Contra-lateral movement commonly occurs rotationally through the transverse plane of motion. When walking, our body moves contra-laterally by stepping forward with one foot and rotating the opposite shoulder toward that foot. By moving this way, our bodies store energy kinetically by creating a stretch through the tissues of the hips, torso, and shoulders which yields efficient energy transfer as we move.
Safely loading all of that energy into the soft tissues of the body without putting undue amount of stress upon joints requires the proper execution of a skater drill. The first thought should be to move through the hips. Assume an athletic stance where the hips are pushed back behind you as if you are about to sit on something with your knees slightly bent and your chest up. The shape of your spine in this position, is “tall” or “long.” It doesn’t mean your spine is straight up and down, because with your hips bent your torso should be tilting slightly forward, it just means not hunched over at the spine. As you begin skating from one foot to the next, maintain that shape in order to appropriately load through your hips.
The contra-lateral rotation occurs by reaching your opposite hand toward the opposite foot (step with right, reach with left). By keeping your hips unlocked and maintaining a tall spine, that rotation is transferred effectively through the thoracic spine and hips instead of the lumbar spine. In terms of degrees of available motion, the hips and thoracic spine have much higher degrees of rotation available to them than the lumbar spine. If the shape of the skater is compromised, for example, by bending forward too much, some of that rotation must be sent through the lumbar spine which increases injury potential. A cue I like to use is, “imagine your shoulder blades rotating around the axis of your spine.” This thought ensures a tall posture giving the thoracic spine and shoulder blades space to move appropriately.
Keeping this foundation of posture in mind, here are ways to alter this exercise to make it harder or easier, depending on your goals or fitness level.
1) Reduce range of motion—take smaller steps from side to side.
2) Tap a toe—instead of trying to balance on one foot for each skater, tap that free foot behind to give yourself confidence.
3) Slow down—find a pace that you are comfortable with and has a rhythm that feels good to you.
1) Travel—move your skaters forward or backward or increase the distance you jump from one foot to the next.
2) Choose a loading device—hold dumbbells in your hands and allow them to skate with you to load that contra-lateral movement, paying extra attention to proper shape. Other loading devices could be medicine balls or my favorite, a ViPR.
3) Fast feet—between each skater, return to center and chop your feet quickly for a few seconds.
4) Have someone coach your direction—start from center in the athletic stance mentioned earlier and have a partner point or call “right” or “left.” This challenges your reaction time as you try and skate to that side as quickly as you can.