Fitness Testing & Dryland Training
It is important for free skaters to be fit but in the early years it is unlikely they will be able to improve their fitness through skating alone- they simply are not proficient enough to derive fitness benefits. At this level skaters should be engaged in a variety of off-ice activities, especially aerobics and stretching activities. As skill increases so will the potential fitness benefits.

As children progress and begin to show promise adults become interested in measuring their talent. One component of talent identification is often fitness testing but testing young skaters and then comparing test results against a norm can be tricky. Chronologincal age does not always reflect physical maturity and:


"...In children and adolescents discriminationg between the processes of conditioning and growth is a challenging task. Certain physiological changes often attributed to exercise are an inherent part of normal growth."
1

Testing results are affected by:

1. Skaterís maximum height velocity. Girls experience their adolescent growth spurt and peak height
    velocity on average about two years earlier than boys. During the growth spurt bones may grow faster
    than muscles and so it is not unusual for skaters to experience a temporary reduction in flexibility.
2. Strength to weight ratio - greatest just before the onset of puberty in girls.
3. Height. Taller skaters have an advantage in certain motor fitness tests- sit and reach, basketball toss,
    long jump, sprinting etc. Height is not always an advantage in free skating. Taller skaters may be able to
    generate more force due to their increased muscle length but may also have a tendency to fall back and
    fall harder on jumps.

Before basing training programmes on the results of fitness tests there must be sufficient evidence that:

  1. Off-ice testing accurately reflects on-ice performance.
  2. The particular tests selected measure important components of on-ice performance.
  3. The tests accurately measure the quality to be tested.
  4. The tests were administered correctly and consistently. 
  5. Recommended dry-land training is transferable to on-ice skill.
  6. The training suggestions included are based on a high appreciation of figure skating, the individual
       skater, the needs of the developing skater and the specific stage at which the skater is currently
       performing.
  7. Coaches are better informed about their skaterís fitness through a knowledge of the results of these             off-ice tests.
  8. Strength training does not interfere with skill acquisition.
  9. The emotional maturity of the skater is not a barrier to participation in strength and flexibility
      programmes.

And in the case of Under 12s:

10. Pre-adolescent off-ice fitness is a high priority in developing on-ice skill.
11. Pre-adolescent measures of off-ice fitness are good predictors of future figure skating success.


Where norms are provided:

12. The skaters provided a high degree of effort in completing the test(s).
13. The skaters tested were all in the same phase of their yearly plan.
14. The norms presented represent an average of skaters who have attained a relatively comparable
       standard of proficiency in on-ice performance.
15. There was a sufficiently large test group to make averages meaningful.

Since there is little evidence that these conditions are regularly met the prudence of spending money and time pursuing testing of young people is questionable. Coaches' field evaluations of skaters' fitness may be more accurate and better predictors of future performance.

FACTORS WHICH AFFECT MOTOR PERFORMANCE 2
1. Somatotype
2. Height and lever length
3. Proportion of bone, muscle and fat
4. Adequacy of nutrition
5. Acuity of vision, audition, proprioception and other sensations
6. Mobility of joints
7. Heredity or congenital structural abnormalities
8. Residual defects from disease or trauma


FACTORS WHICH AFFECT STRENGTH AND POWER 3
1. Muscle area
2. Muscle length and power: sarcomere number
3. Angle of pull
4. Muscle fibre composition
5. Neural factors
6. Age and gender
7. Training
8. Testosterone level
4

Whether dryland training is transferable to on ice skill hinges on two basic assumptions:

1. Improvements in strength are specific enough to be used exactly in the real sporting action.
2. Strength changes will be incorporated into the neuromuscular pattern of the action.
5

Scientific support for these arguments is not strong.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN RECOMMENDING TRAINING PROGRAMMES

"...The capacity to respond to training is related to the initial level of fitness and the physiological characteristics of the individual. The potential for imporvement is greatest when the initial level of fitness is lowest."6

"...general activity training involving most capacities is beneficial if the fitness levels of participants is particularly low. This is true of young performers or adults starting new activities. When the new performer is so low in general fitness characteristics any improvement in them, whether or not they are specific, will be beneficial however, those benefits are only displayed when the level of performance is very low. As performance improves in the sport, the value of any transfer of general or unrelated training effects diminishes rapidly."
7

Many people believe off-ice fitness test results hold a strong correlation with on-ice performance. There is no doubt that good skaters are fit. It is erroneous to assume though that if a skater improves his fitness he will automatically become a good skater or that improvement in on-ice skill will be reflected in off-ice testing. Underlying hereditary factors such as an efficient central nervous system will be instrumental in on or off-ice improvement. Improved Free Skating performance will still depend on heredity, personality and training.

Fitness and fitness training are important but oneís enthusiasms for it must not be allowed to inflate its value within the context of the overall training plan causing a skewing of training. Three credos should inform fitness training for figure skaters:

1. Skill improvement is the best strategy for improving skating performance.
2.
Substituting off-ice training for on should never occur except in the case of recovery from injury or the
    lack a available ice time.
2. Exhaustive off-ice training should take place after on-ice training.

____________________


1 Koutedakis, Y.: Fitness Variations in Elite Athletes. Sports Medicine, 19, 1995. pp. 373-392
2 Rasch, Burke: Kinesiology and Applied Anatomy. Lea & Febiger 1967 pp.96
3 MacDougall, D.: Principles of Strength and Power. School of Physical Education and Athletics, McMaster University.
4 Brzycki, Matt: A Practical Approach to Strength Training. Masters Press 1995 pp.185-6
5 Stegman, J. (translated by J. S. Skinner): Exercise Physiology. Chicago Il. Year Book Medical Publishers 198
1
6. Rushall, B.: Coaching Science Abstracts
7. Rasch, Burke: Kinesiology and applied Anatomy. Lea & Febiger 1967 pp. 96

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The opinions expressed on these pages are those of Cheryl Richardson, author of, Skating Ahead of the Curve. Every effort has been made to properly credit sources for other materials. You may link to my pages but please do not reprint or otherwise distribute without my permission.  

                                      
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