Mechanics

I’m sort of fascinated by the topic of body mechanics, and how each of our bodies performs the same functions but in very different ways. In yoga, the teacher will remind us that everything has to be adjusted for our own bodies, and taken at our own pace. There are positions that come very naturally to me, like spinal twists, and others that seem impossible, like hip openers.  Some positions will come with some work, but I think Pigeon in particular will elude me for a very long time.

Before I took up roller derby, I did a lot of ice skating, of the serious-hobby sort: Ice dance and moves in the field, most recently, about 8 hours of ice time a week. I’m not sure there are very many things that the two types of skating have in common; I’ve found far more differences in the last couple of years than similarities as I’ve had to re-learn how to skate for derby. Ice dancing feels very much like skating from your chest and your feet; roller derby is all about the hips. But something that I used to work on with an ice dance coach suddenly occurred to me last night in the context of skating for roller derby — *my* derby skating, at least. It’s something that may come naturally to other skaters, but remains challenging for me.

In ice skating, it would be called a forward outside edge, or FOI. In ice dance, it’s part of one of the most fundamental moves for nearly all the dances: the swing roll, a FOI held long enough so that you make a giant C in the ice, while the other leg swings slowly from back to front. There’s often a lot of focus in the beginning on how not to let the swinging leg throw off your balance, but the positioning of your skating leg is really more crucial. In order to hold that outside edge, maintain a deep knee bend, and not lose your balance, your knee must be over your skate.  Not pointed in, not pointed out, but right in line with your skate, pointing in the same direction.  If your knee tends to fall “in” towards the center of your body, like mine does, you lose all your power — that knee pulls against the edge you’re trying to hold, and it feels like you’re twisting into a pretzel, leaning in order to get onto a deeper edge so that your skate doesn’t slide under you. My coach noticed what was happening, and gently pulled my knee out to track over the skate when I insisted it wouldn’t go that direction. It was like taking the brakes off — the skate just glided freely, I didnt need to lean, and weight was still balanced over the skating leg. There was tension in that hip, but everything else suddenly felt right.

So as I was warming up around the rink last night, trying to take turns 1&3 tightly with deep edges, trying once again to figure out how to build speed, it occurred to me that I was trying to get my foot to do all the work of holding that outside edge in particular. I reached down and pushed my knee out, and once again, it was like taking the brakes off. No strength to keep it there, but everything else felt better:  more powerful, more balanced, more in control of that edge. Yay for mini-revelations, and new things to work on!

So, how to strengthen the muscles that open the hips, that pull the leg laterally away from the body but also rotate the leg out? It’s probably no surprise that I have no turnout for doing mohawk/tomahawk turns or skating sideways in derby, either; all of this is connected to those hip openers in yoga that plague me.  I’ve been paying so much attention to flexibility to open the hips, I’d forgotten about strength. So more abductor, hip flexor and glute work:  fire hydrants, leg lifts, plies, and all of those yoga hip opener poses.

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