Bending your knees on skates

Part 2 – Why

 

In the previous article I explored good posture, how to bend your knees, and how to work on increasing that kneebend during normal skating.  This article explores why you should bend your knees in more detail, with focus on speed.

Want to go fast?

One of the biggest reasons for major knee bend is that it increases the size of your push.  A bigger push means that you will be able to skate faster, all else being the same.

I got my son to take a series of photographs, in three different positions, and from the front and side.  The two sets with recreational kneebend resulted in a roughly 50cm baseline push size, whilst the speedskating posture was over 80cm.

All stances were balanced with the pushing leg completely straight, and very little weight on the pushing skate.  Although posed, this would be the moment after weight transfer and setdown.  Push size was measured from the toe wheel of the balancing skate straight across to the toe wheel of the pushing skate.  Kneebend angle was measured from the side-on photographs using a goniometer.

As you can see the legs form a rough right angled triangle in this position, and with body geometry for any particular person fixed, the only way to get a longer push is to get lower at the hips.

Recreational kneebend, recreational stance:

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Push size: ~50cm
Kneebend angle – 132 degrees

 

Recreational knee bend, overbend at the hips.

(aka cheating – getting your head low might be good aerodynamically, but it does nothing for kneebend and push size).  I’ve seen quite a few speedskaters who are guilty of this one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Push size: ~50cm
Kneebend angle – 134 degrees

 

Speedskating kneebend, normal speed posture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Push size: ~80 cm
Kneebend angle – 99 degrees

Not only is the push 1.6 times larger than the two other postures above, but the angle of the pushing skate and leg is much more laid over.  This means the amount of lateral force will be considerably higher, assuming perfect weight transfer during the stride.  More lateral force is how you generate more speed.

 

Conclusion

If you want to go fast, you’ve got to get your butt down low to the ground, where your thighs and glutes burn and shake, and then learn to acclimatize your body to that posture.  Getting your butt down low involves both ankle bend and knee bend, but the critical one is kneebend.  If the goniometer shows little kneebend, then that’s a key sign of your posture being wrong.

Some people cheat, and skate with their rears high up in the air, but it’s a weakness, and never looks as good or performs as well.  This often feels like major kneebend because your head is low to the ground, but it doesn’t count.  Others cheat their kneebend by taking lots of little strides very often, but again, there’s no substitute for kneebend angle.  Taking lots of strides very often when they are rather bigger strides will soon show how good posture defeats this.  Little kneebend equals a small stride size.  Anyone who says kneebend angle isn’t that important is talking out of their hat.

Bill Begg puts it as “to imagine you’re lowering yourself on the throne”.

Careful

Be careful when skating with increased kneebend.  Like any exercise, you must listen to your body, and don’t overload it before it’s ready to handle the extra workout you’re giving it.  Going straight low down to the speedskating kneebend shown above when you’re not used to regular training at high kneebend angles will almost certainly be a recipe for injury.  Little and often, increasing kneebend by a few degrees every couple of weeks is the safer way to go about this.

I recommend you contact a local coach to help with this and any other skating technique and fitness issues.

Photos by Johan van Erp

…back to How to bend your knees on skates – Part 1