Some of us argue that skating consists of repeated cycles of falls and recoveries. Specifically, a skater deliberately moves his upper body such that shifted center of gravity causes him to “fall”. During this fall, he continues to glide on one skate. But at the same time he moves his other skate, the free skate, towards the projection on the ground of his shifting center of gravity, with the aim to recover from the fall by planting the free skate onto the new projected center of gravity. The process now repeats, with the previously free skate now becoming the new gliding skate.
If this fall and recovery sound like walking… well, it is walking, but with a special skating gait. And we need a specific vocabulary in order to talk about this special walking. See the illustration below.
Let’s look at the same sequence from earlier, with annotations. The skater starts out leaning to the left while gliding on his left skate. He is about to fall to the left, but during the fall he moves his right skate, the free skate, over to his left side. He catches his balance at the last second, by planting his right skate on the projection of his shifted center of gravity. I call this moment a balance moment, indicated by a red bracket.
This may sound contrarian to the usual teachings of pushing off with alternating skates. In the fall and recovery narrative, there is no explicit pushing. There is only the body shifting balance and inducing falls. But this is just a complimentary perspective that describes the same coordinated movements of body parts.
I’ve written about rhythmic falls and recoveries in ice skating before. The same principles mentioned for ice skating apply to inline skating. This is an offshoot of the beginner guide I recently wrote: How to Inline Skate.
A new perspective
This new perspective corrects a misconception that beginners tend to harbor – they think they are “pushing their gliding skate forward” with the other skate. There is no such thing. In fact, this view of falls and recoveries better explains why beginners can’t glide on a single skate for more than a second or two. Often beginners do not trust themselves to glide on a single skate, as shown in the sequence below. They balance on two skates most of the time. Any “free” skate is only briefly lifted off the ground for less than a second. As a result, one gliding skate is pushing the other gliding skate forward. There is no need to recover anything, because such skaters almost never get out of balance. In walking terms, they shuffle.
This fall and recovery view better explains how skilled skaters are able to “push off” with the currently “gliding” skate, while the free skate is in the air. You would now recognize it as a fast walk. A better way to think about this movement is to treat it as a lunge, instead of a push. The skater shown below is gliding on his left skate on the inside edge. He lunges his upper body to the right into a configuration to fall. Then he moves his free skate, the right skate, in a recovery to catch his balance after the lunge.
One characteristics of a “fast walk” is that at each balance moment marked by a red bracket, a skate does not always touch down on the current projected center of gravity marked by a yellow circle. Usually the upper body has already moved in anticipation of the next lunge.
Sometimes you watch a hockey player shift direction 180° by crossing skates, and seemingly running sideways in crossover steps. Yet, that’s not too different from regular running, when you swap forward leaping on feet with sideway leaping on skates. Sometimes players alternate crossovers in opposite directions in order to run straight in a line. That is known as linear crossovers. The skater shown below starts on a balanced stance. He leans to the right and catches his balance with his right skate. He continues to lunge even more to the right, and this time he moves his left skate across to the right to catch his balance. Then he triples down and leaps one more time to the right, while gliding on his left skate. His right skate follows his upper body to the right to cushion his landing. Finally, he reverses direction to lunge to the left, and proceeds to recover his balance with his left skate.
Regardless of whether his skates cross, the lunging of his upper body is what injects energy into his moves. The lunge is always orthogonal to the gliding path – that is the only way for wheels to grip the ground to launch the body off. The free skate follows the trajectory of the upper body. Whichever side the upper body lunges towards is where the free skate goes. When the free skate plants down in recovery, it takes over the responsibility of shouldering the weight of the skater, from the previous gliding skate.
The two skates swap roles without hindering the momentum of the fall. Instead, the new gliding skate continues the trajectory of the fall at first, and then channels its energy into the next lunge. Track the right skate in the sequence shown below. It turns from a free skate into a gliding skate in the first half of the sequence. As soon as the right skate hits the ground, the skater uses it as a leverage to sway his upper body from right-leaning into left-leaning. By doing this, the skater successfully channels the fall to the right into an even more energized fall to the left. This action is often mischaracterized as simply a leg push. But now you know there is far more than a leg push to this movement.
Here is the original video capture at Astoria Skatepark. The skater appears to run towards the left, opposite of the above picture sequences. That’s because the above sequences were flipped to show the skater running from the left to the right.
Forward cross roll as falls and recoveries
You can glide on a single skate in severals ways: 1) on the inside edge, 2) with wheels at 90° angle with the ground, or 3) on the outside edge. Usually you don’t get to choose how to orient wheel angles. Usually wheel angles follow how your body is oriented, and how you balance on the gliding skate.
Here is an example of a skating move that requires a substantial leaning on the outside edge for gliding. It’s a forward cross roll. The skater’s body leans aggressively to the left, and then to the right in a cycle. Aggressive leaning is what injects energy to sustain this move. Watch this video shot at the Eisenhower skating rink:
Cross rolls is a great example for skating as rhythmic falls and recoveries. I have found over time that I can skate forward cross rolls indefinitely without even the slightest effort to “push”. All energy can be generated simply by falling sideways. But of course, all skating moves are not the same. Not all skating moves are best text book examples of rhythmic falls and recoveries. But I argue that all of them follow the same principle – they only differ in the degree of falls.
Below is a stop motion sequence showing one forward cross roll movement from the above video. In the left most image of a skater, a yellow circle indicates his projected center which is far away from his gliding (right) skate. The skater is in a fall to his right side. But his left skate has crossed over in an attempt to recover from this fall. In the second most image, the left skate has now landed on the ground, exactly on top of his projected center. This is indicated by a red bracket, showing that this is a “balance moment”. The left skate now becomes the gliding skate, and the right skate becomes the free skate.
Continuing on to the third leftmost image above, the skater now swings his free (right) leg to the right, and leans his upper body to the left, in a deliberate attempt to initiate a fall to his left side. While the recovery is ongoing, the left skate continues to glide on its outside edge. By the fourth rightmost image, he has succeeded in moving the projected center (yellow circle) outside of his gliding (left) skate. Now he initiates a recovery by crossing his free (right) stake in front of the gliding (left) skate, in the third and the second rightmost images. The rightmost image shows the skater successfully landing his right skate at the next balancing moment (red bracket) exactly on his projected center (yellow circle). This completes one forward cross roll movement.
Below is the next forward cross roll movement from the video. What happens is exactly the same sequence of fall, recovery and balance, except the two legs have swapped roles.
Below is the third forward cross roll movement. This is exactly the same as the first movement, but now the steps of falling, recovery and balance are illustrated from the right side of the skater.
Below is the fourth forward cross roll movement. This is exactly the same as the second movement, but now the steps of falling, recovery and balance are illustrated from the four o’clock angle of the skater.
Below is the fifth forward cross roll movement. This is exactly the same as the first movement and the third movement, but now the steps of falling, recovery and balance are illustrated from behind the skater.
Zig-Zag gliding as falls and recoveries
Here is a video of what I named zig-zag gliding on a single skate. This is what I recommend that beginners practice, after they learn the V steps. For details see this article.
Here is an annotated sequence of this zig-zag gliding exercise. Find a skating trail that is wide enough. Say at least 12 feet across. Or find a skating rink like the one shown in the video. Stand on the left side of the trail at first. Adopt the V step configuration for your skates. First put weight on your left skate. Then turn your shoulder rightward to look at roughly 2 o’clock. Train your eye on a point on the right side of the trail. Now point your right skate towards that point, lunge head first, and glide on your right skate to that point. When you almost reach this point on the right side of the trail, switch focus to your left skate. Turn your shoulders towards 10 o’clock, and aim at a new point on the left side of the trail. Lunge head first, and glide towards that point on your left skate. When you reach the left side, repeat.
Some people argue that falls and recoveries don’t apply to regular skating strokes. I think they do, just not to the same degree of “getting out of balance” as observed in crossover moves. Any time a projected center of gravity deviates from the currently-gliding skate, the skater is falling out of balance.
In zig-zag gliding, such deviation is again accentuated, because the skater isn’t attempting to move her body forward in a perfectly straight line. In my opinion, zig-zag gliding is a great way to trick a beginner into learning the outside edge, without them feeling unstable in doing so. This is because they must lunge head-first into a new direction. Their free skate follows, balancing their overall body posture. Thus, during this lunge, their projected center happens to stay with the gliding skate, on the outside edge. This gives the skater a confident stability otherwise not achievable for a beginner.